Outrage Spreads Over UC Davis Pepper Spraying

The Photo That Will Start A Real Revolution didn't take long to turn into a meme, nor did it take long for the outrage at the event to spread around the world.

If you haven't heard yet, we're talking about the unbelievable photo of campus security at University of California Davis spraying students -- that seem to be unresisting, seated on the ground -- with pepper spray.

But perhaps the best article I have read is Alexis Madrigal's Why I Feel Bad for the Pepper-Spraying Policeman, Lt. John Pike. Madrigal notes that Pike is representative of changes in policing since 1999's battle of Seattle, a militarizing of policing (these were not even municipal police, but campus cops!).

This new brutal form of policing coincides with the change in coverage of these events, as video cameras in phones become omnipresent. Ten years ago the cops might have pepper-sprayed kids and said they felt threatened and might get away with it. A hundred videos make that impossible today.

Madrigal concludes:

While it's his finger pulling the trigger, the police system is what put him in the position to be standing in front of those students. I am sure that he is a man like me, and he didn't become a cop to shoot history majors with pepper spray. But the current policing paradigm requires that students get shot in the eyes with a chemical weapon if they resist, however peaceably. Someone has to do it.

More in The Atlantic

According to The Washington Post, this is all now standard police practice.

Charles J. Kelly, a former Baltimore Police Department lieutenant who wrote the department’s use of force guidelines, said pepper spray is a “compliance tool” that can be used on subjects who do not resist, and is preferable to simply lifting protesters....“What I’m looking at is fairly standard police procedure,” Kelly said.

Campus police used to be rather benign; they were usually there to help. They didn't look like this. And if this can happen to a bunch of students sitting in a path in the middle of a university, over a tuition fee protest,
imagine the chill it puts on anyone planning any kind of rally, be it against economic inequality or environmental issues.

From Tim DeChristopher to UC Davis, from campus cops to the courts, the whole system is running amok.


James Fallows makes a point similar to mine yesterday in This Is The Photo That Will Start A Real Revolution in his post The Moral Power of an Image: UC Davis Reactions

You don't have to idealize everything about them or the Occupy movement to recognize this as a moral drama that the protestors clearly won. The self-control they show, while being assaulted, reminds me of grainy TV footage I saw as a kid, of black civil rights protestors being fire-hosed by Bull Connor's policemen in Alabama. Or of course the Tank Man in Tiananmen Square. Such images can have tremendous, lasting power.

Outrage Spreads Over UC Davis Pepper Spraying
Lt. John Pike has become a meme, a new symbol of the banality of power.

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