Sunday, November 20, 2011

What We Got Here Is: Failure To Communicate

Those of us of a certain age will recall this scene in "Cool Hand Luke" with a kind of visceral body memory of what it was like for many people in those days. This was 1967, remember. (The year the picture was released, not the year depicted therein.)

The "normal world" had come apart at the seams, all hell had broken loose, and the response of Authority was increasingly arbitrary brutality. This was supposed to calm things down, and of course all it did was make things worse.

There was rebellion and revolution in the air, everywhere around the world, and it would only grow in the coming years. 1968, of course, was a Year of Revolution -- strangely, not all that different than 2011, except that this year's upheavals seem to be making some headway against the Overclass.

The dénouement remains to be seen.

I'm still puzzling over why the Incident at UC Davis has had such a profound effect on the decent respect for the opinion of mankind whereas the Incident at UC Berkeley did not. That's not to say the Berkeley Incident did not have an effect -- it did, absolutely, as do all these incidents of police brutality being recorded everywhere. But the Incident at UC Davis seems to have taken on a life of its own for reasons I'm not entirely sure of.

This is one of the longest videos of the Incident at UC Davis currently available:

It shows some aspects of what happened that aren't necessarily visible in the shorter video clips. For one thing the infamous Officer Lt. Pike who delivers the "red substance" blast (we assume it's pepper spray or something similar) rather cheerfully discusses what's going on with one of the student demonstrators -- the bearded fellow in the dark hoodie -- who is also quite jolly.

After consultations with another officer and some radio back-and-forth between Officer Lt. Pike and... someone... Officer Lt. Pike apparently announces to the bearded demonstrator what is about to happen: ie, the use of chemical agents to break the demonstrator chain, and the demonstrator says, "You're going to shoot us for sitting here?" The Officer's response isn't heard, but the demonstrator then says, "Yah, that's fine, that's fine." The crowd then chants "Don't shoot students! Don't shoot students!"

The crowd then advises those on the protest line to cover themselves, protect themselves. It's obvious everyone knows what is coming, but I'm not at all sure they are prepared for the injuries to come -- in fact, I don't think they have prepared for this aspect of the non-violent demonstration at all. This is one of the things that has bothered me about many of the protests and demonstration that have occurred over the last year in this country: many of the demonstrators barely have any knowledge of non-violent resistance tactics, and they rarely seem to be prepared for the violence and brutality that is unleashed on them by Authority. They often don't have medics, sometimes they don't even have milk on hand to wash off the sprayed chemicals used against them.

This isn't always the case, of course. In Seattle and Oakland, for example, where they are used to living under quasi-martial law, they are typically better prepared. But at Davis, they weren't.

Back in the Old Days, something called Non-Violent Resistance Training was routine in Civil Rights, End the War and other demonstrations. People who were not prepared for the violence of Authority were generally encouraged not to participate. It was never wise -- and I think it still isn't wise -- to enter into these things blindly.

In the video above, we see that Officer Lt. Pike, after apparently explaining to the demonstrator what is about to happen, then makes quite a show of his pepper spray canister by shaking it vigorously, holding it above his head and waving it around. This causes the demonstrator-witnesses to scream "Stop! Stop!"

Note: there is another officer behind Officer Lt. Pike who also is making a display of his own canister of pepper spray. This officer will later use his pepper spray on the demonstrators when Pike's canister runs out, and he may be the one who is actually forcing the pepper spray down people's throats. It's hard to see exactly what he is doing, but he appears to be using his spray canister selectively in short bursts rather than in wide general sweeps as Pike does.

The demonstrators start chanting "Don't shoot your children!" before Officer Lt. Pike commences to spray them, "like cockroaches" as some people say. The spraying itself is preceded by additional officers (they appear to be City of Davis officers) pushing back the crowd from in front of the sitting demonstrators (who have mostly covered themselves in preparation for being hit with pepper spray.) This had to be coordinated somehow. I would assume it was done through radio communications between the UC Police and Davis Police.

Officer Lt. Pike then makes quite a show of pushing out his chin, a la Mussolini, releasing the safety pin of his pepper spray canister and shaking it some more before he steps over the demonstrators and commences to spray. And spray. And spray. Until it is empty.

The demonstrators don't immediately react.

The police then manhandle the demonstrators, lifting them and pulling them apart until they have cleared a path through them.

(It is during this action that the Other Officer uses his pepper spray canister.)

It has been widely pointed out that because the officers still have to physically separate the demonstrators in order to make a path through them, the use of pepper spray was entirely egregious and superfluous. In other words, it was a useless and deliberately cruel action on the part of Officer Lt. Pike and the other officer who used pepper spray that day.

It has also been pointed out that the officers were always completely capable of stepping over the sitting demonstrators any time they wanted; they were never at any time under any threat from the demonstrators whatsoever. That seems to be clear in the video above.

The UC Police have claimed that they were "surrounded" by demonstrators and they "could not get out" without the use of pepper spray. True enough, they were surrounded by sitting, arm-linked demonstrators. The police have also said they were attempting to transport an arrested demonstrator (who cannot be seen in the video posted above but who is visible in another video posted below) when they were surrounded by sitting, arm-linked demonstrators.

The question is not whether they were surrounded -- they were. The question is whether they had options. And clearly they did.

Police in these -- and most -- circumstances have a great deal of discretion of action, and one of the most obvious things they could have done to de-escalate this particular incident was to release the demonstrator they were holding in the midst of their own circle. Yes, they can do that.

They could have quite easily stepped over the demonstrators -- as Officer Lt. Pike does in order to use his chemical agent canister against them.

They could have waited the demonstrators out.

They could have physically separated the demonstrators without the use of any other physical force at all.

So on and so on and so on.

In other words, there was no requirement that they injure the demonstrators.

Not at all.

But they chose to do that, just as the officers in New York and Oakland and Berkeley and Denver and many other cities and campuses have chosen to injure demonstrators rather than de-escalate the situation.

Which gets us back to the clip from "Cool Hand Luke." It is the self-same imposition of Authority going on in all these instances. It is surpassingly stupid.

Rather than de-escalate, nearly all the Authorities, when confronted with non-violent resistance, choose to escalate and brutalize demonstrators, causing injury at the least, and we can expect this commitment to escalation will cause death of demonstrators -- as it has already come close to doing.

This procedure of escalating violence against non-violent demonstrators is national, and some claim it is coordinated through various agencies of local, state and the federal government. Whether it is or not is an interesting detail, but the issue is that non-violence is met with official violence over and over again.

"Authority must be maintained."

Send out the Cossacks. Release the hounds. This rebellion is to be suppressed "by any means necessary."



Ten Things You Should Know About Friday's UC Davis Police Violence


  1. Sadly, a pretty stable 30% or so of Americans are just the type of Authoritarian followers that they eat this stuff up, even in normal times. These are not normal times.
    Sadism has become, for lack of a better word, popular, and it's playing out now, as you can see in the Republican primaries.

  2. The Republican... I saw a clip of that fat-headed Gingrich on the teevee, blathering on about how everything that happens proves "the decadence of the left" -- or whatever his mantra is -- and I just thought the man is as useless as a carbuncle and not as attractive. He repeats the same nasty, erroneous bullshit all-a-the time no matter what.

    But then, it's what they love him for.