Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Politics and Pepper Spray


First, let's have a brief discussion about pepper spray. It is officially known as oleoresin capsicum, or O.C. spray. It is derived from the oil of very hot peppers, and was invented as a more efficacious alternative to Mace. Its effects are almost universal, although about five to ten percent of the population seems to be resistant to it. When someone is sprayed, it forces his eyes to shut. The spray gets inhaled and irritates the mucus membranes of his throat and sinuses, making it difficult to breathe. In some people, it can cause retching or vomiting. The effects last anywhere from an hour to several hours, depending on whether or not the person sprayed flushes his face with water.

The important thing to remember is that pepper spray is almost universally safe. There are no lasting effects, and it does no permanent physical damage. I suppose that someone with a compromised respiratory system might be endangered, but in general, getting doused with O.C. spray is a decidedly unpleasant but benign experience. Police and military personnel are routinely sprayed in training in order to understand the effects of O.C., and are taught to fight through the pain. If it caused injury, these warriors would not be training with it.

It's hard to know what the Chancellor would prefer. Batons? Tasers? Tear gas? Or just to leave the poor Occupiers alone and let them continue to disrupt campus activities?  The police were charged with controlling the mob, and pepper spray is the least deleterious of the various options. Leaving the Occupiers to their infantile ranting and obstruction of everyday activities is very harmful to the safety, operation, and well-being of an institution, and people should be grateful that the police in Davis used this measured method to disband some very obstreperous Occupiers. When I watched the video, the protestors were sitting down, arms linked, defying police orders to disperse. Although we have become accustomed to this kind of behavior from protestors, it does not mean that it is "peaceful". On the contrary, purposely disturbing or impeding businesses, universities, or individuals, and refusing to disband at the order of legitimate authorities, is not peaceful. It is, in fact, an act of defiance.

This is in no way an endorsement of police brutality. I have witnessed law enforcement officials crossing the line, and in a civil society, when an officer purposely inflicts pain or injury to an unresisting suspect, it is an abomination that destroys our trust in authority. Such behavior is always corrosive. A policeman who would pepper spray a compliant arrestee simply to "teach him a lesson", or to satisfy his own sadistic impulses, would certainly be guilty of brutality. However, using pepper spray on recalcitrant protestors is a completely different context; it is, in fact, a humane way of disbanding a group that is defiantly flaunting the law. It shouldn't take a genius to see the difference, but apparently our news media is incapable of any nuanced thinking, particularly when they have an agenda to promulgate.

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