Poor Representation of Liberty: Catherine Bleish Case

The pursuit of political liberty is difficult; the pursuit of liberty is made doubly difficult when the representatives of the battle are irresponsible. The currently processing case of Catherine Bleish is an excellent example of irresponsible behavior that is a) presented as being representative of liberty and liberty activists and b) defended by foolish, unthinkingly loyal activists. Such behavior harms the cause of liberty.

Miss Bleish is from my hometown, Kansas City, and is now based in my home State, Texas. She recently participated in an activism activity supporting the decriminalization of marijuana – a cause I, too, support. A man participating in the protest was arrested by undercover police officers. The activists, including Bleish, expressed verbally their opposition to the arrest. Ultimately, Bleish was also arrested… for disorderly conduct. She is requesting that concerned individuals call the police department involved and “demand” that the charges be dropped. She argues that her behavior was not disorderly. She argues that all activist-participants were behaving nonviolently.

I disagree.

Thankfully, Bleish was recording with her handheld camera. Also thankfully, the recording survived the process. The video is embedded below. My impressions of the situation are taken entirely from her blog and her video. I have deliberately not read any external arguments on the subject. I’ll announce my bias right now: I began watching her video prepared to be angered at inappropriate police behavior and was excited to see a young liberty activist in my home area. I found Bleish and her story via Facebook mutual friends. I entered the story predisposed to support her. I watched her evidence and wholeheartedly disagree with her story and her behavior.

What happened in that video? Here is a basic outline:

  • Man arrested for behavior that occurred prior to start of recording (therefore unknown circumstances to me).
  • Crowd and Bleish kept reasonable space while verbally protesting.
  • Police escorted arrested man to their vehicle.
  • Bleish and some crowd members followed very closely.
  • Arrested man was placed in the vehicle. Crowd is very vocal, and some activists used rude words to express themselves.
  • Bleish partially entered the police vehicle with at least her hand, arm, and camera, and probably her head and one shoulder.
  • Bleish remained very physically close to the vehicle and the officer to whom it belonged, temporarily blocking the officer’s access to his vehicle.
  • Bleish repeatedly made extremely personal comments to the officer, including: “Do you have children? They’re gonna smoke pot someday. You’ve probably smoked pot before.” Her volume increased and she began yelling at the officer within his personal space: “Do you have children? Do you have children? Do you have children? […] Your children will smoke pot someday! Do you want them in a cage?” Sections of these phrases were repeated, and Bleish’s tone increased in volume and strength.
  • After having partially entered his vehicle, the officer exited the vehicle and walked past Bleish in order to communicate with the small group of activists blocking the vehicle from driving forward.
  • The activists refused to move. The officer restrained one of them.
  • Bleish physically stood over the restrained activist and the police officer while the officer handcuffed the activist.
  • The group of activists surrounded the officer and the restrained activist.
  • The officer and the restrained activist moved behind the car and away from the large group.
  • Bleish followed them. She got so extraordinarily into the officer’s personal space that at one point the camera almost made contact with the officer’s cap. She was within inches of him for an extended period of time while yelling at him and making personal remarks about his potential behavior with his children.
  • Another officer demands that Bleish and the others leave the officers’ personal space. Bleish refuses and she and the group continue to verbally harass the officers.
  • Bleish was restrained.

Bleish and others declared at several points in the process that their activities were completely non-violent, but that is not true. Their invasion of individuals’ personal space while screaming personal verbal attacks and accusations is a form of violent activity. They were using their bodies to limit the activities of the police officers. That is textbook disorderly conduct and interference with police activity. It just is.

I have experienced another person using his body to restrain my movement; I have experienced it when physical conduct was made and when no physical conduct existed. Both types of situations were a form of violence. Neither type of situation was peaceful. That is what Bleish did: she initiated force by using her body to limit another person’s spacial freedom. In this case, that person(s) was a police officer. A police officer must be allowed to preserve his or her personal space because a police officer, by nature of the position, is under constant additional threat. Any individual’s personal space deserves respect because that space is a part of one’s physical and psychological self. Bleish violated that principle.

What should Bleish have done instead?

  • Granted the officers and their vehicle the same degree of space she would expect the officers to grant her.
  • She was right to get the arrested man’s name ; she was not justified in entering another person’s vehicle to get that name.
  • She should have politely asked to communicate with one of the officers in order to get information regarding their destination and ask permission to ask the arrested man’s name (had she not been able to hear his name from a polite distance).
  • Refrained from all personal remarks. The officer was doing his job – whether one disagrees with that job or not, his behavior was professional and polite during all points of Bleish’s recording. She owed the same degree of polite professionalism to him.
  • She was right to record the entire process.
  • Had she not engaged in inappropriate behavior leading to her arrest, she should have followed the police vehicle in a non-threatening manner in order to be at the station to offer assistance to the arrested man when the time came.
  • She should have observed the behavior of the arrested man. He was relatively calm, he was genuinely non-violent, and he appeared slightly embarrassed by her behavior (although he appeared grateful for the chance to state his name).

Bottom-line: people pull these stupid stunts. They are thoughtless. They are emotional. They are raw. They are irresponsible. They are done in the name of liberty! This is not mature civil protest or civil disobedience and this is not reasoned revolution. This is hypocritical idiocy that hurts the cause of liberty. Shame on you, Miss Bleish.

I recognize the emotions that get riled up in these situations. I’ve been shoved into an unmarked military-police vehicle by non-uniformed officers in a country that does not have reasonable protections and/or respect for personal and civil liberties. One feels anger, frustration, and helplessness. One is conscious of being abused. At one point I let my vocal tone and my body language express these feelings, and at other times I was mature and self-restrained. I know.

I know that the United States citizens on U.S. soil still have the best status of liberty of all the people in the world. I know that we are desperately close to losing that status, and I know that we must cherish, nurture, and defend that status. The preservation and reestablishment of our liberties requires that we behave in such a way that demonstrates that we respect ourselves and others. Bleish and her companions failed in that respect. Their motivations and extraordinarily heightened emotions provide contexts for their behavior. Our response as a community of activists should be three-fold. We should recognize that their behavior was absolutely inappropriate. We should train and strengthen ourselves to respond better should we find ourselves in similarly difficult circumstances. We should find a balance between helping Bleish, et al., refind their footing and not allowing such cases to cast an ugly shadow across the shining light of Liberty.

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