Sunday, November 20, 2011

UC Davis police Lt. John Pike has earned a place in history

From James Fallows, national correspondent for The Atlantic.
I can't see any legitimate basis for police action like what is shown here. Watch that first minute [of the video] and think how we'd react if we saw it coming from some riot-control unit in China, or in Syria. The calm of the officer who walks up and in a leisurely way pepper-sprays unarmed and passive people right in the face? We'd think: this is what happens when authority is unaccountable and has lost any sense of human connection to a subject population. That's what I think here.

UC Davis Police Lt. John Pike uses pepper spray on Occupy UC Davis protesters. Photo by Louise Macabitas

Less than two months ago, it seemed shocking when one NYPD officer cavalierly walked up to a group of female protestors and pepper-sprayed them in the eyes. The UC Davis pepper-sprayer doesn't slink away, as his NYPD counterpart did, but in every other way this is more coldly brutal. And by the way, when did we accept the idea that local police forces would always dress up in riot gear that used to be associated with storm troopers and dystopian sci-fi movies?

If you watch the whole clip, you see other police officers beginning to act "human" in various ways -- taking off their riot helmets, being restrained rather than unbridled in use of force, a few of them even looking abashed or frightened as they walk off. (More photos here.)
So, how did we go from a country that decries human rights abuses that occur in countries like Iran and China and Syria, to one that stands by idly as local law enforcement officers act like Gestapo storm troopers?

Alexis Madrigal, a senior editor at The Atlantic writes that the kinds of tactics we are seeing at Occupy protests got their start right here in sunny Miami:
Then came the massive and much-disputed 1999 WTO protests. Negotiated management was seen to have totally failed and it cost the police chief his job and helped knock the mayor from office. "It can be reasonably argued that these protests, and the experiences of the Seattle Police Department in trying to manage them, have had a more profound effect on modern policing than any other single event prior to 9/11," former Chicago police officer and Western Illinois professor Todd Lough argued.

No one wanted to be Seattle and police departments around the country began to change. "In Chicago for example, paramilitary gear such as that worn by the Seattle Police was quickly acquired and distributed to officers," Lough continued, "and the use of force policy was amended to allow for the pepper spraying of passive resistors under certain circumstances."

9/11 put the final nail in the coffin of the previous protest-control regime. By the time of the Free Trade of the Americas anti-globalization protests in Miami broke out eight years ago this week, an entirely new model of taking on protests had emerged. People called it the Miami model. It was heavily militarized and very forceful. The police had armored personnel carriers.
In case your memory is hazy, here's what Miami was like in 2003 thanks to Miami police chief John Timoney:
On the news, [Miami police] Chief [John] Timoney spoke in sober tones about the tear gas that demonstrators fired at his officers. No, that is not a typo. Timoney said the protesters were the ones launching the tear gas. He also said the demonstrators had hurled missiles at the police. I got a lot of tear gas, Timoney said. We all got gassed. They were loaded to the hilt. A lot of missiles, bottles, rocks, tear gas from the radicals.

Seeing Timoney up close and personal evokes this image of Mayor Daley at the '68 Democratic Convention ordering his men to shoot protesters on sight. He is that kind of guy.
As Timoney was talking with his men, one of the guys on the bikes approached us with a notepad. Can I have your names? he asked.

I thought he was a police officer preparing a report. He had on a Miami police polo shirt, just like Timoney's. He had a Miami police bike helmet, just like Timoney's. He had a bike, just like Timoney's. In fact there was only one small detail that separated him from Timoney a small badge around his neck identifying him as a reporter with the Miami Herald. He was embedded with Chief Timoney.

That reporter was one of dozens who were embedded with the Miami forces (it's hard to call them police), deployed to protect the FTAA ministerial meetings from thousands of unarmed protesters. In another incident, we saw a Miami Herald photographer who had somehow gotten pushed onto the protesters side of a standoff with the police. He was behind a line of young kids who had locked arms to try and prevent the police from advancing and attacking the crowds outside of the Inter-Continental Hotel. He was shouting at the kids to move so he could get back to the safe side. The protesters ignored him and continued with their blockade.

The photographer grew angrier and angrier before he began hitting one of the young kids on the line. He punched him in the back of the head before other journalists grabbed him and calmed him down. His colleagues seemed shocked at the conduct. He was a big, big guy and was wearing a bulletproof vest and a police issued riot helmet, but I really think he was scared of the skinny, dreadlocked bandana clad protesters. He had this look of panic on his face, like he had been in a scuffle with the Viet Cong.

The Atlantic's Madrigal writes that "John Pike has become the new face of evil among people following the Occupy protests around the country."

And very soon, if it hasn't happened already, John Pike will suddenly realize that his cruel actions last week - instead of suppressing the Occupy movement - have had the reverse effect and galvanized it.

And thanks to the Internet and YouTube, Pike's name and the pictures of him pepper spraying peaceful demonstrators, are rightfully taking their place beside other historic images and accounts of brutality and oppression.

Kent State shooting. May 4, 1970. Photo by John Filo.

Civil rights demonstrator being attacked by police dogs, May 3, 1963, Birmingham, Ala.
Bill Hudson/AP

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