By the Full Metal Patriot
Much hay has been made on the Internet over this past weekend following the now-infamous pepper-spray incident between Occupy protesters and police on the UC Davis campus. It didn't take long for the gratuitous (and sometimes humorous) Photoshops mocking what was assumed to be police brutality.
But did the police engage in police brutality by pepper-spraying these “peaceful” protesters? Rather than watching the popular video which starts when the pepper spraying begins, let's take a look at the longer video which shows the events leading up to that point.
A large group of protesters had gathered on the quad and formed a ring around police officers.
- 0:58 — An officer walks up to the line of students who are blocking the sidewalk with their arms linked and asks one of them to move. The student refuses. And they they all laugh at the officer and then continue chanting, “Our university!” and “Power of the students!”
- Several officers can be seen conversing on their radios (presumably communicating with headquarters or a commanding officer).
- 4:00 — The officer informs the protesters that if they do not move, they will be shot with pepper spray. Again, the students refuse to move and instead chant, “Don't shoot students!”
- 5:00 — Officers can be seen retrieving pepper spray canisters from their belts and shaking them up. Still no movement from the ring of students surrounding the officers.
- 5:30 — Standing students begin to scream to their seated fellows to “Protect your eyes!” But nobody moves. In fact, several standing students hand cloths to the seated resisters so that they can cover their faces. Everyone here knows what is about to happen, and they're bracing for it. But not moving.
- 6:20 — Officers on the outside of the ring of students tell them to move out of the way and off the sidewalk. The seated students still won't budge.
- 6:36 — One officer from inside the ring steps over the line of students, turns and begins to spray the seated students with pepper spray.
- 7:00 — The seated students begin to feel the effects of the pepper spray and unlink their arms. At that point, officers move in and begin to arrest them.
A cursory search for "legal escalation of force” brings up an article from policechiefmagazine.org entitled, “Force Continuums: Three Questions.”
The actual law on the degree of allowable force is quite broad and very much in favor of officers. Legal standards…take numerous factors into account that continuums do not. For example, many continuums depict only the relationship between the subject's current behavior ("actively resisting," for example) and the officer's force response.
…The U.S. Department of Justice has weighed in, too. Its Civil Rights Division urges agencies adopt a progressive force continuum and train all officers in it. Consent decrees and technical letters of assistance sometimes require agencies to do so. According to the Department of Justice, a force continuum should include all types of force used by an agency, including firearms, pepper spray, batons, and canines.
The students who refused a legal order from law enforcement to unblock the sidewalk were actively resisting a lawful order to disperse. The University of California’s Universitywide Police Policies and Administrative Procedures has this to say about the use of pepper spray:
“Chemical agents are weapons used to minimize the potential for injury to officers, offenders, or other persons. They should only be used in situations where such force reasonably appears justified and necessary.”
If students are actively resisting a lawful order from law enforcement, what is the officer to do? If a student chooses to take a peaceful and lawful protest and escalate it by refusing a lawful order, the protest may indeed be peaceful but it has ceased to be lawful. According to the UC Davis’ Student Responsibilities and Conduct Standards:
102.16 Failure to Comply with Directions of Official, or Resisting or Obstructing Official. Failure to identify oneself to, or comply with the directions of, a University official or other public official acting in the performance of his/her duties while on University property or at official University functions; or resisting or obstructing such officials in the performance of or the attempt to perform their duties.
Whether the officers were acting in a “reasonable” manner is a matter that will now likely be decided in court. According to the University's policies, it appears that the police were acting within their guidelines while the students were violating theirs (it also appears that by refusing to unblock the sidewalk, the students may have been in violation of 102.13 Obstruction or Disruption and 102.15 Disturbing the Peace).
Sorry, no sympathy here.
Cross-posted at Full Metal Patriot
Cross-posted at Full Metal Patriot