In the most pleasantly surprising news of the year, the Keene Sentinel has broken a story about Keene Police lieutenant Jason Short advocating mass civil disobedience regarding the city’s recently passed mask mandate. Though the Sentinel piece appears to want to shock readers with Short’s opinions, those of us who have engaged with him over more than a decade of peaceful civil disobedience activism are proud to see his evolution.
The Sentinel reveals that Short posted the following to his facebook account:
“Remember the bad guys in movies don’t know they are bad, they think they are doing the ‘right thing’ for the benefit of society. It is only when the ‘good guy’ stands up to them that they realize they are wrong. Citizens need to stand up and stop simply complying to this nonsense mandates.”
The rest of the Sentinel piece is designed to gin up outrage that a police officer dared to openly speak against the city gang’s precious mask ordinance. However, surprisingly, Keene Police chief Steven Russo actually covered for Short rather than throwing him under the bus, explaining to the reporter that it’s Short’s right to express himself as Short doesn’t lose the right to free speech just because he works for the state. Russo claims, “Lt. Short will enforce the Ordinance consistent with my guidance and in the same spirit as all of our Officers regardless of his personal feelings”, but doesn’t say what his “guidance” is. There is a good chance Russo’s “guidance” is to encourage Keene police to use discretion regarding enforcing the ordinance.
Many people, including those railing against Short online for expressing independent thoughts, simply do not understand that all police officers have discretion. Discretion is the ability for each officer to decide whether to enforce any given statute or ordinance, with few exceptions. As I understand it, generally, police officers are only obligated to enforce certain violent felonies. So, even if Russo tells Short to enforce the mask mandate, Short can still use his discretion and the worst than can be done to him is he’d likely get a stern talking-to or perhaps reassigned to the night shift.
City mob boss Elizabeth Dragon was even approached by Sentinel reporter Caleb Symons for comment on whether Short could be disciplined, but she wisely refused to return his calls, as she probably doesn’t want to admit there’s nothing the city council can do if the police refuse to enforce their ordinance. From what I understand, Short isn’t the only police officer who feels as he does.
A decade ago, Short was the antagonist during Derrick J Freeman’s “Victimless Crime Spree“, arresting Free Keene blogger Derrick J in Central Square for open possession of cannabis. In 2014, as the DEA was raiding then-Main Street business Phat Stuff, Keene police were running cover for them and I confronted Short outside the business about his role in the situation. During the conversation, I asked him how he feels about a productive downtown business being destroyed by the DEA, and he told me, “what I feel don’t matter”. I responded that it does matter, which is why I asked him for his opinion.
Now, more than half a decade later, Short appears to have changed his tune, and for the better. He’s not only expressing his opinion about bad law publicly, he’s also taking the correct position – that the mask mandate is evil and needs to be disobeyed. That’s because good people disobey bad laws and good cops refuse to enforce them.
If Jason Short can go from bad guy to good guy, maybe there is hope. Whether or not activists like Derrick J have had a positive influence on Short over the years, kudos to Short for taking a stand.