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.
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.