Cheering on the Pepper-Spraying Thugs

Conservatives Side With Pepper-Spraying Thugs

by Steven Greenhut

Recently by Steven Greenhut: But America IS A Police State

If you want to know which of your friends or neighbors believe in a free and humane society and which ones believe in a police state, show them the now-gone-viral video of a riot-gear-clad University of California-Davis police officer dousing a peaceful group of Occupy protesters with pepper spray as they sat, arms linked, in the campus quad. Most of us react in horror at what we saw, and at the absurdly dishonest explanations from the campus police chief. But some people think the protesters got what they deserved and even called for heavier-handed tactics.

Police officials – and these days, campus security guards have gained the power of full-fledged police officers, complete with those massive pensions and all the usual protections from accountability – claimed that the officer felt that his life was in danger when they he methodically walked down the line of protesters and assaulted them with the spray. "If you look at the video you are going to see that there were 200 people in that quad," said Chief Annette Spicuzza, who was placed on leave (i.e., additional paid vacation) Monday after a backlash against the brutality. "Hindsight is 20-20 and based on the situation we were sitting in, ultimately that was the decision that was made."

That’s what police always say no matter the situation. But in this age of video, we can see for ourselves that the officers were in no danger. Multiple officers effortlessly moved in and around the protesters. The burly officer who sprayed the kids strutted slowly in front of them in a way that belies any sort of danger, real or perceived. He, too, was put on administrative leave after the video went viral, along with another officer. Without the video, you know what would have happened – nothing. The lies would have become the official record. This is why police officers have become zealous in their confiscation of video cameras and arrest of people who record them doing their jobs.

Such brutality is par for the course for today’s militarized police and campus security departments. What’s really disgusting is the natural instinct of so many conservatives to stick up for the police. They don’t like the Occupy protesters, so they willingly back brutality against them, without considering the possibility that conservatives at some point might be on the receiving end of this aggression. Then again, this common, vulgar form of modern conservatism almost always sides with the state, even as it champions the empty words of limited government.

A blog called Extreme Conservatives wrote the following, "Sorry libs… You can quit your squawking and take your leftie-indoctrinated butts back to class. The UC Davis pepper spray incident was standard police procedure. On Friday a group of UC Davis students blocked the campus walkway with arms linked and started chanting, ‘From Davis to Greece, F*ck the police!’ Moments later the little darlings were doused with pepper spray. This was only after several attempts by campus police to get them to move. Of course, the liberal media only played the part where the students were sprayed down. But after two days of leftist outrage we find out that this was standard police procedure."

The idea that this is "standard police procedure" is exactly what makes the video so horrifying. It doesn’t make it acceptable behavior. That’s why so many viewers were offended by it. The cop struts in front of the students and sprays them with massive amounts of pepper spray. He’s not in any danger. This is just standard procedure, ma’am. We treat everyone that way!

According to Rick Hahn from Accuracy in Media, the problem here was, of course, the liberal media, which failed to provide proper context. Hahn, who is identified as having worked for the FBI for 32 years, made the usual law-enforcement case that the cops were really in danger: "Many of the protesters were seated with arms interlocked. This means police would have had to physically engage them. The fact that the protesters were seated leaves police trying to disengage them from one another at a balance disadvantage. The cops have to bend over or crouch down to try to physically disengage any one individual, bring him or her to their feet and affect the arrest. The fact that the protesters had interlocked their arms was surely an effort to avoid any one individual being removed for arrest. There’s no way of knowing how strongly the protesters would have fought disengagement, but the fact is, they were inducing, baiting if you will, physical confrontation from the police."

Scott Spiegel, writing in Conservative Outpost, joined a growing chorus of conservatives who seemed to want the police to behave even more brutally toward these "animals" and who have a rather authoritarian view of the world: "When cops say move, you move – even if you’re curled in a fetal position on the ground with flowers in your hair listening to Cat Stevens and nursing orphaned kittens. The UC Davis police could have acted a lot more brutally, including prodding or beating protesters with batons. The occupiers should consider themselves warned: Trust fund brat refuses to move, trust fund brat gets spray tanned. Protesters in the UC Davis videos can be heard chanting ‘Shame on you!’ at police after the incident. Actually, shame on patsy mayors like Michael Bloomberg and Jean Quan for not empowering police to clear out these animals ages ago."

For insight into the modern conservative rabble, one ought to read FreeRepublic. It’s beyond irony. One commenter expressed disbelief at the sight of police backing away rather than engaging the protesters: "Do you get a chill up your spine like I do when you see the police slowly back away as if they are backing down from an impending violent standoff?" Others seemed eager to see violence: "A Billy-club to the ribs would have been just as effective at removing the bums and we would be hearing all this crying about pepper-spray!" Granted, these are anonymous commenters, but they reflect widespread sentiment.

I disagree with most of what the Occupy protesters are saying, quite obviously, but when I see lines of riot-gear-clad officials standing in front of these unbathed wretches, my heart goes out to the wretches. They need a lesson in economics and politics. The policies they advocate – to the degree that many of them have any well-defined grievances – range from the silly to the disastrous. They are inconsistent, foolish and hypocritical. Many of them are lazy freeloaders. Such is life. They do create filth and chaos in public parks, but if one cannot protest in a public park, there are not many places to have a protest. It’s in everyone’s best interest for the authorities to provide as much latitude as possible for protesters of any political persuasion. We still do pretend to live in a free society, right?

Whatever the bigger picture, this was a clear case of abusive and heavy handed behavior by the campus police. The president of the university was right to call for an investigation and the officer and the chief need to be removed from their positions, not just given meaningless and indefinite paid leave. And now it’s time for Californians to take a closer look at issues of police conduct and secrecy. In recent years, Democrats and Republicans have made those issues off limits thanks to their close association with the police unions.

Maybe the Occupiers can become productive and lead a real movement for civil libertarian reform. I know it won’t happen, but who can live in California without embracing a little wishful thinking?

Steven Greenhut (send him mail) is editor-in-chief of, author of Plunder! How Public Employee Unions Are Raiding Treasuries, Controlling Our Lives And Bankrupting The Nation!, and a columnist for The Orange County Register.

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