“Occupy” Demonstrations: Nonviolent Protests Sometimes Provokes an Unjustifiably Violent Police Response

I have observed the slow growth of the Occupy Wall Street movement and its offshoots over the past several weeks. I do not camp out in a park, but I do understand the frustration and support their efforts as a result of the startling presence of long-term unemployment, paucity of jobs, and sense of financial instability (if you are not part of the top income brackets).

The Occupy movement has generally been a nonviolent demonstration. Recently, some city governments and their police departments used health and safety concerns to break up the camps (for example, New York City, and Oakland).

UCDavis is an institution of higher education, and the people who were sprayed appeared to be college aged (18 through 20s); perhaps given the educational environment, the UCDavis Police Department and the protestors could have discussed their way out of the confrontation. Instead, the video of the discharge of pepper spray is on display along with the fallout.

In these days in which law enforcement officers have been tasked with anti-terrorism projects, where does responding to nonviolent domestic demonstrations fit? In the District of Columbia, the OccupyDC movement seems to be working with the D.C. police department.

At University of California, Davis, in contrast,the response was the use of nonlethal violence (pepper spray) in response to anonviolent demonstration. The officer sprayed the chemicals into people’s faces without any compassion; the police could have simply arrested the folks (who were apparently sitting in an act of civil disobedience).

While the video provoked a reaction, the event should be a lesson for all about how, when, and why law enforcement agencies should use differing levels of force. Pepper spray is not appropriate in all circumstances.