As annoying as the Occupiers are here in Los Angeles, I would not go so far as to endorse the tactics recently employed on protesters by police at the University of California at Davis. Perhaps you’ve seen the video, which shows a helmeted police officer standing before a line of seated protesters and then very casually hosing them down with pepper spray. Perhaps more appalling than the pepper spraying was the justification offered by U.C. Davis Police Chief Annette Spicuzza. “The students had encircled the officers,” she said. “They needed to exit. They were looking to leave but were unable to get out.”
I gather Chief Spicuzza did not have the luxury of viewing the video before making that statement. She made it sound as though the officers were like Gen. Custer’s 7th Cavalry at the Little Bighorn, surrounded and about to be overrun and scalped by a hostile force. Clearly that isn’t what happened. But if the officers were indeed concerned with being surrounded, why did they take action against the protesters seated on the ground and posing the least potential threat? We’ll be hearing about this one for some time to come.
And while I might have sympathy for nonviolent protesters who take an unjustified dousing with pepper spray, that sympathy does not compel me to join the Occupiers and get arrested with them, as did a retired Philadelphia police captain. Ray Lewis, who retired from the Philadelphia Police Department in 2004, donned his old uniform and headed off to lower Manhattan to take up with the Occupy Wall Street crowd last week, then found himself hauled off to the calaboose with 300 other protesters. “[The NYPD] complained about the park being dirty,” Lewis said. “Here they are worrying about dirty parks when people are starving to death, where people are freezing, where people are sleeping in subways and they’re concerned about a dirty park. That’s obnoxious, it’s arrogant, it’s ignorant, it’s disgusting.”
Mr. Lewis is free to spend his retirement as he pleases, and one must admire a man with the courage of his convictions. He came to New York determined to participate in civil disobedience, a possible consequence of which would be his arrest. He took it like a man, praised the manner in which the police treated him, and was right back at Zucotti Park as soon as he was released from jail. Far be it from me to deny a man the right to petition the government for a redress of grievances, even if those grievances are as nebulous as those of the Occupy Wall Street movement.
But your right to protest does not include the right to inconvenience your fellow citizens by blocking traffic or interfering with lawful commercial enterprises. The Occupiers love to talk about their rights and to claim the streets and parks as their own. It’s a shame that here in Los Angeles we have a political establishment that’s so bent on protecting the Occupiers’ rights that they’re willing to forget about everyone else’s. Yes, Chief Beck, we may be stuck with the Occupiers for the next year, but only because you allow it.