Clinton event assault: the real issue at hand

Sam Schlenner

Larry Mitchell got bored.

He was waiting in line for an hour when he approached libertarian protesters outside Hillary Clinton’s speaking event on Oct. 16 at Oakland University. Mitchell, a member of the St. Clair Shores Democratic Club, wanted to talk with them. It turned out to be more than just a talk.

“I just came from Texas, I have Ebola, and now I’m going to give it to you,” he exclaimed. He didn’t have the disease.

He licked his hand and tried to touch a protester. Somebody videotaped it. The story blew up.

Over the next week, “Campus Reform,” “The Daily Caller,” “The College Fix” and even “The Daily Mail” from the UK ran the story.

But it’s not news, according to Mitchell.

“It’s trivial,” he said in his New York accent. “The real question should be why would these guys have to be so far away?”

The protesters had to stand in a free speech zone across the street from the people lined up for the event.

“There is no free speech anymore,” Mitchell said. “You have to get a permit to have a march or to protest something.”

But actions like Mitchell’s are the reason why protesters had to stand across the street.

“If I don’t put a barrier between you and the opposing side, we’re going to end up with fights,” said Mark Gordon, Chief of OUPD. “In fact, we had an assault at the Hillary Clinton visit.”

Previous court decisions have established that law enforcement must accommodate protesters with a place, a time and a manner in which they can demonstrate.

Mitchell wanted the protesters to be allowed to come closer.

“That’s why I went out there, because I can’t talk to them from a distance of 200 feet,” Mitchell said.

But Mitchell said his story was sensationalized and shed light on the wrong thing. An imprudent prank got a magnifying glass on it because it was exciting.

But why make the scene about Ebola?

It was the first thing that popped into his head.

“A childish diversion,” Mitchell said. “Street theater.”

Ebola has been floating around the news, to say the least. Maybe that is the true infection.

“It’s the ultimate irony,” said Samantha Damren, a nurse practitioner at the Graham Health Center. She said that while the American public is clamoring for an Ebola vaccine, they’re not taking a more vital step. Nearly 58 percent of U.S. adults did not get a flu shot last year, according to the CDC.

“The flu is far worse than Ebola,” Damren said. “The flu kills more people every single year.”

According to the CDC, influenza has killed a low of 3,000 and a high of 49,000 Americans each year from 1976-2006. According to NPR, 32,743 per year died in the first decade of the new millenium. It’s estimated that the flu kills between 250,000 and 500,000 people worldwide each year, according to the WHO.

Ebola has killed 4,960 people, according to the latest numbers from the CDC. That’s for this outbreak, which was first reported just over seven months ago.

“From the 1700s onwards, every single century, there has been a pandemic kind of influenza,” Damren said, citing a Yale lecture by an infectious disease specialist.

She brought up the Spanish flu of 1918-1919, which killed about 40 million people worldwide within only two years, according to

“The flu happens every single year,” Damren said. “It’s highly contagious. It’s easily disseminated. It’s droplets, you know? Sneezing. Being on a plane with someone. Being in a movie theater.”

She mentioned the premise of some movies that dramatize disease.

“The nexus. So, patient zero, and then it just spreads like wildfire,” she said. “That’s the flu. The flu is a hell of a lot more contagious than Ebola.”

Mitchell assaulted a protester in a fairly unconventional way and the story spread like past outbreaks of Ebola — fast, but burning themselves out. His exclaimation was a diversion from the real issue of a free speech zone, according to Mitchell.

Ebola broke out of Guinea and spread. So did the panic; a diversion from the more substantial constant of influenza, according to Damren.

Frank Bruni summed it up best in a recent New York Times op-ed entitled “Scarier Than Ebola.”

“We Americans do panic really well,” Bruni wrote.