With the G20 debacle fresh in our minds, many Torontonians are shaking their heads at the efforts of American city authorities and police forces to break up Occupy protests. Police in some cities have been witnessed beating peaceful protesters, kettling groups, and using tear gas and rubber bullets. Police forces are now toning down the violence somewhat, after a public outcry and drop in their approval ratings. Sound familiar, Toronto?
On Friday, a police officer at UC Davis used pepper spray on a group of protesters who were sitting on the ground, showing no signs of movement or threatening actions. In justifying the officer's action, this statement was issued:
"The students had encircled the officers," [UC Davis Police Chief Annette Spicuzza] said. "[The police] needed to exit. They were looking to leave but were unable to get out."
Oh, rilly? That's not what I'm seeing here:
Aside from the complete lack of violence or even threat, the officer (Police Lt. John Pike) sprays the group - with all the concern of a janitor spraying room deodorizer. Perhaps he's missing something that is clear at almost any point in the video: the number of students filming his action with smart phones (and even laptop web cams). The video proves the police chief wrong on a number of points:
• The students had not "encircled" the officers. The officers who are seen dragging away arrested protesters have a clear path away from the crowd. They were never "unable to get out".
• The police did not "need" to exit. They were unwelcome in the first place; it was the brutality exercised by one of their own members which (rightly) stirred the crowd, but even then there was no threat of violence.
• The pepper-spraying was in no way a defensive move. Lt. Pike clearly steps over the protesters who are sitting on the ground, turns back, advances on them, and turns the spray on them. It is clear in the video that at no time are the protesters following or advancing on him or any other officers.
• The police cannot have been unaware of the number of cameras trained on them. (Watch the video again, particularly toward the end.) Did they think their actions were not about to be posted to the net immediately, for all the world to witness?
And so, an open letter to UC Davis Police Chief Annette Spicuzza and - all other police chiefs.
When one of your members commits an act of brutality against peaceful citizens, you need to admit to the error - immediately. You must punish the officer appropriately - and the only appropriate response for wanton disregard for the public's safety, well-being, and civil rights, is dismissal. And then you must promise the error will not be repeated, and you must ensure that the entire force is properly trained to keep that promise. Anything less than this will be met with the loss of your credibility, and the loss of any trust and faith the public might have in you.
Also - when you lie about what has transpired in a public crowd situation, there's not much chance you're going to get away with it. It's 2011 for crying out loud. Most of the population have video cameras in their pockets. Lying just makes you look incredibly stupid.
6 days ago