That initial impression was the very definition of a knee-jerk reaction, and, if I’m honest, an unfair one. For all I know those protesters could have been completely unruly and threatening violence upon those police officers.
But if I’m cynical about those sort of demonstrations, it’s because Americans have seen so many cases in which law-abiding, constitutionally protected marches have been met with unjustified violence.
I’m not old enough to remember the most iconic moments, events like the hoses and dogs unleashed on demonstrators in Birmingham’s Kelly Ingram Park or that single, Pulitzer-Prize-winning photo from the Kent State Massacre.
I will, however, always remember waking up and turning on the news to see U.C. Davis protesters being hosed with pepper spray by a campus police officer. I’m reluctant to call him a police officer, because I think it’s an insult to all the law enforcement members who risk their lives everyday to protect their community. Perhaps a more applicable term would be authority-starved rent-a-cop.
I feel I should mention that if our soldiers in Afghanistan had done such a thing to Taliban insurgents, the act would be considered a war crime. I’m not kidding; Pepper spray is actually considered a chemical weapon under the Chemical Weapons Convention. But I digress.
What I will remember probably as much as the U.C. Davis event itself, though, is the response on the Internet. I recall seeing cartoons of a smirking Santa Claus pepper-spraying child versions of OWS protesters.
I’m not one to manufacture outrage about something that is obviously a joke — even one that is in exceedingly bad taste. However, I wish there was as much outrage as there was humorous banter about it.
Think what you will of the Occupy Wall Street Movement. Call them hippies and tell them to bathe. I’m not trying to convince anyone of their message. I just want people to be angrier that so often these type of protests turn into chaos.
Though I would be lying if I said that police violence doesn’t occur more with left-leaning demonstrations, this phenomenon should not be a left or right issue.
Whenever anyone — whether a Neo-Nazi or a member of the New Black Panther Party — is denied his First Amendment right to protest, we all lose a chunk of our freedom.
I know a police presence is imperative for any kind of demonstration, and those police officers that take up that task without trampling on the Constitution deserve praise and the utmost respect. And of course the ultimate blame should go to the officials who command the police.
The funny thing is that when these demonstrations are busted up in an obviously illegal manner, the police officials do more to galvanize the movement than any single leader or mission statement could.
I suppose the OWS people should thank Mr. Rent-a-Cop.
Daniel Gaddy is a staff reporter for the Daily Mountain Eagle and a Walker County native. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.