* Five officers pin professor to ground
* It's lucky he was not shot, says wife
A distinguished British historian who tried to cross a road in Atlanta, Georgia, has complained of being wrestled to the ground, pinioned by five police officers and incarcerated.
Felipe Fernández-Armesto, 56, visiting Professor of Global Environmental History at Queen Mary, University of London, was attending the conference of the American Historical Association last Thursday when he was caught jaywalking.
“I’m a mass of contusions and grazes,” he said in an interview shown on the website YouTube (scroll down the page to view it).
“I come from a country where you can cross the road where you like,” he said. “It hadn’t occurred to me that I wasn’t allowed to cross the road between the two main conference venues.”
He was not the only historian so to offend. A policeman called Kevin Leonpacher led a crackdown on the scholars, cautioning several before confronting the British professor, whose work has been compared to that of the 18th-century greats Gibbon and Montesquieu.
A lard-arsed cop watches over proceedings
“I didn’t appreciate the gravity of the offence,” he said. “And I didn’t recognise him as a policeman. He was wearing . . . a bomber jacket, like a jerkin.”
The officer asked the professor for identification. The professor asked the officer for identification. Officer Leonpacher then told him that he was under arrest and, according to the professor, subjected him to “terrible, terrible violence”.
He said: “This young man kicked my legs from under me, wrenched me round, pinned me to the ground, wrenched my arms behind my back, handcuffed me.” As he bridled at this treatment, Officer Leonpacher called for help and soon “I had five burly policemen pinioning me to the ground”.
His colleagues were astonished. It was “like he was Osama bin Laden or something”, said Lisa Kazmier, a historian from Philadelphia.
The professor had hoped to spend the afternoon listening to his fellows discoursing on arcane topics. Instead, he was handcuffed to another suspect in a “filthy paddywagon” and fingerprinted in a detention centre, where his peppermints were confiscated.
His bail was set at £720 and he remained behind bars for eight hours. When he told a judge his side of the story in court the next morning the case was dropped.
Officer Leonpacher was unrepentant, saying: “He chose to ignore a uniformed officer. At what point can anyone say I overreacted?”
The professor’s wife, Lesley, told The Times yesterday: “I suppose it’s lucky he wasn’t shot.”
The professor said that, as an “ageing member of the bourgeoisie”, he found it all educational — and was now seen by many of his colleagues “as a combination of Rambo, because it took five cops to pin me to the ground, and Perry Mason, because my eloquence before a judge obtained my immediate release”.
Walk, don't walk
Georgia’s criminal code, Section 40-6-96, states: “Where a sidewalk is provided, it shall be unlawful for any pedestrian to walk along and upon an adjacent roadway”
A police officer was present when the professor, right, attempted to cross the road, so he was charged with being in breach of Section 40-6-90:
It states: “A pedestrian shall obey the instructions of any official traffic-control device specifically applicable to him, unless otherwise directed by a police officer”
America - the "Land of the Free"?
Wednesday, January 10, 2007
Walk, don't walk (external - login to view)
One of the small pleasures of returning to Britain from America is the freedom to cross the roads, wherever we will and at at whatever risk we care to run, without fear of arrest.
It is reported in London today that our distinguished and much loved TLS (external - login to view) (Times Literary Supplement) contributor, Felipe Fernandez Armesto (external - login to view), will be particularly pleased to return home from his current US trip - after enduring the attention of 5 Georgia police officers and 8 hours in an Atlanta jail for the crime which Americans know as 'jaywalking'.
The occasion was the conference of the American Historical Association (external - login to view).
The incident took place in the road outside the conference hotels.
The initial offence was hardly grave.
But words which an officer in a 'rather louche' bomberjacket intended as an order were interpreted by our historian as mere friendly advice from a fellow pedestrian.
''Terrible' terrible violence' was his description of the handcuffing and judo-grips meted out to him by police when he continued to cross the road at a non-designated place and time.
'Very humiliating' was his description to the court of his inability to find his £720 bail money and his consequent night in the cells.
Felipe has contributed extensively to the TLS (external - login to view)over the years, often on favourite subjects such as the importance of maps and the city rules of Mediaeval Spain (external - login to view). We expect much more of the same, with added insight, in issues to come.
Fortunately he left the court with all charges dropped and his record clean.