Reporter's Notebook: Highlights from the 2007 Annual Meeting of the American Historical Association


Mr. Shenkman is the editor of HNN.



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Day 1: Thursday January 4, 2007

It's supposed to rain Friday, but Thursday was 65 degrees and beautiful. Hello Atlanta!

The first panels didn't begin until 3pm, so a lot of people arrived in the afternoon. On the train in from the airport (it's a pleasant fifteen minute trip) it seemed as if the cars were packed with historians. Within arm's reach of this reporter the presence of at least five historians was detected almost immediately. One gray-haired historian was busy chatting up a poker game with a graduate student, hoping to entice her to join in the merriment planned for Friday night. "Stakes high?" she asked. "Nickel, dime, quarter," the historian answered. "If you lose $5 that would be a lot." The student didn't seem to need convincing. She was in. The historian (who shall go nameless) expressed his appreciation. It seems that a lot of times it's hard attracting players even though the game was something of a tradition for SHEAR attendees at the AHA. (The games began in 1979.) There just don't seem to be many historians who want to sit around playing poker. The nosy reporter with HNN asked our nameless historian what panels he planned on attending. None was the answer, as if that should have been obvious. Who attends the panels? Conventions are for socializing.

It actually turned out that a lot of people came to attend the panels. Twenty-two were scheduled. Many seemed to have attracted respectable numbers. This was the scene at panel number 16: "Revisiting Black Power: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives."

As might be expected there were a lot of black faces in the audience and on the panel. This was an unusual occurrence. As HNN has noted in the past both the AHA and the OAH conventions usually are nearly all-white (and usually predominantly male). Even the roundtables on reparations have often been predominantly white. This convention has seemed different so far.

The chief theme of the convention is: "Unstable Subjects: Practicing History in Unsettled Times." The topic shows prescience on the part of the program committee. A year and a half ago when the topic was picked only Democrats probably would have readily agreed that we live in unsettled times. Since the November elections both Democrats and Republicans probably share the same outlook, though for different reasons. Where once Republicans had seen great hope in Iraq .... oh well, no need to go into that right now.

One of the unsettling things is that even in these troubled times few Americans seem especially concerned with how we got here. Bad things just seem to have happened. As the high school student said, in answer to the question, "what's history?"--"It's just one dam*d thing after another."

Two of the panels today directly addressed the problem of attracting an audience for history. Michael Grossman, former editor of the American Historical Review, said part of the problem was that historians don't write for a mass audience the way they used to. He admitted it's hard. He's been trying to make his newest book accessible. But his editor keeps telling him, "it's not working." This prompted a complaint from someone in the audience that good writing isn't taught in graduate school. But Jim Banner said it's not something you can probably teach. A great writer like Richard Hofstadter studies past masters and then develops his own style. He didn't write well because he took some class in writing.

By the end of the afternoon all the usual suspects had been rounded up and shot. The problem was that historians aren't writing about subjects the general public finds interesting. Or. The problem was that textbooks turn Americans off to history. Or. Historians don't privilege public history so historians don't write it.

Jim Banner piped up again about this aspect of the problem, noting in exasperation that public historians have not been honored with leadership positions in "this organization." "It's a scandal," he stated passionately, "that Arthur Schlesinger never was a president of the AHA."

The evening was devoted to black music and the presentation of the Fourth Theodore Roosevelt-Woodrow Wilson Award. In keeping with the irony with which this award has been associated, it went this year to Rep. John Lewis, hero of the civil rights struggle. The irony this year is that a black leader was being given an award named in part in honor of Wilson, one of the most racist presidents of the United States. The irony a few years ago was that the AHA, which is known for its liberal membership, gave the award to the one-time KKK member Sen. Robert Byrd. Wilson never apologized for his racism; Byrd of course has. As they say: history is complicated.

Lewis had planned on attending the ceremony in person but because the new Congress got an early start this year he could not. Instead, he delivered a fiery talk via videotape. Some 200 sat and watched:

The evening ended with what AHA President Linda Kerber said was the unprecedented performance of live music on the convention's first day. This was the Wendell Phillips Whalum Community Chorus:

Day 2: Friday January 5, 2007

Today it rained. Crossing between the Hilton and the Marriott was treacherous at times. Making matters worse, a local cop stopped people from crossing in the middle of the street even though that's where the entrances to both hotels are. Laboriously we had to walk to the corner and wait for the light in the rain. One historian who tried a mad dash through the empty street got yelled at. "Hey, didn't you hear me," said the cop. "I said to walk at the corner." He was only doing his job. But the determination with which he protected us from ourselves went mostly unappreciated.

The day ended with the traditional handing out of awards and prizes. AHA President Linda Kerber delivered her presidential address:"The Stateless as the Citizen's Other."

Earlier there were trips to the countryside, socializing and oh, yes, attendance at the scholarly panels. Only a few panels drew sizeable crowds. None featured large audiences. And at least one was an out and out failure when three of the four panelists didn't show. (You know who you are!) Over at the Westin something went haywire at the panel on teaching history through fiction. The lights kept going out plunging the room into darkness several times during one panelist's presentation. She gamely pressed on and at the end of her talk received a loud round of applause.

Attendance at the Atlanta convention is lower than at last year's Philadelphia meeting. But the bigger cities always attract bigger crowds. The AHA estimates that by Sunday about 5,000 will have registered for the convention; Philadelphia had about 5800.

And just what was it like today? We roamed around to give you a feel. See if you can spot David Brion Davis, one of the winners (with Fritz Stern and Lloyd Gardner) of the AHA's senior scholars' award. (Hint: He's signing a festschrift being published this month in his honor.)

In the morning one of the stellar sessions featured a talk by Marilyn Zoidis, the former curator of the Smithsonian's multimillion dollar Star-Spangled Banner exhibit (this is the one that will feature the famous War of 1812 flag when the Museum of American History reopens in 2008). Zoidis's topic: "The American Flag Is Not Just a Simple Statement of Patriotism."

At noon most people hurried off to lunch. But about 100 stayed behind to attend a panel about the future of the AHA. It was one of the liveliest of the day. Past AHA President William H. Chafe opened the forum with a summary of the AHA's problems, one of which is a lack of racial diversity. Frequently, he turned to the AHA's Robert Townsend for facts and figures. At one point Townsend noted that that the AHA is less representative of minorities than the last Republican convention. This drew a gasp from the audience.

In the afternoon the panel drawing one of the most passionate crowds dealt with the topic of truth commissions. Kate Doyle of the National Security Archive, stepping in at the last moment to replace Greg Grandin, reviewed the history of the first Guatemala truth commission (a second one has now been proposed). The numbers she related are astonishing. After collecting the testimonies of some 8,000 people, the commission concluded that there had been more than 600 massacres of civilians during the war against the left-wing insurgency. The military was implicated in 93 percent of the human rights violations. The military of course refused to cooperate with the commission. Much of the evidence that was used was based on 25,000 documents the National Security Archive compiled from American records using the Freedom of Information Act.

Trudy Peterson, former acting archivist of the United States and president of the Society of American Archivists, delivered the next paper. She's been investigating what happens to the archives of truth commissions. It turns out many are either lost or neglected. She explained what the one factor is that is common to the countries that preserve their records.

Day 3: Saturday January 6, 2007

It was a day of news.

The morning brought word that one of the lifetime members of the AHA attending the annual convention had been arrested and tossed in jail for jaywalking.

Felip Fernandez-Armesto detained by Atlanta police for jaywalking Jan. 4, 2007.  Picture by Jonathan Dresner.

On Thursday, just after noon, the Tufts historian Felipe Fernandez-Armesto was arrested by Atlanta police as he crossed the middle of the street between the Hilton and Hyatt hotels. After being thrown on the ground and handcuffed, the former Oxford don was formally arrested, his hands cuffed behind his back. Several policemen pressed hard on his neck and chest, leaving the mild-mannered scholar, who's never gotten so much as a parking ticket, bruised and in pain. He was then taken to the city detention center along with other accused felons and thrown into a filthy jail cell filled with prisoners. He remained incarcerated for eight hours. Officials demanded bail of over a thousand dollars. To come up up with the money Fernandez-Armesto, the author of nineteen books, had to make an arrangement with a bail bondsman. In court even the prosecutors seemed embarrassed by the incident, which got out of hand when Fernandez-Armesto requested to see the policeman's identification (the policeman was wearing a bomber jacket; to Fernandez-Armesto, a foreigner unfamiliar with American culture, the officer did not look like an officer). The prosecutors asked the professor to plead nolo contendere. He refused, concerned that the stain on his record might put his green card status in jeopardy. Officials finally agreed to drop all charges. The judge expressed his approval. The professor says he has no plans to sue. But the AHA council is considering lodging a complaint with the city.

Professor Fernandez-Armesto provided HNN with a riveting account of his day in an Atlanta jail. We have broken the interview into several parts to make the download quicker.

Update 1/8/07 In response to the news that Atlanta police had arrested Fernandez-Armesto for jaywalking, the AHA council decided to send a letter of protest to local officials who had helped stage the convention with the understanding that the AHA's concerns would be passed along to the appropriate city authorities.

(Click here to post a comment on the controversy.)

Click here for Part 2. Click here for Part 3.

On the days after the professor's ordeal, the Atlanta police were continuing to stop historians from jaywalking. Anybody caught crossing the street against the light was reprimanded. Many were asked to produce their driver's license. But police did not arrest anybody. Some historians were mildly amused by the attentiveness of the police to the crime of jaywalking.

HAW members at the AHA Friday Jan. 5, 2007.Late in the afternoon the AHA made history. At the annual Business Meeting, a proceeding usually featuring dry reports by the organization's leaders, the members approved an anti-war resolution, the first in the AHA's existence. The voice vote at the packed meeting was nearly unanimous. It was sponsored by Historians Against the War. The meeting also approved a measure putting the AHA on record against the use of "free speech zones." A third resolution urged the AHA council to consider subscribing to a pro-labor service that tracks developments in the hotel and convention industry. All of the measures must be approved by the council before they are considered the official policy of the AHA.

This is the text of the anti-war resolution:

Whereas the American Historical Association’s Professional Standards emphasize the importance of open inquiry to the pursuit of historical knowledge;

Whereas the American Historical Association adopted a resolution in January 2004 re-affirming the principles of free speech, open debate of foreign policy, and open access to government records in furthering the work of the historical profession;

Whereas during the war in Iraq and the so-called war on terror, the current Administration has violated the above-mentioned standards and principles through the following practices:

  • excluding well-recognized foreign scholars;
  • condemning as “revisionism” the search for truth about pre-war intelligence;
  • re-classifying previously unclassified government documents;
  • suspending in certain cases the centuries-old writ of habeas corpus and substituting indefinite administrative detention without specified criminal charges or access to a court of law;
  • using interrogation techniques at Guantanamo, Abu-Ghraib, Bagram, and other locations incompatible with respect for the dignity of all persons required by a civilized society;

Whereas a free society and the unfettered intellectual inquiry essential to the practice of historical research, writing, and teaching are imperiled by the prctices described above; and

Whereas, the foregoing practives are inextricably linked to the war in which the United States is presently engaged in Iraq; now, therefore, be it

Resolved, That the American Historical Association urges its members through publication of this resolution in Perspectives and other appropriate outlets:

1. To take a public stand as citizens on behalf of the values necessary to the practice of our profession; and
2. To do whatever they can to bring the Iraq war to a speedy conclusion.

One of the first people to speak in favor of the anti-war resolution was Staughton Lynd, who had battled at the 1969 AHA convention for a resolution opposing the Vietnam War. It famously lost. Lynd took pains to point out that the 1969 resolution was far more radical than the current one.

The anti-war vote took place after a heated debate that lasted an hour. A motion to drop a clause urging historians to "do whatever they can to bring the Iraq war to a speedy conclusion" was easily defeated. But the debate was vigorous.

The text of the resolution was crafted to emphasize "practices inimical to the values of the historical profession" in an attempt to win over the members worried that the organization might be accused of meddling in areas outside the usual purview of a professional society. But no one denied the resolution was frankly anti-war. And everybody who spoke, including those who opposed the resolution, made clear that they opposed the war, including Stanford historian James Sheehan, featured first in the video below.


The meeting's tough line on Iraq was not matched by the action taken on the other two resolutions which came before the group. The members rejected a strong resolution opposing the use of university-approved speech codes. A compromise resolution narrowly written to oppose only free speech zones was unanimously approved. David Beito, one of the sponsors of the strong measure, gloomily told HNN afterward the passage of the compromise resolution against speech zones was a real defeat. (Update 1/9/07 Click here for video and details on the speech code debate. )

The meeting also rejected a resolution that would have required the AHA council to subscribe to the Informed Meetings Exchange (INMEX), which is closely associated with the pro-labor group behind the recent wave of hotel strikes. A second compromise resolution merely urged the council to consider subscribing to the service.

The meeting ended with the traditional passing of the gavel from incumbent Linda Kerber to the new president of the AHA: Barbara Weinstein.

Day 4: Sunday January 7, 2007

Sunday everybody went home, but not before hundreds of historians attended fifty-six panels scheduled from eight thirty in the morning until one in the afternoon. (One proposal under study at the AHA is to do away entirely with Sunday panels, though this would conflict with the goal of adding panels to the conventions in order to make the annual meetings more appealing to a broader range of people.)

HNN shot video of two of the panels. Over at the Marriott there was a panel on "Interrogation, Imprisonment and American Empire." Rebecca M. Lemov (Harvard) delivered a paper titled, " 'I Had Become Another Person': Mind Control and the Birth of Soft Torture in America." Here are some clips from the talk, which demonstrated the links between government-sponsored social science research into mind control in the 1950s and the practices of "soft torture" used at Guantanamo currently.

Meanwhile, over at the Hilton historians were debating the ways they should handle controversies that pop up in the teaching and presentation of history at schools and museums. The session was titled, "Practicing History, Contending with Controversy: Public Historians and Academic Historians on Our Work, Early Twenty-First Century."

And then the convention ended. In all nearly 4800 historians had attended more than 200 panels.

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Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

Among the "root causes" of this unfortunate incident must be included the addiction of cities such as Atlantto motor vehicle transportation. Such near-total domination of cars over pedestrians makes it unthinkable to hold major events for out-of-towners without huge thoroughfares of traffic, fueled by the key revenue source for Mideast-terrorist-financiers, running through the middle of those gatherings as a constant disruptive hassle and hazard.

Karenda K Willson - 1/25/2007

It is good to know that the police are doing their job and getting those violent jaywalkers off the streets and not raiding crack houses or following up on crime victims from rape, child abuse, spousal abuse, etc.. I am thankful they are focused on the hard crimes like jaywalking.

adam richard schrepfer - 1/21/2007


I ll spell this out and make it real clear since you are having a difficult time. If you are involved in police work you probably won't let people just blow off your requests. You are right it's not just about safety but also authority. As participants in society don't you think that we should respect police officers? I don't know, maybe acknowledge them when they are speaking to us...Don't you want that in your classes from your students??

Anyway I admire your heroism in standing against the Atlanta PD. My only hope is that they pay attention to you next time you lay your life on the line for the right to J walk.

Lisa Kazmier - 1/19/2007

Nice non-answer. So, picking on my supposed lack of logic explains why no one said squat, huh? My point was that they didn't care just then about safety. What was it? Pick on the little guy with the foreign accent and intimidate others?

Well, I wasn't intimidated. So it didn't work. I didn't care. Guess it pays to dare someone to question you. Or was someone afraid I'd hit 'em with my cane?

Thomas Bockhorn - 1/18/2007

By the nature of their training, police officers especially with the aftermath of 9/11 will use overwhelming force to enforce the rules. Both the Hilton and Marriott should have hired their own "traffic cops" if you will and regulated the flow of historians. Or block that particular part of the street off from traffic so there would be no need for historians to be in fear of police.

Eugene Phillips - 1/17/2007

It is best to do what the policeman tell you to do--particularly in Istanbul, or be willing to accept the consequences. I grew up in Atlanta and found Atlanta Police to be no more unreasonable than those in Chicago for example.

adam richard schrepfer - 1/17/2007

You are right I should not call the person pathetic.....their outrage and comments are pathetic....

adam richard schrepfer - 1/17/2007

Dear Lisa Kazmier,

Your logic NEVER ceases to amaze me...and I don't mean that in a good way. If you are a police officer, do you detain a male who blows off your authority or a women with a cane? Also if you have just detained Dr. Fernandez does it make any sense to FURTHER escalate the situation by arresting a women with a cane?????????

Guy Wells - 1/15/2007

This might be the most astute question asked to date--who was paying the Atlanta officers to do what they did? The hotel? First reaction on reading of the incident was to want to punish Atlanta somehow, and no doubt its PD is a tempting target, but the actual culprit might be closer to home.

Craig Michael Loftin - 1/15/2007

Just because you disagree with someone doesn't mean you need to call them "pathetic." Why make such an attack? Why not just say "I disagree" and explain your position? Why attack someone you do not know and have never met?

Lisa Kazmier - 1/15/2007

Well, I challenged them because frankly I was too tired and hurting to walk any further. I walked right under the police tape, then across the street, then right past 'em. Nothing happened. Hence I couldn't imagined that was the reason that Dr. Fernandez-Armesto was on the ground. I figured if I had trouble it would be because I was doing it in front of them. But no. Care to comment?

Apparently American women with canes can flout their authority -- best I can figure.

adam richard schrepfer - 1/15/2007


Question. If you are a police officer in a position of authority, who do you let challenge your authority. A man or a woman with a cane? If you can't answer that question honestly you have no concept of authority whatsoever.

Lisa Kazmier - 1/15/2007

Since you know so much, why don't you address the question that I've posed. Given the situation, I jaywalked RIGHT IN FRONT OF THE POLICE. They did NOTHING. All 10 of 'em or so were apparently too wrapped up in their arrest of Bin Laden Fernandez-Armesto, I guess. I walked right past them and they apparently didn't notice a woman walking with a cane (an excellent weapon, too)?

Peter August Kurilecz - 1/14/2007

"The AHA should send a letter to the mayor of Atlanta saying that the association will never hold its conventions there again."

so then historians are above obeying the laws? i would be very interested in know ing how much the various historians spent in Atlanta. That is what really determines whether or not a city wishes to host a convention.

Carlos Alberto Barbouth - 1/13/2007

Well and very eloquently put: "it is simply fascinating to watch the force of class, elocution, grace, intelligence, education, media exposure measured against the brute force of the atlanta PD".

My feelings exactly. What a learning experience to watch the video! In fact, it motivated me to research a bit about the hideous crime (as Prof. Fernandez-Armesto put it) of "jaywalking", and found a site which examines the subject from various angles:

1 Etymology
2 Legality
3 Causes
4 Safety
5 Driver cooperation
6 References

The site is: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jaywalking

But surely there is much more to it, and I feel it represents fertile and relatively unexplored ground for Prof. Fernandez-Armesto to enlighten us about in a future work of his.

Steven R Alvarado - 1/13/2007

Thank you for some sanity in these inane posting(s).

Lisa Kazmier - 1/13/2007

Those ideas, again, make sense. Maybe the comment about ignorance and the overriding desire to use force also does, too. I still have not seen anyone confront my story. I jaywalked RIGHT IN FRONT OF THE ARREST and no one said squat to me. I've offered several theories, none of which reflect any concern whatsoever for the safety of attendees. Hence why I think your ideas wouldn't have helped. I believe another agenda existed, or I would have been cautioned or something else (and I would have been mad and mouthed off).

Lisa Kazmier - 1/13/2007

Because you make, I doubt it will happen. The reason -- money. They think the cheap answer of a show arrest or force beats some other "answer." Heck, those two hotels are right across the street BUT to get from the lobby of one to the other, it was convoluted and not-at-all obvious. I had to ask at least once, and I think I wound up asking AHA people vs. hotel people.

Someone at the HQ for those individual hotels likely doesn't want a joint idea to take place because they think it hurts them but during these conventions where attendees cannot possibly stay at one play, they ought to reconsider.

Jesse Lemisch - 1/13/2007

Of course the cops are at fault. But I have seen no mention of the responsibility of the city and the two hotels.

Although there must be endless conventions that go back and forth between two hotels, they always hold back on directions to the other hotel. It took about 20 years for me to figure out how to get from the one to the other in DC.

So the ultimate fault is with the hotels for not providing clear directions and easy access back and forth. The city is also at fault for ignoring this chronic problem and finding no solution other than arrest.

Meantime, AHA and OAH ought to insist, when planning meetings in neighboring hotels, that these problems be resolved.

Jesse Lemisch

HNN - 1/13/2007

Regarding the arrest of Prof Fernandez-Armesto for jaywalking, in my view as an Atlanta resident you've missed the context of this story. Just a few months ago the Atlanta police murdered a 94 year old Black woman, breaking into her home in response to false information that drug dealers were occupying the premises. This woman was a matriarchal pillar of her neighborhood, and her needless death has sent shock waves throughout the city. The actions of the cops reflect a disconnect between the local community and the police. Anyone in the neighborhood could have told them an elderly and respected woman lived at the address, but the police had been unable to discover such an obvious fact. The incident joins a long list of other such police actions in NYC and other cities, and it occurred in 2006 just after the 100th anniversary of the Atlanta race riot. I hope HNN will make an effort to follow up on your report and establish that the police conduct fits into a pattern both locally and nationally.

Other considerations complicate the situation. You might point out that it was raining on and off during the days the AHA was meeting. I don't know if it was raining at the time of the incident, but the rain made it particularly tempting to jaywalk and particularly dangerous. Courtland St is southbound, and the intersection north of the hotels, with Harris St., has no traffic light, and the drivers tends to speed down this "chute." So the police may have felt justified in protecting the conference attendees from a greater danger of being struck down by speeding cars. More considerate solutions could have been found. For instance, planting a couple of police cruisers just north of Harris St with lights flashing would have slowed the traffic. Then officers could have directed traffic from mid-block, allowing pedestrians to cross from hotel entrance to hotel entrance. Or the police could have alerted both the AHA and the hotels to caution members/ guests that jaywalking was dangerous and laws would be strictly enforced. But either of these remedies would have required some imagination and cooperation, which the police killing indicates are lacking.

David H Slavin
adjunct prof. Emory University

Lorraine Paul - 1/13/2007

How anyone could defend the actions of these Atlanta policemen is beyond me! Actually their behaviour was reminiscent of stormtroopers rather than the actions of those who are there to ostensibly protect us.

If they had challenged and/or arrested all of those who 'offended' then a case might be made, however, from the comments above, this was not the case. Was the 'mild-mannered professor' singled out? If so, why?

I am also very sad that when I toured the US, back in 1999, everywhere I went I was treated with kindness, courtesy and helpfulness by strangers. Has the fact of 9/11 turned those with some authority into becoming power-mad and suspicious? Very sad!

Lisa Kazmier - 1/12/2007

Well, guess what -- I'm going to confess. I JAYWALKED RIGHT IN FRONT OF THE POLICE WHILE THEY WERE EN MASS ARRESTING MR. FERNANDEZ-ARMESTO. Heck, I practically walked right past them. I even picked up the police tape on the opposite side of the street and ducked under it to cross the street. Did the police accost me? Nope. Did they ask me for ID? Nope. Did they say anything to me? Nope.

Why do you think that is? Gender? Race? The fact that I had a cane (hmm, a weapon -- maybe I'm a terrorist...)?

Thus, jaywalking is NOT the basis for what happened imo. It was about the cop being upset for not getting whatever answers or genuflecting he wanted. Maybe he expected the smallish man to be intimidated? Maybe he singled him out as a foreigner? I don't know but I hardly think this is about jaywalker or someone has to explain to me why they showed that they couldn't care less that I FLOUTED this "law" RIGHT IN FRONT OF THEM and no one really showed any concern (the ironic thing is, too, I find people tend to really try to be helpful and considerate of me when I walk with my cane and/or am so tired that I noticably limp or show difficulty doing thing).

No one at the AJC opted to address that question, yet I told them too that I jaywalked right in front of the cops. Interesting?

Lisa Kazmier - 1/12/2007

Let me tell ya, I was strongly thinking about it, but that is also a sure ticket to being arrested for "interfering with police work." If I had seen it from the start, I might have done it. I have a big mouth and shoot it off often w/o warning or thought.

adam richard schrepfer - 1/12/2007

Marion I like this suggestion.

adam richard schrepfer - 1/12/2007

Mimi you are pathetic....if you don't drink underage or drive with a tale light out in your car then you are a boring person??? Ok... I'm sorry that it's so hard for you to understand cooperating and respecting police officers. (the oral sex one well.... I might just have to agree with you on that but I don't think the Atlanta police will find out about that anytime soon)

Rodney Huff - 1/12/2007

I don't think anyone has forgotten that the professor jaywalked and that jaywalking is illegal. That the professor did something wrong is taken, throughout these posts, as a matter of fact - a total non-issue. That jaywalking is the "root cause" of the professor's treatment is a moot point, since others who have posted here - and arguably many others who have not - have jaywalked the streets of Atlanta and have been altogether ignored by the police.

I find it amusing that you seem to think you shed light on this issue by shining a light on a non-issue. Advice: Be careful you don't sound like an apologist for the abuse and misuse of power. It piques my curiosity that you, a citizen of Atlanta who is subject to this same police force, doesn't join the chorus condemning this blatant misuse of police power, especially in light of other cases of abuse now roiling the Atlanta police. I'm thinking of the police who shot and killed an old woman in her home after lying to obtain a no-knock search warrant. Things that "should" make you go hmmm... immediately followed by "what the f@ck!?"

Mimi Ka - 1/12/2007

clue phone? Obey the law avoid problems?

I don't understand. If you're saying, 'get a clue: obey the law and you will avoid problems' - well, duh. Are you saying that you've never jaywalked, performed oral sex, drank underage, driven with a broken taillight, etc. etc. etc.?

If not, wow, you're boring. If you have, the Atlanta PD have the legal right to assault you, and they fully intend to do so as soon as they get the chance.

Sadly, this is where my tax dollars go: for the PD to beat up jaywalkers, rather than actually keeping the peace.

Patrick Timmons - 1/12/2007

January 12, 2007

From the New York Times

Fatal Raid Linked to Lies for Warrant in Drug Case


ATLANTA, Jan. 11 — A narcotics team that shot and killed an elderly woman while raiding her home lied to obtain the search warrant, one team member has told federal investigators, according to news reports confirmed by a person familiar with the investigation who requested anonymity.

The officers falsely claimed that a confidential informant had bought $50 worth of crack at the house, the team member, Gregg Junnier, told the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Mr. Junnier retired from the Atlanta Police Department last week.

The story backs up statements by Alex White, a police informant, who said that after the shooting the police had asked him to claim, falsely, that he had bought crack at the modest home of the woman, Kathryn Johnston, whose age has been reported as both 88 and 92.

Ms. Johnston, pictured wearing a birthday crown in a widely used photograph, quickly became Exhibit A for complaints of excessive force by the police, prompting packed, angry town-hall-style meetings, accusations of systematic civil rights violations and calls for civilian review of police shootings in Atlanta.

The incident has also demoralized a police force where the number of narcotics officers has dwindled while, some critics say, pressure to make arrests has increased.

“The rest of the world is now hearing from the mouths of the police officers involved what we knew all along,” said the Rev. Markel Hutchins, a spokesman for Ms. Johnston’s relatives, who have maintained that she had nothing to do with illegal drugs and that neither her house nor her basement, which had a separate entrance, was used by dealers.

Spokesmen with the F.B.I.’s Atlanta office and the United States attorney here declined to comment. The shooting occurred on Nov. 21, after three members of the narcotics team arrested a suspected street marijuana dealer, Fabian Sheats, who said he could help the officers hook a bigger fish.

Mr. Sheats pointed out Ms. Johnston’s house on Neal Street, near a high-crime area, saying a dealer there had a kilogram of cocaine. The officers, according to the reports of Mr. Junnier’s account, tried to get an informant to the house to make a drug buy. But when that effort hit a snag, a request for a search warrant was drawn up anyway.

The paper, signed by Officer J. R. Smith, one of the three officers who made the arrest, claimed that a buy had been made from a dealer named Sam, and that a “no-knock” warrant was needed because Sam had security cameras outside the house — another detail that was fabricated, according to the accounts of what Mr. Junnier told the F.B.I.

Mr. Smith’s lawyer, JohnGarland, declined to comment.

After a judge signed the warrant, the officers pried open Ms. Johnston’s burglar bars and broke down her door. She responded with gunshots from a handgun that neighbors said she kept for defense. The officers, three of whom were injured, returned fire and killed her. No cocaine was found.

Mr. Junnier’s lawyer, Rand Csehy, confirmed that his client was cooperating with investigators. William McKenney, a lawyer for Arthur Tesler, the third officer involved in the arrest, said his client would also cooperate.


adam richard schrepfer - 1/12/2007

Mima Ka....

Ohh I'm crying sooo hard right now...waaaaaaaaaaaaghhhhhhhhhh......clue phone..obey the law avoid problems...

Marion Huxtable - 1/12/2007

I am a member of the Non Motorized Transportation Advisory Board of Port Townsend Washington. I send my sympathies to professor Fernandez-Armesta and the AHA for the atrocious behavior of the Atlanta Police. The AHA could perform a public service by requesting that the city of Atlanta install a mid block crossing between the two hotels for the benefit of guests and conference attendees and also that the police be stationed to assist conference attendees to cross the street by stopping cars.

Mimi Ka - 1/11/2007

The problem with the Atlanta PD is exactly that. Their prime goal is always use the maximum amount of force allowed to them by the law.

They never seek to achieve some other goal, like... preserve order or keep the peace.

Instead, they find a civilian who has broken a law, and then beat him up during the arrest. Why? Because they can!

They have a military attitude, where we are the enemy. Not a policeman attitude, where we are all citizens of the same community.

Mimi Ka - 1/11/2007

as is fitting in the home place of Martin Luther King and cite non-violent resistance.

We are a violent city, with a violent, history. Louche is a rather accurate description for our police force, as is overzealous.

Obviously the state is inherently violent, and of course the state of Georgia, with our history of slavery, war, lynchings and riots, is especially so.

But the good Professor is showing us EXACTLY what to do about it. I have watched this interview with glee several times - because it is simply fascinating to watch the force of class, elocution, grace, intelligence, education, media exposure measured against the brute force of the atlanta PD, judo, bomber jackets, handcuffs, searches, detention power - and who won?

Professor Fernandez-Armesto, of course. He may look harmless and pathologically law-abiding. But, with his spectacles and his peppermints, he has made his point. He will not be corralled or bullied easily - it will take the full, brute, ugly, force of the law, and then he will demonstrate exactly how much more powerful the pen is than the sword.

Love it.

DeWayne Edward Benson - 1/11/2007

What you are all forgetting, historians are a dangerous lot, six or seven Officers under these circumstances are indeed called for. When will these riotous gangs such as these historians stop congregating and despoiling our cities? Law breakers, the whole bunch.

DeWayne Edward Benson - 1/11/2007

Am not acquainted with the local constbulary of this city, but wish to include my congratulations to the Historians and their declaration regarding the Bush-Admin's. illegal war in Iraq.

Howard Fore - 1/11/2007

I find it amusing (in a sad way) to read all these comments of outrage and indignation. Regardless of how Mr. Fernandez-Armesto was treated, the root cause was the infraction of jaywalking. This is complete glossed over.

In Atlanta there is a lot of pressure coming from residents (me) on the police to crackdown on motorists (also me) who don't pay proper attention to pedestrians (sometimes me again) who are in the crosswalk. The other side of the coin is that pedestrians need to behave in a predictable manner. Crossing in the middle of the block is not behaving in a predictable manner.

Mr. Fernandez-Armesto broke the law when he crossed in the middle of the block and the police were well within their rights (and obligations) to address that. Events that transpired after that no matter how heinous can be directly traced back to the jaywalking. If officers did not act properly after the initial attempt to intervene with Mr. Fernandez-Armesto, they should be dealt with appropriately. But do not forget that this would not have happened if Mr. Fernandez-Armesto had decided to walk to the end of the block and wait a few minutes for the light to change.

Sammy Kamatu - 1/10/2007

You wrote:

*** The report pretty well confirms Fernandez-Ernesto's story: the police officer refused to show his badge or other identification which would confirm his authority. ***

Because, as the officer points out in the incident report, a uniformed officer is not required to show identification.

Jonathan Dresner - 1/10/2007

Thanks for the document.

The report pretty well confirms Fernandez-Ernesto's story: the police officer refused to show his badge or other identification which would confirm his authority.

Moreover, having lived in cities like Atlanta, I can say that a whistle from across the street, and someone shouting from that distance, just doesn't usually register as something directed at oneself.

Sammy Kamatu - 1/10/2007

Historians, please show some interest in gathering facts.

You don't get arrested for jaywalking (you receive a citation).

You get arrested for failing to obey a lawful order and similar offenses.

Professor Prima Donna received a whistled warning not to jaywalk before he chose to do so.


Barrett J. Archer - 1/9/2007

You'd think more historians would be familiar with the Monty Python reference in the initial post.

David Gerard - 1/9/2007

Sorry, that link didn't work; it's in http://uncyclopedia.org/wiki/Category:9_January_2007

David Gerard - 1/9/2007


sam shannon - 1/9/2007

As a foreigner arriving in Florida, I was instructed to always request ID from all officials. This seemed a little odd, but inline with the general sense of paranoia I continued to encounter.

The question is how can asking for ID initiate any other response than the presentation of appropriate credentials? I was under the impression that American police were required to identify themselves.

I too, am scared of attracting the attention of police, in fear of some unknown minor infringement impacting my visa status.

Charles S Young - 1/9/2007

Here's what the AHA should demand of the Atlanta cops. Seriously. The officers involved should be required to watch the entire video interview with Fernandez-Armesto. It really communicates how mean and stupid the main cop was. The prolonged, understated British humour will also no doubt be excruciating.

And where were Armesto's colleagues? Why were they not pouring out of the Hilton and throwing their bodies in front of the paddy wagon? Academics....

Charles Bittner - 1/9/2007

The AJC is writing a follow-up story, which will be published on 1/10. If you witnessed this incident please call Christian at the AJC. His cell phone number is 678-910-8718.

Scott Morgan Keels - 1/9/2007

So, if these officers were hired by the hotels, which knew of the tendency of their guests to cross the street at that point, why weren't the officers directed to act as crossing guards and HELP people cross the street,instead of acting like bullies?

This incident begs the question of what sort of brutality the Atlanta police must be inflicting on someone that's not a thin white man in a suit.

Maybe these officers would have been more effective at curbing jay walking by displaying their intentions by wearing brown shirts and goose-stepping instead.

Lisa Kazmier - 1/9/2007

Thanks for posting that. The last sentence is really good. Don't know if I will contribute to that well or not but I did post something on the AJC website and wrote a letter to the editor about the article, since it was too late for me to call before publication.

Lisa Kazmier - 1/9/2007

Yep. I forgot about that. It came after the arrest, but yes, walking between the Marriott and Hilton was an adventure.

Trevor Russell Getz - 1/9/2007

One might add that for much of the conference it was impossible to cross at either crosswalk as they were both entirely flooded with water by a very brief storm.

Charles Bittner - 1/8/2007

I, like every other reasonable person, am outraged by the horrible treatment of Prof Fernandez-Armesto, and have been in contact with Christian Bennett of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Christian interviewed the professor this evening, and will write a story about the incident in tomorrow's (1/9)AJC. If any AHA attendees witnessed the arrest, please contact Christian, as soon as possible, at 404-526-5953. In addition, I encourage all historians to write letters to the editor of the AJC after the story is released. Professor Fernandez-Armesto has suffered both physical and emotional injuries. In my opinion, it is critical that acts of this kind of brutality are investigated, widely reported and condemned.

Lisa Kazmier - 1/8/2007

Thanks for confirming. I knew I got to the hotel before noon but wasn't sure when I went to the Hilton. I was pretty sure I saw this unfold early in the pm. Thanks again.

Lisa Kazmier - 1/8/2007

Keystone cops? I didn't do a head count but I thought there was a whole lot of 'em there. You'd think they got bin Laden or something.

They must be trying to look like fools. I mean, even if they were augmenting security and were looking at some weird risk to historians (are we really a target?), how does a jaywalking guy in a suit constitute a legimate suspect? I did it RIGHT IN FRONT OF THEM. Nothing happened. Anyone wanna speculate on that?

Chris Bray - 1/8/2007

Eight officers visible in the photograph, with descriptions of the arrest putting the total number on hand at ten. To arrest a jaywalker. Were the Atlanta police actively trying to look like a gang of idiots? Please keep us updated about any further developments.

Michael Bowen - 1/8/2007

I spoke with the policeman on Friday regarding his patrol. He was on "private detail," and his wages were not paid by the City of Atlanta at that time. He was paid by the Hilton to stop people from jaywalking because, apparently, there have been a number of accidents caused by people crossing between the two hotels.

Jonathan Dresner - 1/8/2007

It was Thursday, about 12:15.

Lisa Kazmier - 1/8/2007


The jaywalking incident did not occur on Saturday. I like the other historian were getting badges at the Hilton. I arrived on Thursday late morning and went over to the Hilton that afternoon. I am 99% sure the incident took place then and people only got wind of what happened (who was being arrested and why) later on. The reporter never clarifies the timing but I was there and I remember heading over to get my badge, which makes the event Thursday.

Tim R. Furnish - 1/7/2007

I meant "THERE might be more" and "Rick."
Gee, I should not post past 7 PM!

Tim R. Furnish - 1/7/2007

Anarcho-capitalist!? Wow....that's a new one on me.
Methinks that might be more to this story than Rich is reporting (I mean, perhaps the police version would be good to hear).
In my time here in Atlanta I can also say, however, that the Atlanta/Fulton County police have been known to overreact to perceived slights to their authority (most notably at the airport). I do know that every time I crossed the street between the hotels, leaving the Hilton, I was careful to do so at the corner crosswalks for two reasons: 1) I know full well what jackasses Atlanta drivers are, and 2) I had heard the cops posted there already yelling at folks NOT to cross in the middle of the street--and I learned long ago not to antagonize cops.

Jonathan Dresner - 1/7/2007

Mr. Stepp is an "anarcho-capitalist" libertarian, so I'm pretty sure that is, indeed, his position.

Julie Stout - 1/7/2007

Hello. Unfortunately, I missed the jaywalking incident, but I must tell you all that while I at the annual meeting on Friday, I was robbed at approximately 10 o'clock in the morning when I was walking back to the Mariott Marquis.
Another historian, Mark Mc-something or other, (forgive me, not good with names when just been a victim of crime) who was walking from his session at the Hilton back to the Sheraton where he was staying, witnessed the incident and was kind enough to escort me back to the Mariott in order to wait in the lobby there at the bell station for Atlanta police to respond.

Now, what I would like to know, ladies and gentlemen, where were these EIGHT COPS, eight of them, count eight, WHERE was Homeland Security when a woman is being robbed? There were no eight cops there.

The reason there were eight cops there on SATURDAY was because on SATURDAY there were carpenters picketing non-union contractors doing construction on the Marriott.

If any member recovers my purse, along with my wallet, drivers license, house keys, car keys, prescription medicine, do let me know at julieannstout @ yahoo.com as I will not be returning to Atlanta.

Tim R. Furnish - 1/7/2007

Oh. You're probably right. But does that mean the state should, ideally, wither away?

Jonathan Dresner - 1/7/2007

I think Stepp means the state as a political hegemony, not specifically Georgia.

John Van Sant - 1/7/2007

As others have already commented, this is a disgrace and the Atlanta police should be strongly condemned by the AHA. The AHA should also send official complaints to the managers of the Hilton, the Marriott, the Westin, and the Hyatt hotels as the police officers were there to allegedly protect the patrons of these hotels.

Tim R. Furnish - 1/7/2007

Well, I'm a historian and I've lived in Atlanta for 7 years now. So I am not a native here. But I think that it's a bit ridiculous to smear the whole state because of ONE incident.

Craig Michael Loftin - 1/7/2007

I just returned from AHA and in the spirit of the jaywalking incident, must report that I witnessed an incident of potential police brutality literally five seconds after stepping onto the downtown streets from the MARTA station upon arriving in Atlanta. As I was trying to figure out which way to go to the Hilton, a young African American male (maybe 14 or 15) suddenly ran by me in a sprint, and then changed direction, and he was being chased by someone. I turned around and noticed that the kid ran right into a cop (white for the record). The cop grabbed the kid, threw him on the ground, and I saw him punch the kid very hard in the face before putting cuffs on him. It resembled several recent police bruatlity cases here in LA that were caught on tape. The kid was small and unarmed.
This was my welcome to Atlanta.

Clifford Matthew Kuhn - 1/7/2007

This is a disgrace. As a resident of Atlanta, I can guarantee you that the police have more important things to attend to than going after jaywalking historians. I would be happy to assist with any communication between AHA and the City of Atlanta.

Cliff Kuhn
Georgia State University

William J. Stepp - 1/7/2007

You mean the violence inherent in the state.

Lisa Kazmier - 1/7/2007

I totally agree. And let me state I was there, with my cane, and I know exactly why anyone would "jaywalk" between those two hotels because I did it right as they arrested this gentleman. I even joked that I would beat them with my cane if they tried to arrest me because I was so tired and my leg hurt and I would be dammed if I had to walk to the end of the block to cross the street.

I was talking to someone about the incident. There was at least 10 cops there and the man was sitting basically on the ground and handcuffed and we were wondering what the heck he did to be arrested (he was wearing a suit as the image shows and he is not a big guy).

Either the cops didn't see me do this, though I walked right under some police tape or they figured arresting a woman with a cane for refusing to walk 50+ feet to not cross in the middle of a block wasn't worth it. Maybe the fact that I was limping and/or I'm an American made a difference.

I definitely think a formal complaint is in order. There were WAAAY too many cops there to take in one person for such a petty thing. Didn't they have something better to do?

Edwin Moise - 1/7/2007

I was stopped for jaywalking during what, if I recall correctly, was the AHA convention in Dallas in 1979. The officer treated me with complete courtesy, and didn't give me a ticket, but questioned me at some length about who I was and what I was doing.

I am pretty sure I know what was going on. I was at the AHA to interview for a job, which I needed rather badly. Compared to that, a jaywalking ticket simply was not important enough for me to worry about. So I was too calm. A good policeman will become very alert, very curious, when encountering a man who shows an abnormal lack of nervousness while dealing with the police.

Rich Scillia - 1/7/2007

The AHA should send a letter to the mayor of Atlanta saying that the association will never hold its conventions there again.
You'd think that the Atlanta cops would have better things to do. Is there an ulterior motive behind this? Were they retaliating for the anti-war resolution?

Jason Blake Keuter - 1/7/2007

The violence inherent in the system. I propose a massive jaywalk to Atlanta.

Lisa Kazmier - 1/6/2007

I'm at the AHA and would have played poker too. If I go next year, I'd love to play. How do I find that historian?

Tim Lacy - 1/5/2007

Thanks for the report - and those forthcoming. After attending last year's annual meeting, I knew I'd be missing out. The YouTube reproduction of Rep. Lewis' remarks was great: I watched the entire clip, and it was definitely, positively stirring. - TL