Here is a video on Youtube that was put together collating multiple videos shot of the pepper spray incident from multiple vantage points, time synchronized showing four angles at once.
Please note that the students in the first 2 – 3 minutes of the video leading up to the pepper spraying are totally passive, and nowhere near the police. The police approached them and created a confrontation instead of just letting them sit there till they got tired of it and left. Which would have been the sensible thing to do, and what I am sure they now wish they had done.
The critical moment is at 2:25 or so. The policeman who initiated the pepper spraying was BEHIND the students. He was OUTSIDE the line of students. He can clearly be seen stepping over the students to get on the side of the line in which they are facing. (I have seen multiple other still and video shots of this moment, confirming it.) He then begins casually pepper spraying them in the face, and down their throats (which, FWIW, is a direct violation of training for the use of pepper spray. In fact, the fact that they were not violent, and did not represent any possible physical threat to the police, is a direct violation of policy and CA law, for whatever that is worth.).
The students did not surround the officers in a standing mode or confront them until after the pepper spraying occurred. And that was to verbally reprimand the officers and ask them to stop what they were doing. Which the police at that point did, I think having already realized that it was they who had create the confrontation.
What is most disturbing to me is illustrated just after the 8 minute mark in the video, where we see police armed with fully automatic assault rifles raised at ready rest position, pointed towards the students.
What we are seeing is the culmination of a decade of rapid paramilitarization of police forces in this nation, funded out of the Department of Homeland Security. (Oh, how I love the historical echoes of that name. Let’s say it together: “Homeland Security”.) Police are being equipped with the sort of arms necessary for a full scale war. Such weapons are not appropriate for dealing with what is clearly a non-violent act of civil disobedience. The use of taser is another example of technology being used inappropriately. My favorite incident was earlier this year when the cops tasered a bedridden, disable old granny who was on oxygen. I guess it showed her not to sass them: Police Said to Taze Grandmother.
Which gets down to the heart of the matter, and that is not just the erosion of, but the destruction of the core concept of the right to peacefully assemble and petition. For the past several election cycles we have begun to see the development of the so-called ‘free speech zones’ at political conventions and events. Always carefully selected spots of limited ground as far as possible from the political power structure’s representatives as possible, in order to insure that the ruling class do not have to be bothered with being confronted with any dissent. Of course when you privatize all space and declare no public area is eligible for assembly, that does put something of a crimp in exercising the right to assemble and petition. Cause? Effect?
I am reading this week that apparently the use of 24 x 7 automated surveillance drones is not just something for the future or the border, but is being implemented in urban areas nationwide. I am reminded of the movie “Enemy of the State”, with Gene Hackman and Will Smith from a few years back. Prescient stuff.
Of course I still admire Gandhi (“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”), whose campaign of civil disobedience and passive resistance ultimately worked, although of course it was because he was dealing with the British who just did not have it in their heart to engage in genocide. I don’t think Gandhi’s campaign would have worked so well in, say, Communist Russia. I have a feeling he would have spent his last days meditating in a Gulag somewhere in Siberia. If he was lucky.
I would hope that America would handle acts of civil disobedience and protest, and the simple right to exercise those lingering echoes of the right to petition and be heard in such a manner we do not find ourselves moving toward Siberia. After all, what is more quintessentially American than Thoreau and Walden Pond?
But then again, there is legislation working its way through Congress right now that Obama will probably cave and sign that includes warrantless arrest, without due process or judicial review, and indefinite detention of American citizens in internment camps run by the military, which I wrote about and faxed to Congress here: A Great Week in America for Freedom, Democracy, and the American Way of Life.
As for the pepper spray, it created quite an Internet meme of photoshopped images in the following days. A good sampling of them can be seen here:
UC Davis, John Pike, and the Birth of a Meme