Conductor unbecoming | Marcel Strigberger

By Marcel Strigberger

Law360 Canada (September 22, 2023, 2:22 PM EDT) --
Marcel Strigberger
Marcel Strigberger
Lunacy in the deep South? An Alabama high school band director at a sporting event was shocked with a stun gun and arrested after Birmingham police said he wouldn’t tell his band to stop playing.

The cops went on to charge the man with disorderly conduct, harassment and resisting arrest.

A police department spokesperson said police were trying to clear the stadium after the game and asked both bands there to stop playing.

Apparently one band director complied but this one disregarded the officers and told his students to keep playing.

Police officers accompanied by school security guards went on to arrest him for disorderly conduct. Matters got out of hand when he could not allow them to cuff him, and they accordingly shocked the band leader with a stun gun. (That generally does the trick with band leaders).

I imagine as they approached him, sharpshooters took their place in the bleachers. The commanding officer picked up his blowhorn and shouted, “Drop that baton.” Or rather, “Drop that baton, y’all.”

I say the police overreacted. Before advancing they could have brought in a  special negotiator to try to mediate the crisis. Set up a command post and see if they could work something out peacefully. Maybe the director just wanted to play one more special song to celebrate his school’s victory. Perhaps he was tuning up to play, “Happy Days Are Here Again.”

The gentleman was later booked into jail and released after posting bail. I don’t know the bail conditions. Presumably the police felt the musical director was not a flight risk. As well it would not surprise me to find out that there were a couple of bail conditions such as “keeping the peace and being of good behaviour, reporting to the police if required to do so and staying at least 500 feet away from a clarinet.

Is there a civil claim here by the director? In my view more than likely. No doubt the police violated the man’s constitutional rights. I have not checked it out, but there is likely a sub-amendment that guarantees Americans the right to bear tubas.  

The law must also pay deference to the ethos of the iconic circus master P.T. Barnum, who is reputed to have originated the phrase, “The show must go on.” And certainly this whole post sporting event triggered by the police turned into a circus.

I also see a possible action by some of the students in the band who witnessed the mêlée. This unnecessary escalation was a recipe for PTSD. I can readily see a student saying, “who needs the band? Too dangerous. I’m quitting — and joining the chess club.”

I would also add that the drastic actions the police took might encourage similar behaviour by the public when they don’t like some performance. Other patrons may well view these police demands for the show to stop as a licence to make a musical or theatrical event an interactive one.

I myself recall being dragged kicking and screaming to Toronto’s Roy Thompson Hall to watch some German opera. After an hour or so of suffering through it I had to exercise great restraint to keep from shouting out to the merciless soprano, “OK, enough already. I surrender.”

Jefferson County School superintendent Dr. Walter Gonsoulin said that he’s gathering facts, and he declined further comment for now, noting. “I urge everyone not to jump to conclusions.”

I would say the facts are clear. The band director was doing his job conducting his band of students on school grounds when he was descended upon by police and security, stunned and arrested.

I say the police should not have approached the man at all. They could have just waited a few minutes, patiently, cooled their heels and whistled “Dixie.”

Marcel Strigberger retired from his Greater Toronto Area litigation practice and continues the more serious business of humorous author and speaker. His book Boomers, Zoomers, and Other Oomers: A Boomer-biased Irreverent Perspective on Aging is available on Amazon, (e-book) and paper version. Visit www.marcelshumour.com. Follow him @MarcelsHumour.

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