September 30, 2016
Library worker arrested and beaten by Kansas City Police at public event
by Simon Reichley
On May 9th, the Kansas City Public Library hosted Dennis Ross, a former staffer in the G.W. Bush and Clinton administrations and author of Doomed to Succeed: The U.S.-Israel Relationship from Truman to Obama (FSG, 2015). Ross has been a central figure in U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, and as such is a very controversial figure.
No big deal, though. The event was at a public library that has hosted other controversial, powerful figures, from Sandra Day O’Connor to Stephen Breyer to Robert Reich. Again, no big deal! Maybe someone heckles him, maybe someone asks a tough question during the Q&A, but this is a guy who was accused of being an Israeli lobbyist by a dean of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. Surely he can handle being called a neoliberal jerkoff by some overheated undergrad. Right?
Well, half-right. As far as we can tell, Ross kept his head, quite admirably. The off-duty police officers assigned to the event? Not so much.
After local activist Jeremy Rothe-Kushel lobbed a particularly aggressive and leading question at Ross, and then failed to yield the mic after a presumably dissatisfying answer, private security and the aforementioned off-duty cops seized Rothe-Kushel and attempted to remove him from the premises. It is at this point that Steve Woolfolk, director of public programing at the library, stepped in, much to his eventual misfortune. As reported by Chip Gibbons at Dissent NewsWire:
Woolfolk, from past experiences with off duty police, knew that the only thing they could arrest Rothe-Kushel for was trespassing. Woolfolk wanted to make clear that this was a public event at a public library and thus Rothe-Kushel was not trespassing. He went to find his supervisor, but before he could do so Woolfolk says an off-duty and out of uniform police officer grabbed him from behind and threw him against a pillar. Per Woolfolk, the officer never announced who he was or told Woolfolk he was under arrest, but just kept telling him to “stop resisting.” As Woolfolk told the Dissent NewsWire, he informed the officer, “I’d be happy to do whatever he wanted, and that all I was resisting was the urge to fall face first onto the floor.” According to Woolfolk, a second police officer, this one in uniform, delivered several blows to Woolfolk’s knee, causing him to be diagnosed with grade 1 torn MCL. Eventually he was thrown over a chair and handcuffed. When he asked what he was being arrested for, the officer told him he didn’t know.
What. The. Fuck? Right? Although, I suppose we should be inured to this kind of police overreach. And hey, at least they didn’t blow him away. So… good job cops? Admirable show of restraint? Congratulations on not killing a public servant in his workplace?
This is pretty disturbing stuff. And it should be a wake up call to everyone who thinks the epidemic of police violence plaguing the country is simply a response to aggressive protesters or the ubiquity of handguns or whatever. You can get beat up and arrested in a public library, where you work, for doing your job, protecting the free speech of one of your patrons. Think about it.
Simon Reichley is the Director of Operations and Rights Manager at Melville House.