Take care when asking provocative questions at Kansas City’s library events: you might end up in jail.
The executive director of Kansas City Libraries says he’s outraged by the charges against Jeremy Rothe-Kushel, a Jewish man grabbed by private security after asking the event’s speaker, former diplomat Dennis Ross, uninvited follow-up questions. Off-duty cops moved in to arrest Rothe-Kushel when he objected to the hands-on treatment—as well as a library staffer who had moved to intervene.
The Associated Press reports Kansas City police spokeswoman Capt. Stacey Graves as saying officers “acted properly in helping private security stop an audience member from asking follow-up questions.”
Issues arose after Ross finished speaking and took a question from Jeremy Rothe-Kushel concerning whether Jewish Americans like Rothe-Kushel should be concerned about actions by the U.S. and Israel that amount to “state-sponsored terrorism.”
“When are we going to stand up and be ethical Jews and Americans?” Rothe-Kushel asked.
When Rothe-Kushel tried to ask another question, a private security guard grasped his arm, followed by an off-duty police officer, both employed by the Jewish Community Foundation. Rothe-Kushel then shouted, “Get your hands off of me right now!”
Steve Woolfolk, director of public programming for the library, tried to intervene. Both men were arrested by off-duty officers.
On-duty officers posted to the event apparently did not get involved until later: he was arrested by a man out of uniform and paid by the event’s organizers.
Rothe-Kushel was charged with trespassing and resisting arrest. Steve Woolfolk, director of public programming for the library, was charged with interfering with an arrest. The libraries’ executive director, R. Crosby Kemper III. Kemper, said the private security guards have no right to remove library patrons and that he was going public because prosecutors refuse to drop the charges.
At this stage, I’m actually outraged,” Kemper said. “This is a big violation of the very first amendment to the Constitution of the United States.”
If Kemper regrets letting cops work as hired muscle at library events, he seems to be learning his lesson.
“I assumed they would want this to go away,” he said, but “the police and the prosecutor’s office aren’t talking to us. They’ve just gotten into a defensive mode.”
The Kansas City prosecutor’s office declined to comment, citing a pending case. Kansas City Police Department spokeswoman Capt. Stacey Graves did not return KCUR’s call. But on Friday, she told The Kansas City Star: “If security wants the person out, and the officer saw a person being disruptive at the event, then we would remove the person,” Graves said. “We’re there to keep the peace.”