We had a very interesting incident in America today. As I am sure we’ve all heard, students at UC Davis were pepper sprayed by police for disobeying a police order to disperse and clear a path. From what I understand, there was a encampment of tents on campus much like other Occupy Wall Street type movements have in various spots across the US. These students had formed a circle, sitting down with their arms interlocked which blocked the path to this encampment. From the 2 different videos I saw, the police gave the students some warning that if they did not clear a path, that they would be sprayed and removed by force. And that is then what transpired.
Here’s the thing about this incident. The use of the pepper spray seemed to be unnecessary and excessive in this case. (Update: CNN has more parts to the story as to why the police ended up using the spray) OK, but maybe we should at the same time be talking about what everyone did wrong here. Just because the police officers were “more” wrong, does that make the protesters right? That’s the question I’ve been asking since I first saw the coverage of this incident. I even asked the question in a nice manner on BoingBoing where I first saw the article, for which apparently taking a viewpoint that wasn’t outrage against the police got me banned from commenting. I just feel it is important not to jump to conclusions. There are some things to consider.
Our freedoms, including those Constitutionally protected, have limits. Those limits generally are where they cross the line into interfering with the rights of others. If you commit a felony, you lose your right to bear arms. You are not allowed to shout “FIRE!” in a crowded theater because it can cause harm to others. In this case, the protesters were blocking access to a public space where a large number of people were gathered.
So what would have happened if someone was being assaulted in one of these tents and called 911 from their cell phone? The police would not have been able to get their squad car through without running over protesters. What if a cooking stove started a tent or tents on fire? How would you get a fire truck through? What if a protester inside the circle fell and had a serious head injury? How would the ambulance get through? Whenever these crowds gather, especially for an extended period of time, the police need access to them to protect them from each other and others. To say that every cop is evil and trying to suppress our rights by these actions is just as crazy as saying that every protester has good intentions.
I heard a comment last week that the NYPD has used up all of its goodwill from 9/11 due to its actions recently in Zuccotti Park . So if we had another terrorist attack somewhere in the United States, am I to believe that the NYPD or any other police force wouldn’t be there ready to serve just as those fine people did on that tragic day? Let’s try to put some sanity in this and realize that both the protesters and the police had some wrong-doing here, and that each should face their appropriate punishment, but it should not reflect on either as a whole.
Before I try to express why I the Occupy movement hasn’t resonated with me, everyone should go read Aaron Brown’s article on it. He’s a real writer, and expresses it much better than I could ever hope to. So go. Click on it. Then come back here.
If the Occupy movement wants to gain momentum and gain support from people like me, they need to do a few things. I think they would benefit from a leader. They need a more unified voice to give them a mission as to what it is they are really protesting. They could change their message from income equality to income fairness. If I get promoted at work, I shouldn’t keep making the same money I did previously. But I shouldn’t make 5000% more either. They should immediately support Congressman Walz’s bill to stop Congress from benefiting from insider stock knowledge. Occupy Wall Street needs to get a message that makes sense.
The police used excessive force. The protesters ignored their orders and did present a threat (I won’t make a judgement as to the degree) to public safety by blocking access to a large gathering in a public place. More than one wrong was committed here. And that’s really the point I want to make. The incorrect application of force does not vindicate the protesters. I don’t think we can properly place judgement on the degree as to which the force was excessive unless we can admit the amount of blame the protesters have in the situation. Other Occupiers should take note that they would better capture the hearts and minds of people like me if they did the right thing and admit when they cross the line, and let’s see if the police and our government can do the same.