DC cracks down on silent dancing.

03 June 2011

If you've never heard of a flashmob before, it's when word gets out somehow for everyone who finds out about it to gather at a particular place and time, count down from five, and then do something weird. There have been flashmobs where everyone opened an umbrella for precisely 23 seconds, made chicken noises, turned their shirts inside out, had a pillow fight, and even briefly created a supercomputer. About five years ago, there was even a silent disco held in the stations of London's subway system and 1,000 people gathered for a flash rave in Union Square in New York City. As is usual for flashmobs, nobody did anything dumb or got hurt, no fights started, and no damage was done.

Over Memorial Day weekend a small flashmob (by small I mean five people) gathered at the Jefferson Memorial to hold a silent rave. The five people wore iPods, bothered no one, damaged nothing, and were wrestled to the ground by police. Tackles were made and punches were thrown by the US Park Police, with charges of demonstrating without a permit at a national memorial on the way. Apparently it is illegal to do anything other than stand around taking pictures and shooting movies at memorials, even if you're not bothering anyone. An inquiry into whether or not excessive force was used is also underway as the videos shot by bystanders have gone viral.

(By the bye, if that video goes away I have a mirror of it that I'd be happy to put up.)

This isn't the first time this has happened. Back in 2008 a group of 20 people tried the same thing; 19 were turned away and one was arrested. The irony that this happened at the memorial site of one of the most staunch anti-authoritarians in US history is lost on no one but the Park Police. Frankly, I don't know what else to say about this. Technically, the National Park Police have the same powers and authority as the DC police or any other local police force, only within certain areas recognized as national monuments or other gathering places. They even have plainclothes officers and their own SWAT team. There is also legal precedent from the DC Circuit's Court of Appeals that federally recognized memorials are considered places for contemplation and not performance.

Once again, the lesson apparently taught here is "Don't make any sudden moves in DC."