UC-Davis: Sauce for the Gander

Macabita Photo of UC-Davis Pepper Spray Attack It would, as Alexis Madrigal points out at The Atlantic, be a mistake to think that this is all about Lt. John Pike:

Let's not pretend that Pike is an independent bad actor. Too many incidents around the country attest to the widespread deployment of these tactics. If we vilify Pike, we let the institutions off way too easy.

Neither should John Pike be let off scot-free. Fired? Perhaps, though if he loses his job it will be a political move, intended to make people forget the institutional—and, indeed, societal—failures that allowed him to so cavalierly injure peaceful protestors.

But firing is too good for John Pike. John Pike should spend the rest of his life, until he publicly repents, feeling insecure. And so should every officer who followed him at UC-Davis.

They should not be able to go out to eat without knowing whether their food will be spat in, or worse.

Their babysitters should be chronically unavailable.

They should not be able to get their oil changed without knowing whether their drain plugs will be left loose, or park without knowing if they are going to get another door ding.

They should not be able to rely on the people who collect their trash, who cut their lawns, who cut their hair. All of the conveniences of modern American life that we take for granted should, for these officers, be unreliable.

The idea is symmetry itself. These officers are men and women who were to serve and protect the people. By attacking peaceful protesters they failed to protect those who needed their protection, and they instead served the political class by using violence against the people.

The people are insecure: they cannot trust the police because the police have shown themselves to be the enemy. That the people can't fight injury with injury (the police are better-armed, and pepper-spraying a cop is likely a felony) does not mean that the people can't fight back.

The idea of sabotage can be as crippling as physical sabotage. I remember reading once of a saboteur who left empty sugar bags on the ground near the open gas caps of his adversary's vehicles. He hadn't added sugar to the gas, but the idea that he had forced his adversary take the vehicles out of service. Not every waiter need spit in UC-Davis police officers' food. Not every check they send need be "lost in the mail." But these officers should be forced forever to wonder what, out of the million things that anonymous people can make go wrong, will go wrong for them next.

And when things do go wrong (as inevitably they do) they should wonder whether it is because they were there at UC-Davis and because they didn't say, "stop!"

18 responses to “UC-Davis: Sauce for the Gander”

  1. While Madrigal’s historical perspective was interesting, it overintellectualized the problem. Pike is not merely a cog in a dangerous wheel. historically inclined toward the excessive use of force, but an independant actor as well. He looked into their faces, raised the pepper spray and acted.

    Madrigal’s effort to put this in a broader perspective misses the point as much as saying Pike is one bad apple. I have the nagging sense that Madrigal has been waiting for the opportunity to make her point, but trotted it out at the wrong moment.

  2. Let us not kid ourselves. John Pike did this because he believed somebody, or a whole bunch of somebodies, wanted him to do it. Maybe he got that message because the police organization he works for accepted grant money and/or training from banks or big Wall Street firms who donate to the police, and John Pike heard them talking about how the Occupy Wall Street kids are just a bunch of dirty hippies, so John Pike got the message he could assault them and would be thanked by the people who gave the money. Or maybe John Pike listened to Fox News and heard the huge lies night after night about how the Occupy Wall Street people were no good, and John Pike decided he’d teach then a lesson. Maybe John Pike never heard of the Bill of Rights, as a cop he could have been more interested in covering up for his fellow cops in trouble than in protecting the rights of a bunch of college kids. So now John Pike could lose his job, for doing what he thought was his job.
    Occupy Wall Street is facing an enormous cultural problem as a result of the greed among the top 1%, but just as much a result of the lies that are being put out there to discredit Occupy Wall Street. I don’t feel sorry for John Pike, he is a stupid and crude man to do what he did, and should have to start looking for a truck driving job. But my real worry is that there are thousands of John Pike’s out there on every police force in the nation, and the cultural forces that drove John Pike have affected thousands of others, and it’s going to get a lot worse before it gets better.

    • Absolutely. Have you seen the video? As he produces the can of pepper spray, he brandishes it to the crowd and cameras like a magician pulling out a bunny rabbit. “For my next trick, I’m going to pepper spray the hippies!” That is a thing that happens when police culture suggests that he will be embraced for doing so. You don’t add flourishes like that if you’re not pretty sure that there’s an enthusiastic audience for it.

    • Could Pike just be an overweight, out-of-shape, miserable, sadistic sociopath who enjoys the power trip that having a badge and gun provide him? He probably physically abuses his wife and children, drinks heavily, and is no stranger to bullying. This is making headlines internationally, but it’s not much different than the thousands of other videos of police misconduct found on youtube.

  3. An attorney in California has posted comments that Pike illegally used the pepperspray. It seems the type of OC canister used is designated not for use within 3 feet (use is from 15 feet or greater, use within 15 feet is “expressly discouraged”) and California POST training regarding civil dis-obedience does not allow the use of pepper spray when passive resistance is encountered. He provided this link to justify his argument that Pike was out of line: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-9th-circuit/1332957.html

  4. ” Before I leave you here today, please remember this: I know each of you have your own reasons for wanting to achieve the status of Peace Officer for the State of Texas. But at the end of the day you must ALWAYS strive to be that police officer who might just pull your son or daughter over on prom night. ”

    Speaking to a 1995.. Criminal Law Class to a local Houston police cadet class.


  5. I think we have reached and passed a tipping point in American culture.

    We’re Germany circa 1932; only, we won’t get a comically strutting little man to alert us the Republic’s been lost, we’ll get a faceless, crushingly implacable bureaucracy like a hybrid of 1984 and Brave New World.

    At what point do the crowds begin to fight back–not violently, but simply surging forward, shouting them down, intimidating by sheer numbers? When do the crowds withdraw their consent and see this for the naked tyranny it is?

  6. And Mark–excellent article.

    Shun the tyrants.

    I had a wonderful opportunity myself just last week. I pulled up next to an old Ford Taurus festooned with magnetic Harris County Appraisal District placards–obviously an “appraiser” in his private car. Our windows were open, so I turned to him and said pleasantly “Ah! You work for HCAD?”

    He replied “Yes!” enthusiastically.

    In a rare moment of having the right reply ready, I said “You should be ashamed.”

    His face deflated like a flat tire, and looking shocked he asked “Why?”

    “Because you rip people off. Because what you do makes it possible for the state to steal people’s money and homes. Because you’re a tax parasite who lives at my expense. You suck!”

    And the gods smiled on me, because his light turned green while mine (in the left turn lane) remained red.

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