Sunday, November 20, 2011

What Happened to You, John Pike?

What has happened to a man who can do this?

The students are obviously peaceful, seated on the ground, arms linked, participating in a protest action on the campus of their university, U.C. Davis. It was on Friday that this event took place. It was a demonstration of solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street movement and its grievances.

Let us dispense with one lie. It was not an act of self defense, as is clearly shown on video. Watch:

Let's assume the university had a compelling reason to clear this protest. The campus police are clearly prepared to make arrests, they've got their plastic cuffs ready. The protestors are certainly prepared for this. They are seated on the ground not presenting any resistance or threat. The crowd watching the scene is presenting more hostility than the protestors themselves.

And we see Lieutenant Pike of the UC Davis campus police calmly approach the ring of protestors, produce his can of military-grade pepper spray, and walk down the line spraying them point blank. It is perfectly straightforward and unambiguous. This cannot be blamed on "resisting arrest" or bomb-wielding anarchists or any of those classic defenses of police brutality, defenses that worked quite well in an age when people didn't walk around with video cameras embedded in their cell phones.

No, what we see here is an officer of the police deliberately inflicting pain and suffering on people simply because they are protesting.

And for this reason, Lieutenant John Pike is going to become a celebrity, and he will be subject to an investigation of some kind for what he did. The purpose of the investigation will certainly be to look for some justification or defense of the department, to re-legitimize the authority figures in question (there are already calls for the university's chancellor to resign after she defended the use of pepper spray), and to assess whether Pike needs to be scapegoated or whether a slap-on-the-wrist will make the public pressure go away.

This was the predictable result of the Anthony Bologna incident in New York. The result of the NYPD's investigation of Bologna -- a man who walked up to a small group of defenseless young women who had been corralled peacefully and were not resisting, and pepper sprayed them directly in the eyes simply because he was angry -- was to take away some of Bologna's vacation days, and re-assign him to Staten Island.

These are not isolated incidents, and therefore I am loath to denounce this man as uniquely monstrous. Over the past dozen years, since the WTO protests in Seattle and the September 11 attacks in particular, we are seeing militarized police departments responding even to disciplined, passive civilian protest as if it were a riot. People have been arrested standing in line at the bank in order to close their accounts. Writing a political message on a sidewalk with chalk can get you arrested, at the discretion of the heavily-armed officer nearby. A veteran of two tours of Iraq was standing still at an Occupy Oakland protest and was nearly killed by shrapnel from a tear gas canister that fractured his skull. When protestors moved in to help this man to safety, an officer threw another tear gas canister directly into them from a few feet away. Citizens singing songs in a public place can look around and see themselves surrounded by sound cannons, tazers, stormtroopers wielding batons and flash grenades. More and more, citizens seeking to be active participants in civil movements must seek information about tear gas and other military-developed technologies now being deployed against civilians.

But returning to the original question: what has happened to men who can do this? This is not even an example of "chase rage," the anger that can arise in a police officer when a suspect physically resists arrest -- something we can comprehend without condoning. What happened in this man's training that he felt it necessary to do this? Is this an individual act, or the act of a policing paradigm? And even if this is viewed as the outcome of a paradigm, it is still a man's finger on the trigger of that can of pepper spray. What was going through his mind? He will be compelled to say, I suppose, that it was a tense situation and he was concerned for his safety. The video evidence would not support that story. So what is the truth?

Alexis Madrigal is also wondering, and he writes about a few sociological studies of police tactics and civil protest for The Atlantic. I recommend his article, which can be read here.

I'd like to write more, but I have somewhere to be in a little while.


Nathan said...

People need to realize the state of law enforcement these days, and I think Occupy is providing a window in.

Here's a small example from my experience yesterday in Minneapolis, where things have been fairly calm overall. I'm standing with another protestor at about 4pm on the plaza. It's totally quiet, and there's almost no one else around because the bulk of the group had gone to occupy a pair of foreclosed homes. Anyway, all of a sudden, six sheriff's deputies come out of the county building, and form a ring around a section of our camp. The other guy looks at me and says "What's going on?" We thought maybe they were going to clear us out.

After a minute or so, we decide to walk down and see what's up, both of us a little nervous about what might happen. As we approach, one of the deputies says something like "You all staying warm?" I respond "We're trying. What's going on here?" And the deputy says "We're taking the tent over there."

Now, I didn't much care about the tent. Obviously, we've had a tent ban from the beginning, and the vast majority of protestors have figured out other ways to cope with the cold.

But consider the situation. Six deputies blocking the path to confiscate a single tent, in a situation where the number of protestors around was about the same - six or seven of us total. And then they report to the mainstream how "expensive" dealing with the Occupy movement is. It's total insanity.

aisha said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Algernon said...

The deleted post was advertising spam. REAL comments are welcome.

Anonymous said...

Please watch this video; and next time, please be sure you know the FULL story before you post false information...

Algernon said...

Your comment does not include a link to any video, and you do not explain what information I posted that was false.