Sunday, November 20, 2011

Pepper spraying at UC-Davis

(photo from The Atlantic)

What do you think about pepper-spraying peaceful protestors, kids who are just sitting on the ground, threatening no one?

Yeah, they must have done something to provoke that, huh? But we have easy access to videos these days which show the truth.

Or jabbing peaceful protestors in the gut with batons? Did these officers look threatened to you? What was that all about?

Here's Glenn Greenwald at Salon:
The now-viral video of police officers in their Robocop costumes sadistically pepper-spraying peaceful, sitting protesters at UC-Davis (details here) shows a police state in its pure form. It’s easy to be outraged by this incident as though it’s some sort of shocking aberration, but that is exactly what it is not. The Atlantic‘s Garance Franke-Ruta adeptly demonstrates with an assemblage of video how common such excessive police force has been in response to the Occupy protests. Along those lines, there are several points to note about this incident and what it reflects:

(1) Despite all the rights of free speech and assembly flamboyantly guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, the reality is that punishing the exercise of those rights with police force and state violence has been the reflexive response in America for quite some time. As Franke-Ruta put it, “America has a very long history of protests that meet with excessive or violent response, most vividly recorded in the second half of the 20th century.” Digby yesterday recounted a similar though even worse incident aimed at environmental protesters.

The intent and effect of such abuse is that it renders those guaranteed freedoms meaningless. If a population becomes bullied or intimidated out of exercising rights offered on paper, those rights effectively cease to exist. Every time the citizenry watches peaceful protesters getting pepper-sprayed — or hears that an Occupy protester suffered brain damage and almost died after being shot in the skull with a rubber bullet — many become increasingly fearful of participating in this citizen movement, and also become fearful in general of exercising their rights in a way that is bothersome or threatening to those in power. That’s a natural response, and it’s exactly what the climate of fear imposed by all abusive police state actions is intended to achieve: to coerce citizens to “decide” on their own to be passive and compliant — to refrain from exercising their rights — out of fear of what will happen if they don’t.

This is America. The right to peaceably assemble and "petition the Government for a redress of grievances" is guaranteed in our Constitution.

But what good is such a guarantee if you're too scared of the consequences to actually do anything? The Soviet Union had fine words about such things in its constitution, too. But heaven help anyone who actually relied on that!

The Atlantic has a whole series of similar videos here. Is this America? Well, maybe it's the America that invades innocent countries and tortures prisoners of war, but it's not my America. It's not the America I grew up believing in.

Yeah, we were that "shining light on a hill," weren't we? So what are we teaching the world these days? From Gawker:
Two people were killed in Cairo and Alexandria this weekend as Egyptian activists took the streets to protest the military's attempts to maintain its grip on power. And guess how the state is justifying its deadly crackdown.

"We saw the firm stance the US took against OWS people & the German govt against green protesters to secure the state," an Egyptian state television anchor said yesterday (as translated by the indispensable Sultan Sooud al Qassemi; bold ours).

Yeah—it gets harder and harder to maintain a moral high ground when videos like this and pictures like this are unavoidable. But American police haven't killed anyone! Indeed! That's definitely something worth bragging about: so far, cops here have only sent a single person to the hospital with brain damage. U.S.A.! U.S.A.!

(Note: My thanks to Jim Harris for the links. I hope you don't end up on some subversives list for that!)


Jim Harris said...

Everyone is talking about the first part of the video, where the officer sprays the kids as casually as spraying for roaches. But no one is talking about the second half of the video, where the protesters keep chanting, "Shame on you, shame on you," until the police back away. I think the police realized that had done something wrong. Many of them looked guilty. I bet a lot of them wished they had stopped the the sprayer.

But the chanting of "shame on you" became very effective. I wonder if the police began to realize that they would be living with this incident for the rest of their lives and changed their minds when they walked away, or were they just afraid of the crowd, or afraid of creating an even larger incident. Were these men and women even trained properly for non-violent protests?

There are over zealot protesters that ruin a protest march, and their are over zealot police that ruin proper police procedures. There are times when pepper spray is needed, but this just wasn't one of them.

WCG said...

True, Jim. And if the crowd had become violent, that would have justified the use of pepper-spray in the minds of the police, and in the minds of most Americans.

That "shame on you" showed very clearly that they'd used very harsh tactics on perfectly peaceful protestors, ordinary people who were no threat to them or to anyone. I hope they started to realize that.

But I"m not so sure this was an overly-zealous police officer. He didn't appear angry or scared. He was perfectly calm about it. He was, I'm sure, following the police procedures he'd been taught.

The problem is, these days, we train the police to look on everyone as a terrorist. And if you can torture a prisoner to find out if he knows anything about terrorism, you can surely pepper-spray peaceful protestors. After all, the point is to maintain the peace, right?

And the end justifies the means.

Jim Harris said...

I'd like to believe that the average police person would not do what that guy did, even if they were trained to. It showed a tremendous lack of empathy. And I can't believe police procedures teach police to pepper spray like that. One article I read said it should be used 15 feet away from the person being sprayed. And if I was a cop I'd only use it on ass-holes actively causing trouble.

All the cops had to do was walk up to a person in the line and say, "You'r under arrest, will you walk or will you be carried" and those people could have made their decision.