Political Animal


November 19, 2011 8:30 AM ‘As one would spray pesticide on weeds’

By Steve Benen

The level of force local law enforcement agencies are using to target Occupy protestors is nothing short of extraordinary.

When the NYPD raided Zuccotti Park this week, officers used pepper spray rather indiscriminately, affecting, among others, a pregnant woman and an 84-year-old woman who were in the crowd. But while the descriptions of the raid are chilling, the video of this police intervention at UC Davis yesterday is even more astonishing.

I don’t know the events that led up to this confrontation; I would assume the police asked these protestors to leave and they refused. But when law enforcement officials use a weapon, they need to have a good reason for doing so. In this case, the protestors were … just sitting there.

And the response to these protestors was to spray them, in the face, with large quantities of pepper spray. As ABL put it, the officer “approached a group of students sitting in a line peacefully on the ground, walked up and down the line and pepper-sprayed them directly in the face — as one would spray pesticide on weeds.”

What’s more, note that the officer was well aware of the cameras recording his actions. In New York, Mayor Bloomberg waited until it was dark and did his best to keep the media away, so there’s far less footage of what transpired, but in this case, the UC Davis officer knew the world would be able to see his response, and felt confident enough in his decision to do it anyway.

If someone is able to explain why this isn’t police brutality, I’d love to hear it.

In case this isn’t obvious, pepper spray is some awfully nasty stuff. It’s not just a minor nuisance for those who come in contact with it; this stuff hurts and makes it difficult to breathe.

I can fully appreciate why police officers may need to use non-lethal weapons in specific circumstances. If, for example, there’d been a riot at UC Davis, and the police was trying to get a violent situation under control, pepper spray may be fully justified.

But these protestors were just sitting there. The violence was being done by the police themselves. If officers felt it necessary to remove these protestors, the police are trained in plenty of techniques to drag people away without the use of weapons.

There’s simply no defense for what happened.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


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  • stevie on November 19, 2011 8:44 AM:

    the incidents mentioned in paragraph 2 occurred in Seattle not in ny

  • mudwall jackson on November 19, 2011 8:47 AM:

    outrageous. whatever happened to the first amendment's guarantee of the right to peaceably assemble?

  • c u n d gulag on November 19, 2011 8:47 AM:

    Asking cops, all dressed up in their 21st Century Stormtrooper riot gear, decked out with all of their toys like guns, pepper spray, and Tasers, not to play with their toys is like asking 5 year-olds not to play with the gifts that Santa brought them on Christmas morning, because the guests will start arriving soon.

    I suppose we proles are supposed to be happy that they only decided to spray the crowds with capsaicin, and not electricity and/or lead.

    Police state anyone?
    If we were getting close before, we may very well be there now.
    And they have other great toys that they haven't brought out yet, and won't, until the poo-poo really starts to hit the ventilator.
    Then, they've got sonic guns, and microwave guns, to either deafen us, or Jiffy-pop us.
    And still more stuff we probably never even heard of.

  • Kiweagle on November 19, 2011 8:48 AM:

    The only reason I can think of for why they would resort to such barbaric practices is that they believe it will act as a disincentive for the protesters to return the next day.

    What I really find so disheartening about this is the enormous damage actions like these are doing to the reputation of the police and how difficult it will be for anyone to take them seriously when it matters most.

    The infamous white-shirted commander who did the same thing to women already sitting and cordoned off from the protest got suspended for ten days without pay. If that's the bar, then this clown should get at least 10 times that.

  • mikefromArlington on November 19, 2011 8:58 AM:

    Is this what the 2nd Amendment was written for?

    I'm not asking anyone to start shooting anyone but, it was written to defend against oppression right? Isn't silencing peaceful demonstrations with brutality on campuses kinda oppressive?

  • martin on November 19, 2011 8:59 AM:

    How long before they break out the tasers?

    Every civil rights group in CA should be at UC Davis on the front lines after this.

  • mudwall jackson on November 19, 2011 9:05 AM:

    c u n d gulag,

    to blame the police entirely for this lets the real culprits, the officeholders who ordered/condoned this, off the hook. maybe the police like to play with their toys but it was civilian leadership — mayors, city managers, commissioners, council members, people who should know better — who allowed this to happen. in fact, it wouldn't have happened without their tacit approval. if you notice, there is no shortage of cameras recording events; the police continue their work quite openly as if they know there will be no repercussions

  • Josef K on November 19, 2011 9:11 AM:

    Does seem to be a trend developing here, doesn't it?

    Worse (at least for the police and their bosses), I think its a counterproductive one. Incidents like these merely elevate these protests in both moral authority and public consciousness. And the more these protests get deliberately (and violently) muted, the more pressure behind them builds up.

    Revolutions tend start because of that same pressure, and its not like the we Americans don't have a long history of political violence.

  • stormskies on November 19, 2011 9:15 AM:

    The police in this country have become fucking thugs, criminals themselves who are 'shielded' because they are the police. They can break the law with impunity. They instigate violence and nothing happens. I remember many, many years ago now things like Kent State. I remember while protesting in Berkeley in the 'peoples park' a cop chasing down a protestor from the back and actually shooting the killing the guy. Nothing happened to that cop. These scenes see today are almost identical to what happened in the 60's with all the student protests over the Vietnam war. The PIGS ARE INDEED PIGS. LAWLESS PIGS. SADISTIC PIGS WHO SEEM TO GET OFF ON THE PAIN AND PUNISHMENT THAT THEY INFLICT.

    What kind of human would want to be one of these pigs ? To get up in the morning and put on they defacto S+M costumes with all the 'toys' that come with them ? To strut around in these S+M uniforms preening to themselves and others ...... what kind of human is that ? The guy who get's off on squirting the pepper spray into an 84 year old women's eyes ? The guy who in the video gets off on spraying innocent Americans with pepper spray with a sadistic smile on his face ?

    These videos are in fact being shown around the world via Al Jazeera, the BBC, France24, and others. And they show these videos with the PIG POLICE OUT OF CONTROL at the same time they show the videos of the State violence to it's citizens in Syria, Yemen, and all the other places like Bahrain. What is the difference ?

  • AK Liberal on November 19, 2011 9:16 AM:

    Don't they have fire hoses and police dogs?

    @mikefromArlington: 'eff the 2nd amendment. The sooner things get violent, the sooner OWS loses.

  • berttheclock on November 19, 2011 9:16 AM:

    A Portland policeman pushed the face of an eighty one year old man into the asphalt. He had not been part of the protestors, but, he had wandered into the area to view the proceedings.

    However, what is chilling is the number of White Shirts who are doing the most damage. A retired police captain from Philly, was on with Chris Hayes, this AM. He had gone to the protests because he believed in their cause. He had been arrested in NYC. He said the violence is not coming from the majority of the rank and file officers, but, from their supervisors, the White Shirts. Therefore, he said, once, you have that you have anarchy. Those White Shirts answer only to their higherups, who, answer only to theirs as well. This came down from the top. Remember Lawrence O'Donnell was one of the first to regularly show the pepper spraying by a White Shirt, which led to an investigation, and the Deputy Commander's wrist was severely whipped by a very small feather.

  • R. Porrofatto on November 19, 2011 9:20 AM:

    For anyone who thought it was only anti-war protestors back in the 60's being nasty hippies, now you know how the police went out of their way to earn the name "pigs." The shame of it now is that they are hired goons for the very criminals the students are protesting. Oh wait, maybe not so different.

  • Robert Waldmann on November 19, 2011 9:32 AM:

    One difference between police forces which I've noticed is that some have clear identification on the helmet of each officer (I recall a code made of one letter and one digit). UC Davis police don't. Nor did police at UC Berkeley (I don't know if they were UC or municipal).

    I think it is clear that there should always be such identifiers -- the logic is the same as a badge number, but one that it visible on videos taken from some distance.

    In the case in Davis, IIUC the assailant has been identified. My impression is that he is Lieutenant John Pike. 530-752-3989 japikeiii@ucdavis.edu . But it should be clear even in the cases of armed assailants in uniform who don't show their faces.

  • berttheclock on November 19, 2011 9:54 AM:

    The one lying through her teeth is Annette Spicuzza, the UC Davis police chief. She claimed, according to the Sacramento Bee, that the police had no choice but to spray as they were surrounded with no way out. Baloney, that officer walking down the line of the sitting protestors was not encircled. Those behind him wore riot gear. The police were not surounded until the spray incident. Even then, they were able to leave. The Bee said the officers were a collection of UC Davis police, other UC police and some municipal police. However, the chilling part was reading many comments from those who wanted to volunteer to spray and baton whip, as well.

  • jjm on November 19, 2011 9:59 AM:

    The fault lies with the UC Davis administration. The once-great University of California has been brought down to the depths by a its systemwide and local campus administrations that are so rotten, so full of greedy people it has turned what was once 'self-governance' into a corporate style of tyrannical rule.

    Shame on Chancellor Katehi!

  • H.H. McCool on November 19, 2011 10:07 AM:

    Those of us who grew up in the 1960s welcome a new generation to the Amerikan police state.

    If OWS put 2,000,000 people in the mall in Washington or in Central Park in New York, how long would it take for the tanks to show up?

    I think we all know the answer.

  • Montana on November 19, 2011 10:15 AM:

    As a veteran of the 60s anti-war movement who was chased down streets by police on horseback, I'm terrified by what I see happening again in this country.

    Along with many Americans I watched the suppression of protesters in the Middle East with horror. President Obama and other elected officials spoke out strongly in support of protesters and their right to peaceably assemble and speak out.

    Why aren't those same leaders speaking out now about _American's_ rights -- or are those rights only available to those living outside the U.S.?

  • c u n d gulag on November 19, 2011 10:17 AM:

    mudwall jackson,
    You're absolutely right.
    I should have mentioned government officials - because who is it that, besides giving tacit approval to this kind of behaviour, get this stuff for them, and then points them in the direction they want them to go?
    And the Galtians behind them - let's not forget them.

  • Phyllis Pircher on November 19, 2011 10:50 AM:

    More contact information on the pepper sprayer.

    Here�s contact information (via Twitter, of course):
    Chancellor�s office (530) 752-2065
    UC Davis police (530) 752-1727
    The officer who pulled out the pepper spray was Lieutenant John Pike. 530-752-3989 japikeiii@ucdavis.edu

  • josephus on November 19, 2011 11:16 AM:

    It appears to me that the police were doing this deliberately in order to provoke a more violent reaction by the crowd. Then they could shoot a few occupiers and offer as a reason that they were "attacked" by an unruly mob of drug-addled hippies and thus attract the sympathy of the world. Why else would they do this in front of cameras? Kudos to the occupiers for not attacking the cops, and thus not falling into a well prepared trap.

  • Al B Tross on November 19, 2011 11:26 AM:

    Even in the middle of hate and oppression, I find a wonderful thing, beauty, if you will.

    At the end of the confrontation, the cops are circling their wagons and looking nervous as the realize they screwed up, what with the number of cameras around and all.

    The crowd "mic checks", shows true humanity and grace, announces that they will give the cops peace, and tells the police to go.

    And they do.


  • schtick on November 19, 2011 11:29 AM:

    That's why these guys are cops. They can do shit like this to people and use law enforcement as an excuse. Take away their badges, their clubs, their guns, their tasers, their pepper spray and you have a bunch of lily-livered chicken shits.
    They've done research on people that become cops. They are people that always wanted to bully, but were wimps and got bullied themselves. Along with a few bullies that were afraid to push the envelope because of the law, but now they are the law so they can do whatever they want. This mentality gets promoted up the ranks and they are eventually in charge as officers.
    I don't know why they don't teach any kind of history in schools anymore, because if the powers that be would look at the history of protests, they would find the gestapo tatics loses and the protestors eventually win. Or maybe they do know and just want to beat the shit out of people for a while before they lose.

    crapcha....culturally cklying....yes they do

  • Jackson on November 19, 2011 11:35 AM:

    In the case in Davis, IIUC the assailant has been identified. My impression is that he is Lieutenant John Pike

    You mean *this* Lieutenant John Pike?


    The one who makes a salary of $116,000 to brutalize people for sitting down?

  • Drinking Jim Crow on November 19, 2011 11:56 AM:

    Steve, while I share your concerns, this is exactly how a non-violent peaceful protest movement galvanizes widespread support for it's POV. In other words, a relatively apathetic middle section of the country will naturally begin to sympathize with peaceful protestors who are systematically brutalized for simply stating uncomfortable truths to those in power. And it's only at that point that we will realize real policy changes that will reverse the trend of oppression and exploitation.

    This is why the knee-jerk response from our reactionary class paints the OWS protestors as nothing but "commies, druggies, misfits, and criminals" - i.e., the same crap their ancestors said about MLK, etc. The reaction of conservatives to the OWS movement exemplifies exactly why they're full of shit (and should be called out on it immediately) whenever they attempt to claim the mantle of Republican abolitionism and/or the Black Civil Rights movement.

    Conservatives are and always have been the singular enemy of progress, no matter how much they struggle to revise the past so their ancestors can for once be on the right side of history.

  • TCinLA on November 19, 2011 12:42 PM:

    It's been 40 years since the police of America routinely demonstrated where the term "pig" came from as applied to a police officer. Nice of them to provide a new generation with the same old lesson: If you believe in changing society, the police (the guardians of the Old Order) are not your friends - never were, never will be. There's going to be police riots now as there were back then, only this time they're going to think they can get away with it, since the media is now all owned by those they're defending, and the reporters have all been properly neutered so the truth won't be coming out.

    I well remember October 15, 1967, in front of the Oakland Draft Center, when the Oakland PD demonstrated MACE to the world for the first time, spraying demonstrators the way this pig did at UC Davis with pepper spray.

    One might also note that the police are using long range sound weapons against demonstrators. These things emit an aimed sound at 137 decibels (permanent hearing damage happens at 140 db)

    One might also note the coordination of all these actions against the Occupy protests, and further note the role of the FBI and the Heimat Statspolizei of the Federal government in these actions, and the coordinating role that has been taken on by Obama's "Justice" Department. So much for Obama's "stance" on our side. (Quick, what's the difference between a liberal billionaire and a conservative billionaire? One will garrote you in your sleep while the other wants to shoot you at dawn).

  • Montana on November 19, 2011 1:01 PM:

    TC -- I was in the sleepy little college town of Santa Cruz participating in a peaceful march against the Vietnam war when we were attacked. The wars change, the tactics stay the same.

    Just watched the online version of today's Up with Chris Hayes. He is as quick as they come but even he did not see (or at least did not comment upon) his guests' ironic back-to-back closing statements about the protesters in Syria being attacked and how we really did not know what is happening there because the press has been kept out, followed immediately by another comment that the US press is being kept out and even arrested at some US protests.

    Why are American leaders so quick to support the "Arab Spring" protesters and silent when it comes to our homegrown ones?

    Members of the press, why aren't you pressing this?

  • tobysasha on November 19, 2011 1:03 PM:

    Sitting there doing nothing? Refusing a lawful order to disperse is an aggressive tactic. You are communicating non-compliance and police officers are put at risk, as we've seen all over the country with slashing of arms and faces, chemicals thrown in faces, bottles and feces thrown at heads, etc of peace officers.

    Choose to confront lawful representatives of the people and dare them to do their jobs? You may pay a price, it's not a surprise.

  • schtick on November 19, 2011 1:11 PM:

  • berttheclock on November 19, 2011 1:17 PM:

    Hey, tobysasha, Sieg Baby, Sieg. Best be gettin' your Brown Shirt washed from the swill which just came out of your mouth.

  • berttheclock on November 19, 2011 1:25 PM:

    tobysasha, Dick Wolf on Line Two - He says you would be a natural for his "Law and Order".

  • PQuincy on November 19, 2011 2:59 PM:

    Would this have been ordered by UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi -- the same Linda Katehi pulling down a $400,000 a year salary, supported by UC President Mark Yudof, that was a huge raise over the previous UC Davis Chancellor, and higher than most other chancellors in the system.

    Does this demonstrate the value to the system, which President Yudof defended so energetically, of paying Chancellors huge raises even as staff was being cut and faculty salaries and hiring frozen?

  • N.Wells on November 19, 2011 4:45 PM:

    Another (and slightly better) video at Daily Kos shows that two different police officers sprayed the students at two different times.

    That is totally unjustifiable.

    Those two thuggish sprayers are university police, right? Does that mean that they don't have any special legal protection for their actions? If so, I hope their victims sue the bejeezus out of the university cops and the university.

  • rrk1 on November 19, 2011 6:13 PM:

    There's no question but the police are being deliberately provocative: they want a violent response to justify using even more violence against the "hippies", or "slackers" or "stoners", whom they they've been trained to hate. They are inciting a riot, and are probably told, "spray 'em as an example. That way there won't be any more of 'em". That's how the so-called leadership deals with dissent.

    Some of the police, especially in NY and LA, are just sadistic thugs who should never have been given police authority to begin with. They itch to use violence legally, even when what they do isn't legal at all. The police have been retrained into para-military enforcers, with an array of weapons no police force should ever have. They exist to protect the establishment, the ownership class, the 1% ers. It's only when the smarter among them (not many) realize they are part of the 99% that the system, including the elected and appointed lackies, will be in real trouble. It takes a while to get to that point.

    They have become a branch of the political police, rather than the nice officer that helps little old ladies and young children across the street. Bloomberg finally showed his true colors. The aristocracy isn't going to roll over easily, and that's what the occupiers have to understand. They probably do, but provocations are part of the game, and as long as there isn't a violent response on the part of the occupiers they have the moral high ground. They need to keep it.

    I was gassed in D.C. in the late 60s and early 70s, and it was truly frightening to see the heavy hand of the state with all its weapons. Nixon locking himself in the WH, bumper-to-bumper buses encircling the WH grounds, tanks rumbling through the streets, and drafted guys in uniform standing guard at federal buildings giving us the peace sign as we marched by. We knew they wouldn't fire on us. But then there was Kent State, and to this day we still don't really know what happened there. It was a very bad time, and we may see it again, only worse.

    And how will a Democratic president handle it? Nixon we understood. But Obama?

    Unfortunately, provocative acts of violence frequently bring the same in response, and that may be the only way to bring the whole miserable, obscene system down. Liberty from oppression is usually bought with blood, but mostly not the blood of the police.

  • Eko on November 19, 2011 6:55 PM:

    I have to be honest this video really shocked me. All I see is a man wearing a uniform on a power trip as he brandishes his weapon shows it off to the world as if he is asserting his power, and then fires on people who were sitting. SITTING! I didn't see anyone being violent towards the police, did you? This is gross abuse of power and this type of abuse of power leads to worse abuse of power.

    I hope UC Davis Police Lt. John Pike ends up in jail.

  • ChicagoRob on November 19, 2011 9:11 PM:

    Is that the guy's name Lt. Pike? Why has he not been arrested and charged with abuse of authority? It is as plain. as. day.

  • KS on November 19, 2011 9:48 PM:


    I too was gassed during national anti-war demonstrations in Washington DC in 1969. This is even more terrible, like hitting Dr King with a night-stick club on camera. Harmless citizens peacefully assembled to petition their government, as described in the 1st amendment.

    Now I am elderly, and sympathize with the victims of the police. I have a friend who is a ranking police officer, but doesn't like most of his co-workers because they are corrupt bullies.

    This "officer" is clearly a sadistic bully, who committed assault with intent to cause severe bodily harm. People with lung problems will die from such treatment, in which case he would have committed at least negligent homicide. On camera.

    Rodney King's abusers were acquited, but the film was much less clear. I think these buckos will have problems going forward. There should, in a just society, be people looking for him always.

  • Bonnie Tamres-Moore on November 19, 2011 10:33 PM:

    I have have been an activist opposing torture for 7 years . The police behavior at UC Davis was torture.

    The United Nations Convention Against Torture, signed by President Reagan in 1988 and ratified by a Republican Congress in 1994 says "No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat or war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture".

    The definition of torture in The United Nations Convention Against Torture is this: "torture means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity."

  • Dabodius on November 20, 2011 2:09 AM:

    Shouldn't that be "herbicide on weeds"?

    If I pepper-sprayed even off-duty police officers, I'd have to worry about going to jail. The problem, here as in NYC, is that the police don't have the same worry. They can indulge in lawless conduct under the color of law, and this brings out the worst in some of them. Most went into law enforcement with the best of motives, to serve and protect the community -- but being only human, some get corrupted by the opportunity for unaccountable bullying or worse. Training and leadership can help, but we also need laws with teeth to prevent citizens of one tier from brutalizing us citizens in the other. Meanwhile public pressure remains indispensable.

  • moby doug on November 20, 2011 5:58 PM:

    There MUST be severe consequences for this outrage for Chancellor Katehi of UC Davis, for her campus police chief, Annette Spicuzza, and for Lt. John Pike, the sadist who is paid $116,000/annum to assault students.

  • Nicholas Pogany on November 21, 2011 7:45 AM:

    I escaped when i was 4 years old from Hungary, a comunist country where this was going on and people just simply disappeared. How can this happen in America??????
    The land of freedom of assembly? What is happening? How can they get away with this?

  • Montana on November 21, 2011 9:42 AM:

    Mr. Pogany wrote: How can this happen in America??????

    How indeed?!

  • cornhusker on November 21, 2011 9:31 PM:

    Correction: The two women (octogenarian and pregnant woman) were pepper sprayed in Seattle.