Brutality Becomes Banal

by Gerry Manacsa

Have you seen this video of police pepper spraying peaceful, seated student protesters at UC-Davis yesterday?

I can’t stop thinking about it. I’ve looked at countless other stories, photos and videos of police assaulting Occupy protesters over the past weeks, but this one somehow outraged me even more than those that came before.

After letting it boil for a while, I now see why — it’s the extraordinarily casual attitude of the officer pepper spraying his victims. It’s as though this was just business as usual, as though applying force — even if it’s “non-lethal” force — could ever be routine. There’s no room for ambiguity in this video about the context of his actions. No students are attacking the police, they’re not even crowding close. The protesters are sitting, arms linked, in the highest traditions of non-violent civil disobedience.

Police at UC-Davis pepper spraying non-violent Occupy protestors.The policeman’s body language says it all. For him, there’s no reluctance, no hesitation. There’s not even any attempt to dislodge the protestors with non-violent means. For this man, clad in the black, armored and militarized garb of repressive security forces throughout the world, the use of force is a logical first resort, and most disturbingly, he seems to see it as utterly ordinary.

I witnessed a demonstration last week where the Houston Police were faced with similar numbers of peaceful, seated protesters as those at UC-Davis. In marked contrast to the events in California, HPD removed and arrested those involved without resorting to pepper spray, violence or riot gear. Protesters and HPD alike were non-violent, and I commend HPD for their professionalism and restraint.

In contrast, the police actions at UC-Davis were clearly unnecessary and were meant purely to punish and intimidate anyone who would dare to disobey. This kind of casual brutality must be utterly unacceptable in a civil society, and such actions can never be an acceptable response to peaceful demonstrations in this country.

Houston Police and Occupy Houston protesters met peacefully during a demonstration on 11-17-2011.

4 Responses to “Brutality Becomes Banal”

  1. Odette says…

    I can’t believe that not one police officer can just put down his gear and walk away…..Are we that enslaved that no matter what the master say the slave jumps….These are the ones that are paid by our taxes to protect the people….NOT brutalize them….just absolutely insane…..and very sad

  2. Gerry Manacsa says…

    I find it interesting that it’s the higher-ranking police officers are the ones who seem to take the most egregiously aggressive actions. That first pepper spraying of the non-violent women and journalists in New York was also by a high-ranking cop.

    But I take some comfort in seeing the students’ courageous and nonviolent reaction in this video and in the silent protest that came afterward (in a later video, when the chancellor is subjected to silent shaming). The retreating police look a bit confused here and — I’d like to think — a bit nervous and perhaps even ashamed. If that’s so, then there’s hope.

  3. Milan Moravec says…

    Like Coaches, University of California campus Chancellors Who Do Not Measure Up Must Go. UC Berkeley Chancellor Birgeneau’s campus police use brutal baton jabs on students protesting increases in tuition. UC Berkeley Chancellor Birgeneau ($450,000 salary) is in dereliction of his duties.

    UC Berkeley Chancellor Birgeneau’s campus police report to the chancellor and the campus police take direction from the chancellor. University of California (UC) campus chancellors vet their campus police protocols. Birgeneau allowed pepper spray and use of batons to be included in his campus police protocols.

    Birgeneau needs to quit or be fired for permitting the brutal outrages on students protesting tuition increases.

    Opinions? Email the UC Board of Regents

  4. 2011 News « UC Berkeley Budget Crisis says…

    […] Brutality Becomes Banal, Nov. 19, 2011. […]

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