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Uprising

Tuesday, Nov 22, 2011, 6:58 am

When Noncompliance Becomes The Crime Of The Century

By Allison Kilkenny

A protest led by students from City University of New York against tuition hikes was violently broken up by police Monday evening after protesters ignored orders to disperse.

For the crime of occupying a lobby in a building at Baruch College where the university's trustees were meeting, police pushed protesters to the ground, beat them with batons, and arrested 15 people.

Carlos Pazmino, 21, a City College student who helped organize the protest told the New York Times, "I saw two people knocked down by cops…They were arrested and one guy's head was bleeding."

Following the pepper-spraying of peaceful student protesters at UC Davis, the university placed its police chief and two other officers on administrative leave in order to restore calm to the campus. UC Davis Chancellor Katehi recently spoke to students following the police assault and said, "It is my responsibility to earn your trust."

Last Tuesday, police attacked Occupy Seattle with pepper spray, including a pregnant woman named Jennifer Fox who told The Stranger that she miscarried following the attack. (The Stranger has asked for medical records confirming this and will post an update when they can verify Fox's claim).

IowaBoyDave posted this video of Fox taken just after she was pepper-sprayed and before medics had arrived:

These recent Occupy Wall Street and student protests around the country have showcased a disturbing police trend of treating noncompliance as a grave crime worthy of being beaten with batons, pepper-sprayed, tear-gassed, or shot with rubber bullets. In fact, noncompliance is the most peaceful way to protest, and police weaponry used to be reserved for violent criminals who attacked officers and posed a very real, serious threat to their physical safety.

Time and time again, police prove that they -- not the students or occupiers -- are the ones prone to violence.

Attacks by police are often framed as "clashes" by the media, which is highly misleading and creates the illusion of two oppositional forces, equally armed and evenly matched for some kind of physical conflict. In fact, what often happens in these cases is students peacefully assemble (for example at UC Davis,) then police arrive and violently break up the assembly. "Clashes" implies the students are also armed with pepper spray and tasers, and gee, they just happened to lose this one on the field of battle.

Punishment for crimes in America has been inverted with police treating the most petty offenses (noncompliance, property damage) as the Crimes Of The Century, while really bad crimes (bankrupting the world's economies, launching illegal wars) are given a free pass because the latter crimes are committed by our society's elite. 

The rigged system guarantees police will always fall on the wrong side of showdowns at places like CUNY and UC Davis. If students arrive to protest injustice aspects of our society's economy perpetrated by the very "one percenters" who have bought and rigged the justice system in their favor, you can probably guess who is going to lose that battle.

The saddest part about all of this is watching citizens cheer on sick police behavior. Some of it, of course, is a response to cartoon cultural relics from the 60s of "dirty hippies," but more often it seems as though certain individuals have been conditioned to believe that the proper punishment for sitting on a sidewalk is being doused in the face repeatedly with a chemical weapon by police. 

Much like in the case of the beloved underwear gnomes, there's a huge chunk of logic missing. Protester breaking window + _____________ = Shoot them in the head with a tear gas canister. Sure, we can all agree breaking windows is wrong -- foolish, even! -- and definitely worthy of some kind of punishment. Maybe the protesters should pay for the window, or go work off his/her debt at the business he/she wronged. But since when is damaging property on par with harming a human life?  

And there certainly isn't a logical, coherent defense of officer Pike pepper-spraying innocent, totally peaceful students. And no, "I don't like hippies" doesn't count.

Allison Kilkenny is an In These Times Staff Writer and the co-host of the critically acclaimed radio show Citizen Radio. Her blog for In These Times, Uprising, focuses on efforts around the world to address the global economic crisis.

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