Oct 05

Executive Director of the Kansas City Library System Issues Dire Free Speech Warning:

The following story hasn’t received the attention it deserves.

Back in May, a man was arrested by a private security guard and an off-duty police officer after asking pointed questions to American diplomat and author Dennis Ross during a library discussion. When a library employee attempted to intervene, he was also arrested.

ABC News reports:

The executive director the Kansas City library system says he is “outraged” that prosecutors continue to pursue charges against a man who was arrested after asking pointed questions during a library discussion about the Middle East peace process and an employee who tried to intervene.

Although the arrests occurred in May following a speech by author and diplomat Dennis Ross, the library system only recently went public about its opposition to charges, the Kansas City Star reported.

R. Crosby Kemper III, executive director of the city’s library system, said “we’re going to be living in a different kind of country” if people can be arrested for asking questions at a library. “If this kind of behavior is unacceptable to the police, then I guess we’re going to have to shut the library down.”

Issues arose after Ross finished speaking and took a question from Jeremy Rothe-Kushel concerning whether Jewish Americans like Rothe-Kushel should be concerned about actions by the U.S. and Israel that amount to “state-sponsored terrorism.”

“When are we going to stand up and be ethical Jews and Americans?” Rothe-Kushel asked.

When Rothe-Kushel tried to ask another question, a private security guard grasped his arm, followed by an off-duty police officer, both employed by the Jewish Community Foundation. Rothe-Kushel then shouted, “Get your hands off of me right now!”

Kemper said the private security guards had no right to remove a patron for asking a question.

Ross’ speech was the inaugural Truman and Israel Lecture, established by the Truman Library Institute and the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Kansas City.

BoingBoing also covered the incident:

Take care when asking provocative questions at Kansas City’s library events: you might end up in jail.

The executive director of Kansas City Libraries says he’s outraged by the charges against Jeremy Rothe-Kushel, a Jewish man grabbed by private security after asking the event’s speaker, former diplomat Dennis Ross, uninvited follow-up questions. Off-duty cops moved in to arrest Rothe-Kushel when he objected to the hands-on treatment—as well as a library staffer who had moved to intervene.

On-duty officers posted to the event apparently did not get involved until later: he was arrested by a man out of uniform and paid by the event’s organizers.

Rothe-Kushel was charged with trespassing and resisting arrest. Steve Woolfolk, director of public programming for the library, was charged with interfering with an arrest. The libraries’ executive director, R. Crosby Kemper III. Kemper, said the private security guards have no right to remove library patrons and that he was going public because prosecutors refuse to drop the charges.

Land of the free? I think not.

Now watch a video of the incident, as well as two library employees discussing why they find it so disturbing.

We should all thank R. Crosby Kemper III and Steve Woolfolk for bringing this to our attention.

In Liberty,
Michael Krieger

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