My undergraduate senior project at Cal Poly was a paper on police brutality. I was a Social Science major with a concentration in Criminal Justice. The paper was originally going to focus on police shootings of dogs, but later expanded into wrongful shootings in general. I chose my topic after seeing video footage on CNN of an incident that took place in Tennessee in which police pulled over a man and his family. The car they were driving matched the description of a car used in a crime—a bank robbery or something. The man, his wife, and their teenage son were one by one ordered out of the car and on to their knees with hands behind their backs. On the scene were two or three state troopers and at least two other officers wearing protective equipment and armed with shotguns. The family began to plead to the officers to shut the doors of the car so that their dog would not run out onto the highway and be hit. The officers ignored this, and when the dog did in fact jump out of the car, the family’s pleas became desperate. The dog, however, did not run into traffic; it instead ran onto the rather wide and grassy shoulder. Seeing one of the officers, specifically one of the ones in swat gear holding a shotgun, the dog ran toward the officer. The officer shot the dog twice as it approached. The family—who committed no crime, it was the wrong car—wail in misery for several minutes before the video ends.
When I saw that video, I was shaking. With anger. I wanted to do something. I wanted to find that asshole. I felt the same thing yesterday when I watched footage of a UC Davis police lieutenant fire pepper spray point black into the faces of students who were sitting—arms linked—on the ground.
The dog video pissed me off because it was a dog. It may have been my imagination, but it seemed like the dog was confused and happy to get out of the car and when it ran toward the officer it seemed—again, possibly in my imagination—to be running at him in that Oh, here’s a new person to love kind of way, not the I’m vicious and will tear your flesh from its bones kind of way. But I’ll give that guy the dog. I can’t imagine how stressful and how scary a traffic stop like that would be. Anything could be in that car.
But this other asshole, Lt. Pike of the UC Davis Police Department. I don’t get that.
So help me out, because I’m pretty ignorant about this situation. Explain to me the events, as there most certainly are—the horrific actions of these crazed students—that led up to an officer outfitted in riot gear holding a canister of pepper spray in the face of a seated and silent university student—oh, wait, wait, first he held the canister up in the air and looked at the crowd, like Braveheart or something—and then dousing the student—several students actually, the whole single student thing earlier in this sentence was for rhetorical effect—like he was repainting his patio furniture. Surely the pre-video events explain those actions; please let me know what they include.
Again, I don’t know much about it, but the one response I’ve heard from the UCD Police is that the students were repeatedly warned. Oh. Okay. So we can partake in criminal violence against one another as long as we warn each other first. Oh. No. I got that wrong. We can’t.
Here’s the other thing about that dog video. After they blew his dog away, the teenage son stood up. The officers then turned their shotguns on him. The son got back on his knees. Here’s what I imagine went through that kid’s head between the moment the shotguns turned on him and the moment he went back to his knees—all at once in a subconscious sort of way: this guy just shot and killed my dog, my best friend, I have to do something, I have to go to my dog, or I have to avenge his death, but at that moment (I’m switching back to third person, here), with those shotguns trained on him, that kid saw the writing on the wall, that if he took another step, if he rushed at these officers, or rushed toward the corpse of his dog, even though he is unarmed and his hands are bound behind him, these guys just might shoot him.
I grew up in the country, and I’ve been rushed at by many dogs. I’ve been bitten by dogs. Most of those times, I’ve been under the age of fourteen and clad in a t-shirt and shorts. Yet here I am.
So, I get it that police provide a valuable service. They face unbelievably dangerous situations. But can’t that be true and can’t we also be reasonable? The students aren’t allowed to pitch tents in the quad. So they have to take them down. They don’t want to take them down, nor do they want someone else to take them down, so they link arms and try to keep the police from getting to their tents. Is the only reasonable response to beat them with batons, pull their hair, put them in headlocks, and spray chemicals into their face? That is fucking ridiculous. That is Third World.
The only thing more frustrating is the media’s coverage of it. After spending nearly an hour watching You Tube videos of Davis and Berkeley students and faculty (a female English professor at Berkeley was pulled by police from the crowd by her hair and thrown on the ground before her arrest—it’s on video, look it up) being beaten, I turned on the TV and tried to find something about it on one of the 24 hour news networks, who seem perpetually desperate for enough news to fill 24 hours. What I found was lots of discussion of New Gingrich’s prospects and an interview with Isaiah Washington, who insists his inability to find work is due to the recession, not to calling another cast member a faggot.
If anyone can help me understand these police actions, or the media’s coverage of it, please comment.