“All the cops are, they’re just workers for the one percent, and they don’t even realize they’re being exploited.”
I have a lot of friends that are cops. Good cops. They don’t beat up suspects. They don’t pull over motorists for driving while black. They are respected by the peers and communities.They tend toward the conservative side of the political divide, but then again, like most Americans, they are not deeply enaged when it comes to politics. When a legal issue hits the news, I like to get their cop’s eye view of a situation. We may not always agree, but their perspective is as invaluable as it is under-represented.
Sometimes I worry that police will get the same treatment that accompanied returning Vietnam vets. The cops I know are no more perfect than the rest of us, but they are not the blue meanies of the 1960s or pigs assassinating Black Panthers. Like soldiers in Vietnam, they are being sent to carry out missions that are not always clear by governments that we elected. Police aren’t returning home wounded from Occupy protests. No one has died. But many police serve governments whose interests don’t coincide with the rest of us.
The success of the Occupy movement depends on changing our political system. The struggle is against the 1% and the governments that support them. Police deserve censure to the extent that they break the law to preserve the status quo. By all means, punish the police who commit crimes in the name of the governments that direct them, but don’t forget that even the wrong-doers are part of a larger system of oppression.
I recently talked to some of my cop friends about events at Occupy UC Davis. Their immediate reaction was supportive of the police and defenisve for Lt. John Pike, though at that point. They expected the cops to be the fall guys for what happened. They hadn’t seen the entire 8 minute video of Pike’s excessive use of force. We agreed pretty quickly, however, that the UC Davis cops had been put in a bad situation. I don’t know if my cop friends would still offer a defense of Pike, but I think they appreciate the systemic nature of his crime better than some.
Pike’s brutality was made possible by those who gave his orders. Chancellor Linda Katehi is blaming the campus police. She has said there was a meeting before the action took place, that she told the campus police chief that the actions had to be “peaceful.” She has also said “that while she ordered the removal of tents belonging to ‘Occupy UC Davis’ demonstrators, she also directed campus police chief Annette Spicuzza to avoid violence ‘at all costs.'” Katehi also says the police protocols were outdated. Did she ever stop to think that the Occupy protesters might not comply? What force if any should police use if protesters resisted? What would appropriate force be? Did she ever consider the Constitutional ramifications of her orders?
And given campus police chief Annettte Spicuzza’s initial comments–that the police had been trapped by protesters–it doesn’t seem like she had given the situation much thought either. She had initially accounted for the pepper spraying of non-violent protesters by saying campus police were surrounded and felt threatened. She probably needed to give some sort of excuse, but in our digital age, only a fool would fail to realize that whatever had happened was on camera. Katehi has reported that Spicuzza said it was Pike’s decision to use pepper spray.
In hindsight, it seems clear that the situation had not been thoroughly considered. That’s an administrative failure. Police are trained to follow orders, and vague orders for unpredictable situations increase the possibility of mistakes. These kind of orders led to atrocities in Vietnam, and they led to police brutality here. Many people who receive unclear orders manage to do their best to carry them out; Lt. John Pike did his worst and broke the law. Would he have done so if he had been trained in dealing with protests? Maybe not. Maybe he was a train wreck waiting to happen, but had his orders been more specific, he might not have brutalized a group of non-violent protesters.
The law regulating the use of force is somewhat blurry. The legal standard is “objective reasonableness.” From an objective point of view, the question to ask is, were the cop’s actions “reasonable”? There are several factors to be considered in deciding whether the use of force was reasonable, but none of them justifies Pike’s actions:
The important factor involved is whether or not there is an imminent threat to officers or others. That was the excuse Spicuzza first offered to Katehi. It may have been the excuse offered to her by Pike himself.
A tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving situation also factors into justifying the use of force. If the situation is moving too fast, and presumably, the danger is hard to evaluate, then cops have some leeway.
The severity of the crime also counts. Is the cop trying to detain a murderer or jaywalker?
Another justification of force is whether the suspect is attempting to evade seizure. Is he trying to run away?
Finally, actively resisting seizure also permits justification.
Video militates against the consideration of any of these factors. There was no threat to anyone. The situation clearly wasn’t tense for Lt. Pike; in fact, he leisurely stepped over a protester at one point, held up the pepper spray for all to see, and then calmly walked back and forth dousing immobile protesters like he was walking his dog. And half of the crowd around the scene was holding up their cellphones to record events, hardly a threatening crowd. One officer on the video is smiling and talking to someone off camera. And the crime itself was, what, trespassing? Protesters clearly resisted seizure, but not actively. Active resistance involves a physical struggle.They were committing classic passive resistance. In short, there was no reason to use pepper spray on the protesters. Even if the lack of reasons here weren’t enough, California case law explicitly prohibits the use of pepper spray against peaceful protesters.
Another reason for not using pepper spray to remove protesters is the First Amendment: students have the rights of assembly and free speech. These Constitutional rights must be weighed against the concerns of law enforcement. There’s a balancing act here, and one that should have been a matter for attorneys and administrators, not campus police. Neither the chancellor or police chief seems to have considered the complexities of the situation before sending out the police. In spite of the fact that the use of force had already been an issue at UC Berkley.
As supporters and protesters of the Occupy Movement, we should realize that in spite of their situation, cops, like most Americans, don’t necessarily recognize their political place in the larger political system. It’s our job to educate, not just them, but our governments and our society. And that’s not to say that law enforcement is blind to the situation. For every Oakland, Seattle, or UC Davis, there is an Albany, where the mayor, police chief, and district attorney, have refused (despite pressure from uber-pr-ck Gov. Andrew Cuomo) to evict protesters from acity-owned park.
The above photo shows retired Philadelphia police captain Raymond Lewis under arrest for protesting with Occupy Wall Street. At the time, he was carrying a sign that said, “NYPD: Don’t be mercenaries of Wall Street.” When speaking to Chris Hayes, he stated that he received tacit support for his protest and arrest. He is a reminder that cops are also part of the 99%.