Wednesday, January 10, 2007

British scholar jailed for jaywalking

Check the AJC story. I was there, of course. Most of the events of the AHA were split between the Hilton and the Mariott. After the first day, it was pretty clear that the historians were causing major problems dodging traffic. So on day two the police came out in force, posting officers on almost every corner. The historians though, would not be deterred. Every time I walked between the hotels (and I do mean every time) I saw historians ignoring the instructions of uniformed police officers. I saw this coming. The quotations of the scholar in the AJC are exactly what you would expect:

"Fernandez-Armesto said he was accosted by a man he did not know was a police officer — "I did not see a badge or any identification" — as he crossed the street.

"Where I come from, jaywalking is not a crime," he said. "It did not occur to me that there was anything wrong with what I was doing."

When the author of 19 books reached the other side of the street, he was met by Leonpacher, who asked him for identification.

"When I questioned who he was, he said something to the effect of 'When I give you an order, you obey it,' " Fernandez-Armesto said. "I asked him what his authority was because I didn't see a badge. Where I'm from, you don't associate young gentlemen in bomber jackets with the police. But he was extremely upset I had questioned his bona fides."

Fernandez-Armesto, a former professor at Oxford University, was unable to produce proper identification. "I had left my green card in my hotel room. I was puzzled. I was baffled, at a loss, really," he said. "While I was hesitating, he lost patience."

At that point, the slightly built historian said, the officer kicked his legs from under him and pinned him to the ground, causing his glasses to fall off. Two other officers assisted in holding him down, said Fernandez-Armesto, who said he suffered a gash on his forehead and a bruise on his wrist as he attempted to break his fall.

"It was the most violence I've ever experienced in my life," said Fernandez-Armesto. "And I was mugged once while at Oxford."

Leonpacher said in his report that Fernandez-Armesto struggled while being arrested and tried to get away:

"I asked him to put his hands behind his back so that he could be handcuffed. He refused. I took his right hand with a firm grip and attempted to place a handcuff on his wrist. He violently pulled away and began to wrestle with me. After about a minute, I was able to wrestle him to the ground where I held on to his right arm as I called for backup."

The report states that Fernandez-Armesto "sustained a minor abrasion to the head while being taken into custody." It also states that Leonpacher received a minor abrasion to his knee.

Fernandez-Armesto was taken into custody, where he spent the next eight hours along with "extremely unfortunate members of the underclass." He was fingerprinted and mug shots were taken. "It was an extremely traumatic experience," he said. "I was in a state of paralytic fear," he said. "My livelihood is dependent on coming over to the U.S., and any record would've ruined my way of life."

Fernandez-Armesto appeared the next morning in traffic court, "throwing myself on the mercy of the judge." After consulting with prosecutors, he was offered a deal — plead "no contest" and he'd be released. "I could not do that and risk my green card," he said.

Soon after, the charges were dropped and he was released.

"I think it was quite clear to everyone that this entire matter had gotten completely out of hand," he said.

The AHA said on its Web site Monday that its council will send a letter of protest to the city.

Fernandez-Armesto had never been to Atlanta before.

"That was my first morning here," he said. "I must say I didn't get to experience the Southern hospitality I'd heard so much about.""

Update: HNN has a story with a photo. Make sure to check out the pictures of the guys that the historian says he did not recognize as police officers.

The interview with the historian:

Of course, given my own sorry history with pedestrian offenses, I should watch what I write. My thoughts:
I didn't see the incident, but I saw countless examples of rudeness by historians when they were asked to cross at the crosswalks. I am sure the police were tired of a bunch of stuffed shirts getting up in arms about the crosswalks. The historian who managed to get arrested probably pushed all the right buttons. It was an unfortunate incident but boy did I ever see it coming.

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