Video of UCPD Pepper-Spraying Seated Protesters Directly in The Face. Protesters Yell “You Can Go!” At Police, and Police Leave.

This happened at UC Davis today, 11/18. The students who were sprayed directly in the face remain composed and peaceful, although one woman has apparently been hospitalized for chemical burns. The officer walking by and spraying them does so with something like gusto.

I only got through the first 30 seconds of this video the first time, but I do recommend watching the whole thing. It’s a novel experience, to watch the police behave absolutely abhorrently, then retreat in the face of a clearly superior moral imperative.

Many people have publicized that initial officer’s name and e-mail address, and the impulse must be in part a response to his body language, which is so appallingly casual, as if he were watering some bushes with a garden hose. It’s worth noting that this unconcerned exercise of extreme tactics appears to be an issue for this officer specifically. Even against an institutional backdrop that’s becoming more and more famous for meting out unnecessary violence to peaceful people, his behavior must be understood as somewhat exceptional. Look at his face as he sprays them (as best you can–he’s partially hidden behind a mask). Then fast-forward to the end of the clip (around 6:15), when the students announce to the officers that they are offering them “a moment of peace,” that is, the option of leaving without further escalating a truly horrible situation. They cry (in one of the most moving instances of the human mic I’ve ever seen) “You can go! You can go!”

It’s transcendently brilliant, this tactic–the students offer an alternative in a high-pressure situation, a situation that no one wants, but which seems inevitable in the heat of the moment. It’s an act of mercy which, like all acts of mercy, is entirely undeserved. Watch the other officers’ surprise at this turn in the students’ rhetoric, after they had (rightfully) been chanting “Shame on you!” Watch the officers seriously consider (and eventually accept) the students’ offer.

As the officer in the left foreground teeters back and forth, nervous, braced, thinking, watch the power-drunk cop on the right (who I think is the one who pepper-sprayed the crowd earlier) brandish not one but TWO bottles of pepper-spray, shaking them, not just in preparation, but in anticipation. He’s seconds away from spraying the students again. His mask is up, you can see his face, but it’s a nonexperience: it’s blank, immobile. It would be inaccurate to say that he’s immune to the students’ appeal; he’s not even bothering to listen. All he hears are sounds. No signals, all noise. Luckily, it’s made clear to him in time that this colleagues are in retreat, and he does not spray them again.

Strange to seek a lesson on the police side of this appalling moment in our country’s history, but there is one, I think, when you look at the faces behind the riot masks. Look at the expressions. So many are human, attentive, defensive, even regretful, but his is  impassive, glutted and red with a chemical thrill. If he is indeed the same officer who sprayed the students earlier, he’s already made the decision to spray once. It’s much easier to jump that moral hurdle a second time.

It’s a truism to say that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, but here’s the thing: until the students call the rest of the officers to their senses in a truly exceptional act of grace, that doughy nugget of unthinking cruelty is winning.

But call him out they do, and that’s a microcosm for what the Occupy movements are about when they’re at their best–calling us out of our own bottom lines, forcing us to rethink the hard outlines of the legal constraints we ordinarily accept, impelling us to see what they look when upheld by the beefy implacable hand of an Old Testament God.

And then they remind us that there is a way out: You can go.

[UPDATE: For a much more thorough account of this incident, with links and the aftermath, see Angus Johnston at studentactivism.]

27 thoughts on “Video of UCPD Pepper-Spraying Seated Protesters Directly in The Face. Protesters Yell “You Can Go!” At Police, and Police Leave.

  1. This photo strikingly captures the spraying officer’s smugness.!/photo.php?fbid=311118448916063&set=o.13917075214&type=1&theater

    Also, I believe the in background at :34, you can see the student who is how hospitalized with chemical burns being sprayed at point blank range.

    I am so ashamed that this happened at my home campus. I am ashamed of the physical and epistemic violence being perpetrated the UC administration more generally. Public education, indeed.

  2. Hi Lili L.,

    I loved everything about this post. Like you, I only made it through about a minute in my initial viewing of the video. I was enraged. I scrolled through the YouTube comments and was further horrified by those few who saw no wrong in the actions of that officer. I couldn’t help but think that there has to be a better way for the authorities to respond to peaceful protests. Why can’t they see that?

    Later, I watched the rest of the video and was moved, as you were, by the student response. The “Shame on you,” chant is familiar to those following the movement, so that was not surprising to me. The “You can go” chant, however, offered an option as opposed to a finger wagging. Thankfully, the police responded by making the right choice at that point.


  3. I’m crying. Grace, grace, grace. What a gift to those undeserving police officers and the movement proper, in the face of unlawful, sadistic assault..

  4. An ideal response on both sides to an outrageous act, with sensitive and cogent commentary. This should be used as a training film for police, and for peaceful protesters as well.

  5. A Truly Exceptional Piece. Very Humbling As Well As Comforting To See These Student Protesters Not Rise Up Against, Or Rather Sink To The Level, Of These So Called “Peace Officers.” I Commend The Students Of UC Davis, And Of The Whole UC System, On Their Brave Acts, Which Shows Their Commitment And Resolve In Standing Up (While Sitting Down) For What They Believe In. And For Taking The Moral High Ground In A Volatile Situation. A Situation, Whose Many Recorded Accounts, Are Being Viewed On Numerous Social Media Sites As Well As Main Stream Media. Which Has Ensured That These Clear Acts Of Excessive Force, Upon Peaceful Students Exercising Their First Amendment Right, Will Not Only Be Seen By People Everywhere, But, More Importantly, By Those Who Posses The Necessary Power To Act Upon Them. While Also Realizing, That If These Continued Injustices, And Blatant Disregard For The Constitution Of The United States Of America, By UC Campus Police, Are To Be Ignored Or Somehow Try To Be “Justified”. That This Will ALWAYS Be Remembered And FOREVER Tarnish The Reputation Of The UC Board Of Regents, The UC Police, UC Faculty, And Anyone Else Who Had The Power To Act, But Yet Failed To, In This Critical Time. The Focus Of America And Of The World Is Upon You, Do NOT Fail Us…

  6. I too loved that moment when the students offered a moment of peace and let the pressure escape. Brilliant. Beautiful.

    I too noticed that there were a couple of officers who encouraged the others to back away and avoid further confrontation at this point. They should receive commendations for outstanding duty under difficult circumstances.

    And officer Pike should be charged with unprovoked assault with a chemical weapon and put in jail just as any non-officer who’d done the same thing would be. The police must not be above the rule of law or we are truly lost as a country.

  7. An amazing post. And an amazing response from UC-D students, who reacted to that awfulness with more wit and restraint that I suspect I’d be capable of. They indeed allowed the police to leave, and the police (with the exception of that one guy) recognized it.

  8. Policemen still don’t understand that they too are victims of the impoverishment of all the people. Are they dub or stubborn ?

  9. Pingback:

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