Americans can now exhale a peppery sigh of relief – nearly 9 months after the University of California-Davis Pepper Spray Incident, bittersweet justice comes as its chief antagonist, Lieutenant, John Pike is no longer in the uniform of a public servant.
A spokesperson for UC Davis was shy to give details about the circumstances of Pike's departure, saying only "Consistent with privacy guidelines established in state law and university policy, I can confirm that John Pike's employment with the university ended on July 31, 2012," in a statement likely read verbatim from a script written by the university's lawyers.
What could possibly be the reason for John Pike, a Lieutenant in the UCDPD, suddenly getting the pink slip? Could it be that he's been on a paid administrative leave for over 9 months, and the school decided that his $110,000/year salary was too big of a paycheck to pay someone to lick envelopes? Is he enrolling as a student? Could it be that the university is reducing police staff in a revolutionary new approach at dealing with student grievances through listening and negotiation?
Or could it be that they simply can't look at themselves in the mirror another day after allowing him to keep his job for 9 months after he did this:
The events pictured in this have been seen by millions of people who had the same reaction: WTF?
And on that fateful day, Lieutenant John Pike ceased to be, and Pepper Spray Cop was born. This bold new meme gained a rapidly accelerating popularity, as the meme spread like wildfire across the internet. Like most mass protest events of the time period, media reporters and pundits theorized and debated the possible justifications of the same of military-grade pepper spray on the students in defense of Pepper Spray Cop. After all, he's a policeman, said the media. And policemen don't do bad things, unless it's to the bad guys.
The viral maelstrom of the Pepper Spray Cop meme can only be compared in parallel to the firestorm of accusations from critics. "Those protesters must've deserved it," huffed the media. "The students were being violent!" puffed the police. "The students weren't allowed to be there!" cried the university officials . Meanwhile, people everywhere could plainly see how gratuitously unnecessary it was for Pepper Spray Cop to pepper spray those people. Why else would it have become a meme, if it weren't so painfully obvious how shamefully wrong it is just by studying a short video clip?
Yet those in power persisted, and the university's officials remained obstinate: How would they deal with this? Finding themselves deep in a hole, they decided to keep digging, through dozens of confusing and contradictory statements; blame and apologies; vows to make right but refusals to face accountability and step down. All the while, every one of the police officers and high-level university officials kept their jobs.
Things started to change when the university had to cave to pressure to launch a full investigation into the events of the day, including the presence of police on campus in the first place, the decision to raid the student's protest encampment, ordering students to leave the grounds of their own campus, and ultimately the unauthorized decision to use pepper spray on the students in a manner inconsistent with both the university and UCDPD protocols, and the operating instructions on the side of the can (the high-grade pepper spray utilized is meant to be shot from a minimum range of 6 feet; Pike shot from as little as 2 feet). Not to mention the well-known but unwritten by-law that if you're going to spray college kids like that, you should at least look like you feel a little bad about it.
When a full report was released after four months of public scrutiny by a committee of professors and university officials, it bluntly stated its findings:
Our overriding conclusion can be stated briefly and explicitly. The pepper spraying incident that took place on November 18, 2011 should and could have been prevented.
Lt. Pike Bears Primary Responsibility for the Objectively Unreasonable Decision to Use Pepper Spray on the Students Sitting in a Line and for the Manner in Which the Pepper Spray Was Used.
The quotation above capitalizes every word because the committee found its conclusion obvious enough to be included in the report's Table of Contents. It also went on to conclude such gems as;
The Administration decided to deploy police to remove the tents on Nov. 18 before considering any other reasonable alternatives...
...The decision to use pepper spray was not supported by objective evidence, and was not authorized by policy...The pepper spray used, the MK- 9, First Aerosol Projector, was not an authorized weapon for use by the UCDPD
There is a breakdown of leadership in the UCDPD. The command and leadership structure of the UCDPD is very dysfunctional.
Ever been fired from a job for being late, or dozing off, or just because your boss doesn't like you? Even after hundreds of enraged students, who pay their salaries, called for justice after the events of November 18, they were left with no answers, and no changes. One would think that such a thoroughly scathing assessment of the police and administration's handling of the situation would surely result in somebody losing their job. Not the case, as deeply buried fine print in the municipal law says that only an internal review by police internal affairs can result in firing a public employee.
This, coming less than a week after international human rights law experts released another even more damning report on misconduct, abuse, and suppression of protests in the United States. The review, lead by Professor Sarah Knuckey of the Global Justice Clinic of the NYU School of Law, spans over 10 months of research and documentation of the Occupy Wall Street movement, and pulls no punches in opaquely stating that the abuses, misconduct, surveillance, aggression, and violence of police dealing with protests in the street not only violates international human rights law, but sets an example for policing in lesser-developed countries. The 300-plus page report is a veritable tome of methodically-collected and clearly documented evidence of hundreds of exhaustively specific cases of abuses by members of the NYPD that are ultimately just as ludicrous and unjustifiable as the November 18 UC Davis Pepper Spray Incident. On cursory review, one might mistake the type of maltreatment outlined from first-hand accounts, videos, and interviews for those coming from a third-world dictatorship; actually, on the contrary–as Knuckey, who normally occupies her time observing human rights abuses in places like Colombia, Pakistan, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, had this to say:
"The Occupy Wall Street protests, and NYC authorities' responses to them, were closely watched by many other countries. Very quickly after OWS started, other countries began to justify their own suppression of protests by citing NYPD policies. For example, the President of Indonesia sought to fend off international criticism of his mass arrest of 400 West Papuan activists by referring to NYPD's mass arrest of 700 peaceful protesters on the Brooklyn Bridge in October 2011. It is vital that police departments and authorities do not look to the NYPD in designing protest policing -- NYPD practices violate best practice and violate international law."
So why did Pepper Spray Cop finally lose his job? The university is sticking to their carefully crafted, uncontroversial statements. While we'd all like to think that they might have finally had the gotten the good sense to give him the boot, we may never know. It took ten months to get him out the door, and, coincidentally, for the first reports of police violence in the Occupy Movement to formulate into comprehensively damning reports by legal experts.
Indeed, many cases of blatant injustice lay awaiting trial in courts throughout the country, and nearly every time the actions of police in the streets are brought before a judge, they are either thrown out, or the defendants found not guilty. In fact, in the very first OWS case that made it through to trial, Alexander Arbuckle, was found not guilty, after prosecutors pushed their case and officers said that a violent arrest was necessary because Arbuckle was blocking traffic, and subsequently the tape clearly showed that he was arrested after having broken no laws. And it only takes a few steps to figure out how to file a § 1983 lawsuit for wrongful arrest as a violation of civil liberties.
Despite pundits brandishing every imaginable tactic to try to disparage and marginalize the Occupy movement, it remains, going strong toward its upcoming one-year anniversary on September 17. With a year's experience under its belt, a widened support base, and the economy still just as hopeless as ever – the social climate, combined with a police force with a lot of questions to answer present a changed landscape of the battlefield. We've known all along that this game's been rigged - but as we enter the eight inning, the dirty tricks they played in the first two are starting to play on the JumboTron.
The police having been acting with impunity for far too long, and we all know it - only now are bureaucrats starting to react to the ever-swelling mountain of paperwork jamming the machine. The independent reports, civil lawsuits, acquittals trials will continue to pour in from the last six months worth of arrests. How much longer until the police's warfare starts to turn on them, and they're left with nowhere to hide? How much longer until the audience realizes that their hot dogs are genetically modified, their foam mitts are made by sweatshop labor, and the umpire is bought and paid for by the guy who just foreclosed on their houses? How much longer until the people have had enough?
Pepper Spray Cop, we bid you farewell, and leave you with this tribute to coddle you as you look for jobs on craigslist. Maybe when the unemployment rate in America rises past 22% as it already has in Spain and Greece, we'll see you in the streets again – on the other side of the protests.