Occupy Law Enforcement

"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.'" - promoted by Bob_Neer

“All the cops are, they’re just workers for the one percent, and they don’t even realize they’re being exploited.”

Capt. Ray Lewis (Ret)

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%.


21 Comments . Leave a comment below.
  1. Obama Administration

    What is the role of the Obama Administration in the crackdowns? It is disturbing to read about the conference calls being conducted by Homeland Security with municipal officials and law enforcement.

    The Examiner published a story quoting an anonymous Justice Department official who said local police agencies “had received tactical and planning advice from national agencies” including the FBI and Homeland Security.

    Is there a Democrat in the White House or have the parties just moved so far to the right with corporate control that I don’t recognize this democracy?

    • Since 9/11, we've been

      militarizing our police. In the old days, it was guns, truncheons, or nothing. Now there’s a host of (usually) non-lethal weaponry. My guess is that there have been state or federal grants for a lot of this stuff.

      My town’s police department, for example, received Kevlar vests through a grant program. I’m very glad they have vests (in fact, we now require that they be worn), but I imagine other communities received money that was spent on weaponry.

      • Military as police

        Not only have we been purchasing military-grade weapons for our police force, I believe that we may be stocking our police force with ex-military who have seen duty in urban combat situations.

        How does someone become a cop? They take a civil service exam, and then they get queued up by their scores. However, some groups get a boost in the line – for example, minorities, who had traditionally been shut out of the process, or legacy hires – the children of existing cops who were killed or injured in the line of duty, etc.

        In Massachusetts, Civil Service gives an absolute preference to veterans who score at least a 70 on the test. That means they go to the top of the list.

        Think about the environment where recent veterans have been serving: Iraq. Or maybe Afghanistan. These are environments where the enemy walks among the soldiers, the soldiers don’t know who is a friend or who is a foe, so they are trained to believe that everyone is a foe. Their lives depend on it.

        Such training can’t be that easy to forget. I’m not sure that there is even a re-integration program that tries to unprogram them. So what is happening? We are transitioning these soldiers right into law enforcement jobs.

        Is it any wonder that some of them behave as they do? Is it any wonder why so many people posting on Masslive.com, purporting to be police officers, refer to city residents as “savages” or refer to themselves as “patrolling the animals”? Is it any wonder that we are seeing more people tasered or shot (and killed) by the police – in one instance, a boy was shot because he reached into the back seat when pulled over and the cop thought he was reaching for a gun — didn’t see one, just shot him because he thought he was reaching for one.

        I don’t mean to portray all cops, or all veteran cops as bad. I just think that we need to consider this issue a bit – by stocking our police forces with ex-military, should we be surprised when they want to militarize their departments and then respond to situations in a militaristic way?

        • The leg up for veterans when

          it comes to civil service is very long standing whether it’s the post office or police. At least as far back as Korea. I don’t know any empirical evidence of military training leading to police brutality. In your fair city, brutality is well-known and long-standing, but I don’t think it’s due to military background.

          Anecdotally, I knew one cop who was in Vietnam. He was Marine, a doorgunner on a Huey, and had two Purple Hearts. He was a pretty gentle soul.

          I wonder if Pike will use his military experience to excuse his unexcusable behavior.

          • Occupying versus fighting

            I don’t know of any empirical evidence either, but I believe that there is a big difference between a military force in a war that has “fronts” versus one that occupies a region where there are “terrorists” everywhere.

            I have to believe that the military is trained differently now versus Vietnam or Korea since the Middle East is a different style of conflict, and I wonder if any studies have been done in this area. I wonder if the situations are so similar in nature that the well-trained soldiers continue to see themselves as an “occupying force”.

            • Drafted vs enlisted

              P.S. I also wonder if there is a difference between a veteran who enlisted and one who was drafted – in the sense that the former is someone who expressed a preference for fighting a war whereas the latter is someone who likely did not want to do that. Might that affect the ex-military population?

              • My friend was drafted as a marine.

                I didn’t even know they could do that. As a door gunner, he saw the worst of it. Other things to consider would be what the person was assigned to: combat or cooking. Etc.

                • Help vs. suspicion

                  I guess the point I’m trying to make is that as a door gunner, your friend was trained to shoot at identified targets. The enemy was “over there”, and when his fighting was done, he went to a place different from where the enemy was.

                  Soldiers in Iraq are surrounded by the enemy at all times because the enemy are terrorists. They don’t appear any different than the non-enemy. They are always present, there is no down time. The soldiers need to be trained to perceive everyone as a potential enemy because the enemy could be a 14 year old boy, or an 80 year old woman – with bombs strapped to their waists.

                  I am positing that there is a difference in the training that recent veterans received, and that this training may make them less-than-ideal candidates for policing because they have been trained – in the military – to view the people they are policing as potential enemies. That seems different than the “Officer Mike” model (from Make Way for Duckings) where the police are there to help and serve the people – not be suspicious and fear them.

                  • I'm afraid you are wrong

                    I guess the point I’m trying to make is that as a door gunner, your friend was trained to shoot at identified targets. The enemy was “over there”, and when his fighting was done, he went to a place different from where the enemy was.

                    I was in a helicopter support unit. Chopper crews, including door gunners, were famous for shooting up the landscape. They were encouraged in this by the establishment of “free-fire zones,” where anything that moved – or didn’t – was subject to getting shot or blown up. So long as US forces weren’t on the wrong end of the firepower, nobody cared.

                    Also, there was no place in Vietnam that was “different from where the enemy was.” For instance, all “rear” units used local labor to do cleaning in their barracks, provide laundry services, etc. It would be naive to assume that none of those people were VC sympathizers.

                    As for veteran/cops contributing to police brutality, it has a long, if inconsistent history. Google “water cure” and you will see that waterboarding was popular with our forces fighting to suppress insurgents in the Philippines after the Spanish-American War. Many of the soldiers who’d practiced that torture put those skills to use after joining American police forces.

                    • Different scenarios?

                      Do you see a difference in a “free fire zone” – where anything that moves gets shot, versus always being among crowds of people, some of which may be the terrorists who you are fighting, and who are trying to kill you? From the outside, those seem to be two totally different scenarios.

                    • You don't understand

                      Free-fire zones were subject to air and artillery attack. Our ground troops did not enter them. I brought it up in the context of your claim that door gunners fired only at defined targets.
                      The VC were, in fact all around us, to the same extent as your “terrorists” are around our troops in the Middle East. In fact, those troops also have base camps to which they return between missions, just like the troops in Vietnam did. Your distinctions are not so significant as you seem to think

  2. The point is to get the police to overreact

    I thought the point of this protest was to get the police to overreact.

    • Which protest?

      UC Davis? The point wasn’t to get the police to overreact. The point was to draw attention to the projected 81% increased in the tuition.

      Prior to the pepper-spraying, the protesters seem to have had a cordial relationship with campus police. Here’s from an interview:

      Sort of spontaneously, we all decided to occupy an area on the grounds and we stayed the night. The administration allowed it. I had a wonderful conversation with Lieutenant Pike that night. I dialogued with him for a while. He was cordial to me. He knew me by name. We offered him coffee and food.

      We have a food collective, and we are organizing to feed the occupiers with food we grow at the student farm. It was all really lovely.

      If the administration had been smart, they would have handled things differently. Now, they’ll have a bigger problem with protests. Part of Albany’s decision to allow people to occupy its park was the fact that there were a lot of college students in the area who could have swelled protests.

      The police response is important. It shows a lot about how our governments react to dissent. At any rate, I don’t know of allegations against the 84 year-old woman or the pregnant woman who were pepper-sprayed elsewhere.

      • If it bleeds it leads

        Nothing gets on the news like violence.

        • knowledge of the bias counters the bias...

          If it bleeds it leads

          Nothing gets on the news like violence.

          Sensationalism has less of an impact if it is known as sensationalism.

        • The purpose of non-violent protest

          is to get media attention without violence.

          If you watch the entire 8-minute video of the protest, you’ll see there was no provocation of violence.

          • in the absence of a program, Occupy courts violence

            Students have protested tuition hikes forever.

            Why is everything getting so expensive? Does the weak dollar have anything (or everything) to do with it? Why then do students support Democrats who run to the skirts of Big Mamma Fed in defense of everything financial?

            Why is state college so expensive? Could it be because it is stuffed with hacks and diversity appointees?

            Why doesn’t college prepare students for paying careers? Could it be because the liberal arts have sold out to postmodern excuses for ideas?

            Think things through for once guys.

            • Think things through indeed ...

              Your comment has only a coincidental relationship to both the topic of the thread and the comment you reply to.

              NOTHING in your comment, other than its title, has anything to do with violence or the Occupy movement.

            • Seascraper, you need to start

              confusing yourself with some facts, and stop confusing the issue with whatever tangential rant you can generate.

  3. And you know what? None of us knows what those police were thinking - this video brought that home to me

    Here is the video link – http://youtu.be/EQJUY2SorIE

    If those who marched, then spoke, had not done so, I would never have known.

  4. cops often deal with people at their worst...

    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.

    … and, let’s face it, to ‘deal with people at their worst’, or at least always be prepared for the worst, is basically the job description. It’s a job that has a lot of burnout, a high suicide rate and whose veteran practitioners are often, literally, scarred and battle-hardened. It’s a hard job under the best of circumstances, but in America, where antagonism is something of a fetish, I can imagine it to be harder still: and cops are often the only thing standing between our antagonisms.

    My friend and I have had a long running argument about whether or no ‘cop killers’ deserve either greater urgency in apprehension or stronger sentences. Her argument is that cops are no more special than others and so why make the distinction between ‘killer’ and ‘cop killer’? Murder is murder. My argument is that anybody who would pull a trigger against the state sanctioned authority figure isn’t going to be constrained, in any meaningful way, in their actions and are therefore even more of a danger to everyone: it’s not just a crime against a person, but also a crime against the society in which we live. I must admit to be greatly taken aback when she first broached this argument (some years ago after the shooting of a cop and the resultant manhunt made the teevee, IIRC). She doesn’t see the cops as authority figures, embodying some greater public principle, rather just someone doing his/her job. I’ve always thought of cops as both authority figures and public servants who ‘put themselves on the line’ in their jobs and really don’t wish to conceive of a society in which their ability to enforce the rules is compromised.

    Which, I think, is the problem: a lot of people aren’t respectful of the cops and the cops try to re-assert their authority in excess ways, causing more disrespect, etc. I watched the video of the UC pepper spray incident and saw a mutually re-enforcing breakdown in arbitration occur: I think the cops were pressed from both sides; college administrators, not trained in negotiations of this sort wanting the protestors quelled; protesters unified and constrained (crying “shame. shame” amidst other shouts) but with an evident hostility. I think one anonymous rock, bottle, tire-iron, what-have-you thrown from the back of the crowd would have changed the outcome of this event drastically. No such thing occurred and that speaks very well of the protestors and I am particularly impressed with calm shown by those students who were particularly sprayed. But, as I said above, the cops were between two antagonisms here and with little choice but to make things worse precisely because de-escalating was a threat to their continued authority: on the ground authority matters to them. It ought to matter to us as part of the social contract in which we exist. Unfortunately, the 1% are the only ones who benefit when the rest of us are not unified. Or, put another way, cops are the 99% too, as Captain Lewis reminds us.

    There MUST to be a way to conduct civil disobedience and protest that doesn’t make police the bulwark between the 99% and the 1%…

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Tue 25 Apr 12:54 AM