Is pepper spray really the issue?

Pepper spray (Oleoresin Capsicum) is made from the fruit of plants, such as chili peppers. The chemical is basically a simple concoction—a high concentration of ground pepper suspended in pressurized water. Sometimes a dye is added to the mixture which marks a suspect for easy identification (as if the coughing, crying, and drooling aren’t enough).

The effects of the spray are: an immediate closing of the eyes (the person is able to open them but the burning sensation causes a strong desire to close them), burning sensation in the throat, breathing is uncomfortable, runny nose, hot itchy skin, and coughing. These effects of the spray normally last less than an hour. Sometimes the spray has no effect on the suspect.

However, people who suffer from asthma could suffer severe side effects, including death. And this is the side effect that made me re-think my position on pepper-spraying seated, peaceful protesters. A non-violent person, even people who are clearly breaking the law with their non-violent acts, should not be sprayed because there’s no way of knowing who has asthma or other medical problems, and who doesn’t. BUT, in the case of protesters who choose to toss a rock, push, shove, or strike a cop (or anyone else), well, they should be prepared for instant arrest using whatever means it takes for the officer to gain control. No time to check medic alert bracelets when someone comes charging with a sword.

So, I guess the only option for removing non-violent lawbreakers would be to return to the old standby—pain compliance, using wrist locks, arm bars, come-a-long techniques, riot batons, and sheer muscle to move people who break the law by blocking sidewalks, streets, bridges, and other public passageways and buildings.

San Diego protesters… “a peaceful resistance”

NYC protester “passively” ATTACKS a police officer. The crowd of peaceful protesters cheered as the man attempted to choke the officer.

Unless, of course, public opinion is to allow the occupiers to take over any place they desire, disrupting anything they want, all in the name of their peaceful movement (Please don’t misunderstand me, I agree with much of what the level-headed occupiers are saying. I just don’t agree with breaking the law to get the message across).

Seriously, should protesters be left alone to do whatever they want, anywhere they want? Is it okay for a hundred people to show up to camp in someone’s yard or place of business because the squatters don’t agree with how that particular citizen conducts his/her affairs.

NYC occupy camp

Is it okay for people to sit down at the entrance to someone’s personal driveway, blocking them from coming and going? How about camping in someone’s yard, running generators and using the flower garden as a public restroom? Is that okay because the campers don’t agree with the homeowner’s position regarding PTA matters?

NYC occupier

I guess the police can simply do nothing and just wait and see what happens. I’m positive everything would be fine. Sure, everyone will play nice and no bad would come of doing nothing to keep order. They won’t block city streets. They’ll stop burning cars and breaking out store windows. They’ll make the public parks a pleasant place to take your kids on a Saturday afternoon. Stepping across or around them to do your banking won’t be an inconvenience. Taking a one-hour detour around blocked streets and bridges will suit everyone just fine. Losing income due to damages to the store you’ve worked all your life to build from the ground up…no problem as long as the protesters have what they want.

Yes, there are protesters out there who are peaceful and truly want to make a difference. But police officers have no way of knowing the difference between the good and the people like those in the photo above who are using the movement as an excuse and cover to do damage. Therefore, officers have no choice other than to err on the side of caution, assuming everyone is out to do harm, until they see something to the contrary. Safety first.

Think about it, if the assaults, vandalism, car fires, etc, would go away, then so would the riot gear.

LA occupy camp outside City Hall

I think I like L.A.’s approach to the problem. Give the protesters an old office building (for a $1 per year rent) and shelter for the large group of homeless people who’ve joined their ranks. At least they’d be somewhere legally, unlike their counterparts in Oakland who’ve set up camp on a privately-owned lot that’s in foreclosure (sure, that land will be easy to sell now).

Back to the L.A. group, though…isn’t the offer of an office building a good idea for the group? There, they’d have a center of operations to conduct their activist work, instead of sitting in a public park or in the middle of public street where much of their focus is now on surviving the elements and dodging the police and local government officials. But the group hasn’t made a decision yet, not really wanting to give up their camp at City Hall, a condition that comes with $1 access to the office building.

By the way, the antidote for a dose of pepper spray is clear, cool water or milk. Not to drink, though. Turn the face sideways and slowly pour the liquid over the affected area(s). Another way to avoid the burn is to obey the law by not resisting arrest or assaulting police officers…

  1. Mary Brookman
    Mary Brookman says:

    Lee,
    Thank you for giving me the background through attending WPA and through your blog to see both sides of a situation. Having grown up in the 60’s, I can sympathize with non-violent protest; however, we have to be able to look at both sides. I saw an interview on a news channel in which a man who had come to support the message of the protestors (which I’m not quite clear on), expressed his disappointment in the way protestors were treating the policemen, throwing objects and lit cigarettes at them when they were just trying to do their jobs. We don’t always see what preceded a spraying incident. Watching the demonstrators trying to push the barricades into policemen and tip them over onto them, I don’t think the police have a choice if they want to keep everyone safe.

  2. Jonathan Quist
    Jonathan Quist says:

    Unfortunately, the video clip is presented out of context. Without seeing what happened in the minutes or hours prior, with those specific protestors, we don’t know the whole story.

    If the crowd had been unruly before that footage was shot, it’s safe to assume all the officers involved were working with elevated levels of adrenaline and the rest of the hormonal cocktail tied to the fight-or-flight response. (I have no law enforcement experience, but have witnessed several “dramatic” situations and the effect on the involved officers. Only a fool would demonstrate any threat to an officer working an unruly crowd.)

    The First Amendment guarantees us the right to get up on a soap box in the town square and say what’s on our mind. It does not grant temporary resident status. It does not supersede civil law. It does not require that the rest of the town listen to the speaker, nor that the speaker can step into the path of a passer-by to make them listen.

    The problem with the Occupy [insert random geographical location] “movement” is that it’s not a movement. It has become little more than a rabble, with a vague concept behind it. In the news media, it has been standing on one of the tallest soap boxes in the world – but through lack of focus, most of the message has come across as confused mumbling, and their turn is almost over. Violent confrontation with the police does not serve to clarify the message. I agree with some of the ideas, but I fear that the muddled sentiment combined with Les Mis fervor will do more to sink the cause than advance it.

  3. Jeffrey
    Jeffrey says:

    Our country was built on civil disobedience, and it breaks my heart that we have moved so far from our original ideals that we now beat the protesters and still call us Americans.

    The Boston Tea Party was civil disobedience. These protesters had the full support of our Founding Fathers.

    Wil, the only difference in my mind is that the bankers (who are in my mind directly responsible for this movement) and the priests have high powered lobbyists. For every one who has been punished, I’ll show you 10 who have not. Bankers have interfered with legitimate business (and defied law enforcement by destroying records.) If you judge one group as individuals, then the OWS movement is also made of individuals and should not be lumped together as “the young.”

  4. Wil A. Emerson
    Wil A. Emerson says:

    Sadly, the young who act like idiots, are often treated to harsh reprimand because talking, patience and logic does not work with them. Bankers as a whole do not protest, disrupt traffic, interfere with legitimate businesses or defy police officers. But when they break the law, they, too, must face the consequences. Priests as a whole do not abuse children…but if they are caught in the midst of abusive acts, they must face the consequences. Even hard core criminals understand the rules of the land…if you play, you must pay. These people are unruly and unconsequential. The sad thing is they have been given undue publicity. Ignor them and they will return to their empty lives until something nonsensical strikes their fancy and they jump in head first. Not smart enough to even test the waters with their feet. You go Lee…you present a sensible, rational, logical basis for containing civil disobedience. The ones who think otherwise should invite the ‘protestors’ into their homes, their backyards…feed them, care for them. One thing for sure, they won’t leave until some other nonsensical idea pops into their wafflely brains. We, as a whole, have been tolerant too long…time to get over this politically correct nonsense and take back our freedom.

  5. Pat
    Pat says:

    As an arthritis suffer who has to get around with a rolling cart, I had issue with peaceful protestors sitting with locked arms and blocking my way whether it’s kepping me from getting in to my back, registering for class, keeping me out of my park, or walking down a public sidewalk. I’d be grateful for any officer who wants to clear the way for me. On the other hand, I’m with Lee in I too believe in a lot of what the protestors are protesting for. They got the message across but now its time for them to go.

  6. Henry
    Henry says:

    I’m from the Kent State area, and I know all too well what people “doing their jobs” can do to protesters. The force involved should be commensurate with the threat. Non-violent protests are not threatening and should have the least amount of force used against them.

    I understand assuming that all of them would be a threat in a dangerous, potential riotous situation, but in this case, they were linked arm in arm on the ground. They were sitting ducks, lambs to the slaughter. They were not an imminent threat and the police could have spent hours determining who if any of them were a threat, IF they had wanted to.

    Sadly, the young often are treated in this manner, lumped together with 1 or 2 bad apples. I would love to see the police lump all bankers together as thieves or all priests as pedophiles and treat them accordingly, but only this movement and these people are treated in that manner.

  7. David Fuchs
    David Fuchs says:

    I think groups like Occupy, et al are inherently limited in their effectiveness for the simple reason that such groups will always be judged by their worst or most stereotypical elements. Tea Party activists? Racists or angry, ignorant people. Occupy Wall Street? Take your pick: entitled hipsters with iPads, Nazis (I had to laugh when I learned that they were endorsing the Occupy movement), people who just want to smash stuff up for whatever reason.

    Civic action is the starting point for effecting change. Grouping in mobs only gives you the kind of publicity that won’t do you much good in the end.

    On the other side of the protests, the fact is there are some cops who are eager to crack heads, and the protesters give them the reason to, or the cops make their own.

  8. Morgan St. James
    Morgan St. James says:

    Watching the spraying of the passive protestors was painful because to me they didn’t look violent. Still, they were sprayed like ants invading the kitchen. Yeah. Break out the Raid. I agree that the spray could be harmful to those with respiratory problems…a malady that isn’t apparent to the naked eye. If there is a real threat, like rock-throwing, burning or worse that happens in other protests, of course that needs to be controlled. But I can’t convince myself that a row of people sitting cross-legged with their heads down presents a violent threat.

  9. Amy Denton
    Amy Denton says:

    Amen, Lee! I just shook my head when I saw the bit about spraying the protestors at UC-Davis. Hey, they wanted to be protestors, didn’t they?

    As I’ve told some of my more liberal friends, the police in this country are nice, they don’t use real bullets to break up protests. Usually, I don’t get a response to that.

    I will say it bothers me that the city of L.A. feels it needs to negotiate with the protestors by giving them something but that’s me.