A friend of mine at lunch this week tells me a story that happened in Yolo County recently. A man is being followed by an undercover police officer. How he knows this, I’m not sure. I’m not sure the guy was undercover, he may just have been off-duty. After awhile, the man has enough and starts snapping pictures out of the side of his car, toward his back.
My friend’s lesson is that being paranoid saved the man. These are questions I often quibble with in my own mind. It is no secret that I do not trust the system and the Vanguard has been formed in part to watch over local government, whether it is the city council, the university, the police, or the courts.
At the same time, I am not one who believes that the system is out to get everyone, though I readily concede that there are many within the system who abuse their authority.
I reach no set conclusion, though I will make a ready point in favor of our nation that gives me hope. You can look at the UC Davis incident within that framework.
On the one hand, you are horrified by the images of John Pike literally bathing the protesters in pepper spray. In fact, not only does he bathe them in the pepper spray but he can be seen shaking the can, trying to get more out. The only thing that stops him from continuing is that he ran out of the pepper spray.
On the other hand, John Pike did not open fire on protesters as we have seen recently in other countries. Moreover, the community was not simply willing to stand by and not gape in horror at the spectacle.
The fact that the police are using less lethal force and the fact that the public is not willing to accept that use of force and looks skeptically at the official explainations is, in fact, something that should encourage us.
Do not get me wrong, there is much to be concerned about here. In 2011 in America, the fact that police still have not figured out how to properly handle protesters is disconcerting. The continued arrogance of UC President Yudof and the UC Regents in giving administrators even more raises amid budget crises and student fee hikes is demoralizing and bewildering at the same time.
The fact that the university is committed to protecting the top, at any cost, continues to be frustrating.
I have talked to a lot of law enforcement people, most are not going to go on the record and it is a no-win scenario, but the most common thing I heard is why try to remove the protesters in the first place. Most protesters put that call on Chancellor Katehi rather than the police on the scene.
They could be right, but most realize that the protesters are looking to provoke the police and got what they wanted. That does not make the actions of the police right and most I have spoken to believe that they violated their own use-of-force policies.
I was reading a column by Ben Boychuk in the Sacramento Bee, where he argued that, while huge mistakes were made, this was not a clear example of police brutality.
He wrote, “I wonder what the police were thinking. Breaking up an unlawful assembly is dangerous business. Even with tensions running high and students outnumbering police, it’s hard to believe Chief Annette Spicuzza’s claim that her well-armed, well-armored officers felt especially endangered. It’s a credit to their professionalism, and the calm of many protest leaders, that the situation didn’t spiral into violence.”
He argued, “Civil disobedience has consequences.”
And he is right, civil disobedience must have consequences to succeed. I recall literature on police response to civil disobedience in the civil rights movement in the south, and the fact that it only worked when the police responded with hoses and dogs.
In fact, Bull Connor was given the order not to respond to protesters in Montgomery, Alabama and it was his own inability to exhibit self-control in turning the hoses and dogs on the protesters that allowed the protest to succeed
In places where the police response was more subdued, the civil rights protests were largely non-stories.
But we do not learn the lessons from history. However, Mr. Boychuk makes a strong argument that this is not police brutality, as unpleasant and painful as pepper spray may be.
“Disobeying a lawful order from police and then being denied kid-glove treatment when the cops remove you isn’t ‘brutality,’ ” he says, as he worries that “police brutality,” like accepting full responsibility, is becoming “another term rapidly draining of any weight.”
We can still find real instances of such brutality in this country.
“You want police brutality? Become acquainted with the facts of the Kelly Thomas case in Fullerton, where two police officers stand accused of murdering a schizophrenic homeless man. Thomas begged for his life as the police shot him four times with a Taser and beat him into a coma. He died 10 days later,” Mr.Boychuk wrote.
Indeed. But he misses the point. What makes this country great is that we are not simply willing to accept the excuse that at least he did not shoot the protesters. The community was not willing to stand by and tolerate this, knowing that at other times, and indeed in other places, the response would have been worse.
We have a lot of problems in this nation that I am not sure we have the ability to solve. I question a lot of things I have seen locally. But sometimes we need to take a step back and at least appreciate progress, small as it may be.
No wonder police are fighting back against handheld and personal cameras. They are dangerous to police.
Transparency and the free press are the most powerful weapons that we have in this nation against the excesses of our government, but they would be useless without the ability of the citizens to become morally outraged at the things they witness, even when those things are not as bad as they have been in the past.
—David M. Greenwald reporting