Cops in riot gear on one side, peaceful student protesters armed with cell phones on the other. The UC Davis pepper spray incident, in which Lt. John Pike can be seen casually pepper spraying a line of students, quickly went from newsworthy outrage to hilarious Internet meme. Despite how funny and satirical that meme is, it’s easy to distract from the actual event.
“I was stunned and appalled by the UC Davis Police spraying protestors, but struck by how many brave, curious people recorded the events,” writes Andy Baio. “I took the four clearest videos and synchronized them. Citizen journalism FTW.” Here’s Baio’s video — it’s definitely a must-watch from start to finish.
What the photos and earlier videos of the incident never showed was the build-up and aftermath. After watching this video, it’s even more disturbing to watch the actions of the police. The students clearly didn’t do anything that would justify the use of pepper spray, and it appears Lt. Pike contemplated the use of the non-lethal agent before deciding to use it. Was he under orders? Did he do so reluctantly? We don’t know, but nothing about his nonchalance screams “reluctance.”
This is the America we live in now, however. “This is what happens when authority is unaccountable and has lost any sense of human connection to a subject population,” James Fallows wrote.
Indeed, that’s true. But, thinking of the larger picture, Pike is just a symptom of the disease that has turned policing units into paramilitary forces in America.
“Let’s not pretend that Pike is an independent bad actor,” notes Alexis Madrigal, in a must-read post about the evolution of police in America. “Too many incidents around the country attest to the widespread deployment of these tactics. If we vilify Pike, we let the institutions off way too easy.”
Instead of vilifying Pike and other police departments for its handling of the #Occupy protests, we should be asking how we allowed police departments to become this way. It didn’t happen overnight. More importantly is how we scale them back to a role within society of serving and protecting citizens.
In a related story, UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi — fresh off her must-see Walk of Shame — engaged students face-to-face for the first time since the incident. Despite saying how she feels “horrible about what happened,” students didn’t buy the contrition and are still calling for her ouster.
And don’t forget about the Meme Watch:
PREVIOUSLY IN PEPPER SPRAYINGS:
• Meme Watch: Here’s UC Davis’ Pepper Spraying Cop Pepper Spraying Things
• You’re Doing It Right: UC Davis Students Respond with Silent, Powerful Protest of Pepper Spraying
• I See Your Nonviolence and Raise You Pepper Spray
• Immediately Iconic Shot from Occupy Portland
• 84-Year-Old Woman Pepper Sprayed By Seattle Police at Occupy Protests
• Starting to See a Pattern? Occupy Tulsa Protesters Pepper Sprayed, Arrested
• Doin’ the Haka? Utah Cops Will Pepper Spray You
• Buncha Bologna: Pepper-Spraying NYPD Officer Loses Just 10 Days Vacation