Treated like a criminal for speaking up

March 14, 2012

William Brown, a former Navy SEAL and Iraq war veteran, attended a town hall meeting on March 8 to raise his concerns about a takeover of the Rutgers-Camden law school by Rowan University--and for his troubles, he got called an "idiot" by Gov. Chris Christie, a rising star in the Republican Party establishment. Christie grew intolerant of Brown's questions and had state troopers "escort" him from the meeting. Brown spoke with fellow antiwar veteran Rory Fanning about his eviction.

WHY DID you come out to the town hall meeting with Gov. Christie last Thursday?

LAW STUDENTS at Rutgers are upset about the Rowan University takeover. Some 4,000 signatures have been collected in opposition to the plan. Not once did the governor consult students about this decision. He was insistent that the takeover was going to happen whether we liked it or not.

MEDIA REPORTS say you "calmly" raised your first point about your law degree being watered down as a result of the move. The governor responded, and then things escalated. When Christie lost his cool, he yelled, "Let me tell you something--after you graduate from law school, you conduct yourself like that in a courtroom, your rear end is going to be thrown in jail, idiot."

HE WASN'T giving a real answer or telling the truth. The governor disrespectfully referred to me as "pal" after my first question. Christie also said, "You don't represent the students." I said, "Have you read the newspapers?" Besides the papers, he hasn't talked to any of us, so how would he know what the students think?

William Brown is led out of the town hall meeting by state police
William Brown is led out of the town hall meeting by state police

ABC News called me after the event. Of course I wanted to talk about the Rowan takeover of Rutgers, but there are other issues that need to be addressed here.

Not only were the voices of the governor's constituents completely ignored on this issue, but I was also treated like a criminal in front of the entire country for speaking up. CNN, ABC and Fox News broadcast the governor having me escorted out of the room by police. It was humiliating. The whole thing is disturbing.

DID YOU see what happened when people peacefully protesting the Virginia bill mandating that a woman undergo an ultrasound before an abortion tried to march in front of Gov. Bob McDonnell's mansion? He called out the riot police and SWAT team.

I AGREE this is all part of a bigger narrative. It was extremely intimidating when I was taken out of that room. The state troopers wanted to lead me down some alley. I insisted on staying by the cameras.

Two of the troopers were grabbing my shoulders, then they had me backed up against the wall, and another had his hand pointed inches from my nose. I asked, "Why are your hands on me? Let go of me." The troopers said, "Why did you say you were a Navy SEAL?" I said, "Because I wanted to share a bit about my background." I had no idea what they were going to do. I can't imagine what would have happened if the cameras weren't there.

THE SAME day you were kicked out of that meeting, H.R. 347 was signed into law by Barack Obama. The law expands an existing federal statute to make it a felony to cause a disturbance at any event that has the Secret Service in attendance, whether you know the Secret Service is there or not.

THERE IS a reason the right to free speech is the First Amendment to the Constitution. We're in trouble when we don't have the ability to peacefully express our dissatisfaction with our government.

CHRISTIE WAS courted by big money in the hopes that he would run for president. The Koch brothers, Charles Schwab and Kenneth Langone, the founder of Home Depot, were all ready to get behind Christie. Christie has a lot of influence and very well could be president one day.

EXACTLY. THERE is still a good chance this guy could be vice president this election cycle. Do we want someone with a temper like his negotiating with Iran?

FOLLOWING THE financial meltdown of 2008, we were witness to history's largest transfer of wealth from working people to the rich. Trillions were spent bailing out the banks, and now they want us to shut up and accept the austerity measures, the housing crisis, the trillion-dollar wars, the prison industrial complex, etc. If you peacefully stand up against these measures, they try to publicly humiliate you or throw you in jail.

I AGREE with you. Anyone who tries to speak up risks what happened to me, or worse. It causes people to think twice about saying what is on their mind. Our elected "representatives" don't want to address the real problems in this county.

WHAT DO you plan on doing next?

THE GOVERNOR'S response to my questions speaks volumes about the current reality in this country. I am not the only concerned citizen. I will continue to speak up when I see an injustice. I will take things day by day, and we'll see what happens.

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