The pepper spraying of eleven UC Davis students is a startling visual revelation of a pattern repeated over two decades: the widespread use of a potent chemical compound to subdue political protesters, prison inmates and inner city youths, in spite of numerous warnings by health officials of potentially life-threatening effects. The Davis episode shows that pepper spray has become a weapon of choice even for University of California police.
I don't know the events that led up to this confrontation; I would assume the police asked these protestors to leave and they refused. But when law enforcement officials use a weapon, they need to have a good reason for doing so. In this case, the protestors were...just sitting there. And the response to these protestors was to spray them, in the face, with large quantities of pepper spray. As ABL put it, the officer "approached a group of students sitting in a line peacefully on the ground, walked up and down the line and pepper-sprayed them directly in the face — as one would spray pesticide on weeds."
A regular guy named John Pike has become the new face of evil among people following the Occupy protests around the country. The UC Davis police officer's matter-of-fact pepper spraying of seated, obviously peaceful students has provoked justifiable outrage. James Fallows summed up the situation with his usual precise moral compass. "This is what happens when authority is unaccountable and has lost any sense of human connection to a subject population," he wrote. "That's what I think here."
The viral video of Lt John Pike casually pepper-spraying a line of peacefully seated student protesters has deep resonance for the Civil Rights generation. It's impossible to escape comparisons to Bull Connor ordering the use of fire hoses on the black youth of Birmingham on May 3, 1963. Pike sprays the students' faces as if they were cockroaches, many have said. The youth of Birmingham were sprayed with such force that some were knocked over like paper dolls. But it was segregation that was about to fall.
Yesterday, the militarization of policing in the U.S. arrived on my own campus...These issues go to the core of what democracy means. We have a major economic crisis in this country that was brought on by the greedy and irresponsible behavior of big banks. No banker has been arrested, and certainly none have been pepper sprayed. Arrests and chemical assault is for those trying to defend their homes, their jobs, and their schools.
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...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.
By and large, Occupy has been a peaceful affair. Certainly pepper-spraying protesters while they sit calmly in a row like this is a gross abuse of power. It should have our collective blood boiling, whether or not we even agree with the protesters themselves. What was meant to be a protest against economic equality quickly morphs into a protest against the police state.
The Davis students' message is clear: we are not the violent ones. We’re not like you. We stand for a different kind of world. And: your violence is not working. We are not afraid. It’s the message of the nonviolent civil rights movement of the 1960s, of Martin Luther King Jr., who spoke of "meeting physical force with soul force."
I am appalled by the way in which students at UC Davis were treated. Campus police should know better than to cavalierly pepper spray peaceful protestors. The proud tradition of peaceful campus protests was shamelessly marred by these actions. I`m glad an investigation is underway, and I look forward to a full report on how they will avoid incidents like this in the future...Every incident of violence - no matter who the perpetrator - is a distraction from the legitimate issues that the 99% movement has raised.
Congressman John Garamendi (D-Fairfield, CA), former University of California Regent and California State University Trustee, FDCH Press Releases, (2011)
I mean, we're not dangerous people, we're students. I'm not a terrorist, I'm not an anarchist. I'm not any of those things. I'm just a college student doing research at the university.