University police brutalize peaceful protestors at UC Davis; do students bear some responsibility?

The video is chilling: a police officer walking along a line of students seated with arms linked, spraying them with pepper spray like one would spray a windowsill for mosquitoes. But these were people, huddling, screaming, non-threatening.

Pepper spray, also known as OC spray (from “Oleoresin Capsicum”), OC gas, and capsicum spray, is a lachrymatory agent (a chemical compound that irritates the eyes to cause tears, pain, and even temporary blindness) that is used in riot control, crowd control and personal self-defence, including defence against dogs and bears.[1] [2] Its inflammatory effects cause the eyes to close, taking away vision. This temporary blindness allows officers to more easily restrain subjects and permits persons using pepper spray for self-defense an opportunity to escape.

Although considered a less-than-lethal agent, it may be deadly in rare cases, and concerns have been raised about a number of deaths where being pepper sprayed may have been a contributing factor.[3] [from Wikipedia]

One should be very careful to second-guess police use of force when they are threatened, or when they are dealing with violent people, but there was nowhere near an excuse for the UC Davis police to attack the protesting students.

The two cops who sprayed the students should face criminal charges, and Linda P.B. Katehi, the hapless chancellor of the Davis campus of the University of California, should be fired for ordering the police to clear the plaza where students were peacefully protesting. Her apology (“I feel horrible for what happened.”) came a day after she had defended her order as aimed at protecting the health and safety of the students. And “what happened” was what she had caused to happen.

So the chancellor exercised horrible judgment and at least two of the cops cheerfully committed mayhem against peaceful students exercising their right to assemble.

And yet…in a sense the students weren’t completely innocent. When a crowd gathers to get noticed it can start a chain of events that nobody wants. When students at Kent State (Ohio) University staged a mass protest, young and poorly trained National Guardsmen shot four of them dead. When peaceful civil rights advocates marched in Selma, Alabama, they marched into a riot by law enforcement officers.

The problem, even assuming no provocateurs hidden in the crowd, is that protestors need attention. If they don’t get enough they ratchet up the protest until the authorities finally react. And the reaction is sometimes uncontrollable. So the protestors must bear some responsibility for the outcome. And if Occupy Wall Street ends up in violence, the occupiers themselves will bear some of the blame.

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