By Bruce Whitsitt
The Chancellor of the UC Davis, Linda Katehi, is forming a task force to investigate the weekend's pepper spray incident, and called the incident "chilling." Not only is she apparently unaware of the silly irony in her statement (calling the pepper spray incident "chilling" as opposed to "hotter than hell"), but she is also overreacting to a harmless intervention on the part of the police. She and an outraged media are casting the Occupiers as peaceful victims.
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 flouting 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.
When civil rights activists in the 1960s performed acts of civil disobedience, it was a morally justifiable defiance of corruption and oppression. These pioneers braved beatings, water cannons, vicious attack dogs, arrest and even death to change laws that subjected people to inhumane conditions based on racial inequality. There is a world of difference between the civil rights activists of the 60s and the Occupiers. The Occupiers are indoctrinated, privileged young people who are calling for business and government to redistribute wealth to suit their sense of entitlement. They are ill-informed, resentful, and covetous. If there is a single rallying goal in their inchoate anger, it is to destroy capitalism to satisfy their childish demands. They are not just annoying; they are dangerous, and they are spoiling for a fight. I'm sure they had hoped to create a police reaction of some sort to use as propaganda for their cause, and anything the authorities did to restore order would be filmed and used against them.
The day before I encountered this news item, I began reading Steven Ambrose's Band of Brothers. The contrast between the Occupiers and the young men of Easy Company couldn't be starker. The boys of E Company, for the most part the same ages as the Occupiers, unflinchingly hurled themselves at one of the most evil and loathsome regimes in history. Rather than protest how unfair life was, they willingly suffered through unimaginable conditions, witnessed death on a daily basis, and held their ground when the odds were overwhelmingly against them, all so that they could vanquish Nazism. In humbly doing their duty, expecting little in return, they helped save the world.
One needn't go back to World War II for examples of young people showing a tremendous sense of duty and responsibility. While the Occupiers whine about life's unfairness, demand that taxpayers foot the bills for their education and other whims, and throw tantrums at being pepper sprayed, their contemporaries in the armed forces are still enduring inhumane conditions in hostile lands in order to ensure that all the good this country has to offer is still available for future generations.
Our media amplifies the petty complaints of the Occupiers, while the sacrifices of our young people in the military are largely ignored. I read this morning that two Davis policemen have been placed on administrative leave while the incident is investigated. I pity them. In this overblown situation, it seems doubtful that these men will be able to return to their employment. The great pity is that they were simply trying to do their jobs in the least injurious way possible. Unfortunately for them, politically correct rules of engagement dictate that they be hamstrung in their efforts to enforce the law, and they will probably pay a steep price for simply attempting to restore the peace.