I grew up in a time when you respected authorities, but didn’t place blind trust in them. The government was still reeling from Watergate and Vietnam, which led many to instantly question anything said by those in power. The downside was that soldiers returning from Vietnam who were themselves victims of a draft were lumped in and treated poorly (my kids have a hard time connecting with the treatment of Rambo, but I remember it all too well from people in my town growing up). When Ronald Reagan took office, a new wave of pride and feeling of positivity in being an American replaced the so-called ‘malaise’ of the 70′s. During that decade more positive feelings became associated with soldiers and police – at least among young people.
Over the last decade, there has been a bizarre change in the wake of the September 11th attacks – an attitude that questioning authority is un-American. There have been successful campaigns to demonize those who question wars or wiretapping or torture policies or imprisonment, rather than do anything to stop the actions themselves.
In the last month or so we have seen a groundswell of protest against the growing institutionalization of disparity in our country, the so-called ‘Occupy’ movement. What started as ‘Occupy Wall Street’ – and unfortunately became a place where anyone dressed well was harassed and local businesses were forced to lay off workers and even shut down – has become a global force of non-violent protests in cities and on campuses.
While many have no idea exactly what these protestors want (as opposed to the ‘lucid’ tea party protests calling for government to ‘get out of their lives’ while simultaneously legislating a certain religion and morality), one thing is clear – they have shown what has happened over the last decade of increased authoritarian power.
We have seen a great disparity in news coverage – particularly with Fox News, whose viewers are statistically less informed than those who don’t watch news, and who recently called pepper spray a ‘food product’. We have ‘citizen journalism’ and smartphones and YouTube to thank for that. So the same people who showed the ‘massive Iraqi protests’ as only having hundreds of attendees have now debunked much of the corporate propaganda spread about the Occupy protests.
Sadly we have also seen the dark side of spreading power – brutal treatment of non-violent protests. The script has repeated itself again and again in recent weeks – protestors line up and stand arm-in-arm on a walkway or around a university common area and perhaps chant slogans. Police show up, ask them to disperse, and upon their refusal, stating a right to peaceful assembly (which doesn’t trump the university rights to regulate such assembly on campus, by the way) the police almost immediately resort to batons and pepper spray.
There is video after video of these incidents, but perhaps none as brazen as the one this weekend from the University of California at Davis. Students were having a ‘sit in’, and when the chancellor ordered campus police to disperse, the police came in force in full riot gear, and immediately started pepper spraying, and then forcibly dispersed the crowd. These kids were in violation of a campus order, but there is clearly traffic around the area, indicating that they were not ‘blocking’ anything – in other words, the response was out of line with the offense.
A similar event is depicted above, where we see a young woman pepper-sprayed in the face after already having a baton turned on her while standing in peaceful protest.
Nichols said a policewoman jabbed her in the ribs with a baton and pressed it against her throat. That made her angry.
She yelled at the officer, saying she was being mistreated. That’s when another officer shot her with pepper spray. A photo by The Oregonian’s Randy L. Rasmussen, which flashed across social media websites, shows Nichols was sprayed from a few feet away.
“It felt like my face, ears and hands were on fire,” she said.
Over at Waxy.org, they took what they considered the four best views of the event and time-synchronized them and put them in a four-panel video. Here is what they said:
I was stunned and appalled by the UC Davis Police spraying protestors, but struck by how many brave, curious people recorded the events. I took the four clearest videos and synchronized them. Citizen journalism FTW. Sources below.
Now watch the video itself:
Over the last several years we have seen the growth of authoritarian rule – warrantless wiretaps, relaxation of search & seizure rules, unconstitutional treatment at airports, and on and on. Now we have police being given cart blanche to brutalize non-violent protestors, and they are seemingly using force with gusto, which has been demonstrated again and again.
There has to be a happy medium somewhere – the right to protest and assemble was put in place due to EXACTLY this type of situation, but protestors also have to recognize the rights of others to get on with their lives. We have already seen laws changed so that you can be arrested ONLY for ‘resisting arrest’ (which is nonsensical on its face), and can only wonder what comes next. But the decision of how much power goes to our government, exactly what level of violence we will tolerate, how far into our lives they can go if we choose to support a cause – lies with each of us.
And as we have seen, silence means compliance, which in turn brings us back to the ‘never again’ days of the late 60′s police brutality where too many people allowed police to turn batons, firehoses and even bullets on college students and excused it because ‘they need a bath’ or ‘look at their hair’ or ‘why didn’t they move when told’. And do we REALLY want to go back there?