Davis Pepper Spray Clear Case of Brutality

Steven Greenhut

Greenhut writes for American Spectator, Reason and the Orange County Register.


Crosposted CalWatchDog

If you want to know which of your friends or neighbors believe in a free and humane society and which ones believe in a police state, show them the now gone viral video of a riot-gear-clad University of California-Davis police officer dousing a peaceful group of Occupy protesters with pepper spray as they sat, arms linked, in the campus quad. Most of us react in horror at what we saw, and at the absurdly dishonest explanations from the campus police chief. But some people think the protesters got what they deserved and even called for heavier-handed tactics.

Police officials – and these days, campus security guards have gained the power of full-fledged police officers, complete with those massive pensions and all the usual protections from accountability – claimed that the officer felt that his life was in danger when they methodically walked down the line of protesters and assaulted them with the spray. “If you look at the video you are going to see that there were 200 people in that quad,” said Chief Annette Spicuzza, who was placed on leave (i.e., additional paid vacation) Monday after backlash against the brutality. “Hindsight is 20-20 and based on the situation we were sitting in, ultimately that was the decision that was made.”


That’s what police always say no matter the situation. But in this age of video, we can see for ourselves that the officers were in no danger. Multiple officers effortlessly moved in and around the protesters. The burly officer who sprayed the kids strutted slowly in front of them in a way that belies any sort of danger, real or perceived. He, too, was put on administrative leave after the video went viral, along with another officer. Without the video, you know what would have happened – nothing. The lies would have become the official record. This is why police officers have become zealous in their confiscation of video cameras and arrest of people who record them doing their jobs.

Such brutality is par for the course for today’s militarized police and campus security departments. What’s really disgusting is the natural instinct of so many conservatives to stick up for the police. They don’t like the Occupy protesters, so they willingly back brutality against them, without considering the possibility that conservatives at some point might be on the receiving end of this aggression. Then again, this common, vulgar form of modern conservatism almost always sides with the state, even as it champions the empty words of limited government.

I disagree with most of what the Occupy protesters are saying, quite obviously, but when I see lines of riot-gear-clad officials standing in front of these unbathed wretches, my heart goes out to the wretches. They need a lesson in economics and politics. The policies they advocate – to the degree that many of them have any well-defined grievances – range from the silly to the disastrous. They are inconsistent, foolish and hypocritical. Many of them are lazy freeloaders. Such is life. They do create filth and chaos in public parks, but if one cannot protest in a public park, there are not many places to have a protest. It’s in everyone’s best interest for the authorities to provide as much latitude as possible for protesters of any political persuasion. We still do pretend to live in a free society, right?

Whatever the bigger picture, this was a clear case of abusive and heavy handed behavior by the campus police. The president of the university was right to call for an investigation and the officer and the chief need to be removed from their position, not just given meaningless and indefinite paid leave. And now it’s time for Californians to take a closer look at issues of police conduct and secrecy. In recent years, Democrats and Republicans have made those issues off limits thanks to their close association with the police unions.

Maybe the Occupiers can become productive and lead a real movement for civil libertarian reform. I know it won’t happen, but who can live in California without embracing a little wishful thinking?

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