I’m sure you all have seen the video from the #Occupy UC Davis, where some of the mob decided to block a public sidewalk. The police came along, told them to move, and when the squatters refused, started calmly and methodically pepper-spraying the mob. It’s not pretty to watch:
I, like a lot of people, was a bit disgusted at that video. Then I started to think about the matter: what other options were available to the police?
Walk away. Sorry, that’s not an option. They don’t have a right to enforce the law, but a duty. It isn’t their job to decide which laws do and don’t get enforced. We have numerous mechanisms for that in our system; the courts and our elected officials come to mind. In fact, “selective enforcement” has been used as a legitimate defense in court when the police pick and choose which laws to enforce and when. So just pretending everything fine is off the table.
Shoot them. Tempting, but not an option. I once read a policy for lethal force from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police that really struck in my memory. I can’t find it on line, but let me reconstruct it from memory. Roughly paraphrased, the use of lethal force is only proper when it is so important to stop someone from acting that it does not matter if they live or die. In this case, the protesters are not posing an imminent danger to anyone, not even themselves. So the guns are out of the question.
Use billy clubs or other weapons: Same principle holds. Those are great for use against violent people who don’t quite deserve to be shot. Here, though, they aren’t justified.
Use Tasers: Two problems here. In the wake of a few deaths from tasering, they’ve been redesignated to “less lethal weapons.” Again, they’re used for violent suspects who don’t quite merit shooting. So keep them holstered. Plus, tasered people are usually incapacitated — they usually need to be carried away from the scene.
Physical force: This is what a lot of people would like to see done. Sadly for them, it has some serious disadvantages. I heard one guy note over the weekend, “people don’t have handles.” Picking up someone who’s sitting down on the ground and doesn’t want to be moved is not easy. Toss in the risk of injury to the cop, plus it puts the cop — and all his gear, like his gun, stick, pepper spray, taser, and whatnot — in ready reach of the protester should he or she suddenly decide to start resisting. And finally, note that the protesters have their arms linked — they’re set up to resist being picked up. So that ain’t gonna work.
So, what’s left? To get the protesters to want to leave the area under their own power. And, quite frankly, pepper spray is really, really good at doing that. I think I might have advised against spraying it right in their faces, but instead “roach-bombed” the area, but I’m not familiar with pepper spray — maybe it only really works when applied directly.
Was it a great choice? Hell, no. The visuals are damning as hell. But I don’t see how any of the other options would have been better.