Pepper on the Pavements.
Plenty of cuttings of the UC pepper spraying going on at the moment, with ample examples of indignant ‘how could they’ style sentiments accompanying, often countered by a fair share of ‘they got what they deserved’ style responses. Divisive stuff indeed, and whatever side of the argument you fall on, it seems likely that this, and occasions like it, are probably going to do far more for the cause of encouraging the sympathetic white middle classes to down tools and sit in tents in order to show support the whatever myriad range of causes are currently represented by the Occupy movement.
However much you may like/dislike the students protesters/jobless malingerers (delete as appropriate for your respective viewpoints), it’s hard to interpret the video footage as anything more than a fairly hefty overreaction. Students sat down in a line does not seem to offer the most violent of threats to the general public, while any claims that the students were blocking access is somewhat undermined by the police officers themselves stepping over those in the way with relative ease. Granted, wheelchair users would have faced a struggle here, and I’m sure the vocal right wing politicos are lamenting the lack of footage of the ignorant protesters refusing to move for, and subsequently flashing two fingers to the poor crippled undergraduate prevented from wheeling herself, it would have to be a female student for the story to have maximum impact, no, let’s make that a black female student in a wheelchair, to her classes, for which she has to hold down three manual labour jobs to sustain. As much as such a scene would be an anti Occupy wetdream, it does not exist. Anyway, whatever the threat level/inconvenience level, the use of burning chemical sprays at point blank range seems at the very least a touch over the top.
While law enforcement figures have supported the action by describing the scenes as ‘standard procedure’, the use of such regular social control mechanisms will surely only serve as an encouragement to those sat on the floor, and the thousands around the world greedily copying the images as a burning flag of injustice to wave back in the faces of those who stand against them. Really, if those who are justifying the actions think that this will in anyway discourage protest activities, or indeed discourage current non activists from joining the respective causes, they would be highly misguided.
As things stand, the Occupy protests and their various hangers on, are a vocal, largely peaceful group, undermined by their own lofty ambitions which cause their message to be almost unintelligible to the 99% they purport to represent. More scenes like this though have the power to turn this into something far more focused and aggressive. After all, perceived police brutality and the suppression of free speech, is something that is far more accessible for the masses than any effort to reform global financial policies (not the most sexy of protest themes after all), and the response to such concerns, historically at least, is not usually manifest by diligent sit downs around tents in the parks. There are a lot of very frustrated people in the world at the moment, it won’t take too many more incidents like this to turn them into angry people, and the angrier people get, the less prone they become to rational peaceful protest. If the authorities are spoiling for a fight, they would do well to keep up control measures like these.