Watch this shocking video:
In the 1960s, during the civil rights movement, we saw peaceful marchers attacked by vicious dogs and high-pressure water hoses. We saw massive arrests. Today, the #Occupy movement is being confronted by massive arrests. So far, there are no high-pressure water hoses. So far, there are none of those of vicious attack dogs. Instead, protesters are being sprayed with pepper spray. Why? I just don’t understand how the police justify pepper spraying nonviolent students. I think it would be different if the students were attacking the police. I think it would be different if the students were destroying property. I think it would be different if the students were actively doing any of a number of things. They are simply sitting and protesting.
UC Davis President has issued a statement stating that she was appalled and two of the police officers have been suspended.
From James Fallows –
Let’s stipulate that there are legitimate questions of how to balance the rights of peaceful protest against other people’s rights to go about their normal lives, and the rights of institutions to have some control over their property and public spaces. Without knowing the whole background, I’ll even assume for purposes of argument that the UC Davis authorities had legitimate reason to clear protestors from an area of campus — and that if protestors wanted to stage a civil-disobedience resistance to that effort, they should have been prepared for the consequence of civil disobedience, which is arrest.
I can’t see any legitimate basis for police action like what is shown here. Watch that first minute and think how we’d react if we saw it coming from some riot-control unit in China, or in Syria. The calm of the officer who walks up and in a leisurely way pepper-sprays unarmed and passive people right in the face? We’d think: this is what happens when authority is unaccountable and has lost any sense of human connection to a subject population. That’s what I think here.
Less than two months ago, it seemed shocking when one NYPD officer cavalierly walked up to a group of female protestors and pepper-sprayed them in the eyes. The UC Davis pepper-sprayer doesn’t slink away, as his NYPD counterpart did, but in every other way this is more coldly brutal. And by the way, when did we accept the idea that local police forces would always dress up in riot gear that used to be associated with storm troopers and dystopian sci-fi movies?
If you watch the whole clip, you see other police officers beginning to act “human” in various ways — taking off their riot helmets, being restrained rather than unbridled in use of force, a few of them even looking abashed or frightened as they walk off.
This Occupy moment is not going to end any time soon. That is not just because of the underlying 99%-1% tensions but also because of police response of this sort — and because there have been so many similar videos coming from cities across the country.