My brother was outraged. A thoroughly decent human being, and a deeply committed liberal, he was appalled by what he considered the unethical behavior of the police in breaking up a student demonstration on the UC Davis campus. He was particularly distressed by the casual use of pepper spray on these non-violent protestors.
According to Joel, nonchalantly showering people with a harmful chemical, when they were doing nothing but sitting down, is an act of atrocious cruelty. The authorities ought simply have carried them away.
Many observers undoubtedly share these sentiments. After all, we are supposed to be a rational and humane society. How then can we treat our own young people so heartlessly?
Well, I’ll tell you how. These student protestors were not merely protestors. Nor were they simply children. They were young adults who knew precisely what they were doing. And what they were doing was engaging in a provocation. They fully intended to force the police to over-react so that the authorities would be condemned as the bad guys.
The whole point of sitting where they did was to close down the campus; much as other Wall Street Occupiers would have enjoyed shutting down our economy, if they could. As such, their action could not be tolerated. The question was therefore what to do to prevent them from being successful.
Joel would have had the police physically haul them out of the pathway. But what would that have entailed? Would the “protestors” have simply left without resisting? Perhaps. But then again maybe not. As many before them have done, they might have kicked and lashed out at those who dared to touch them.
So what should the police have done? Was it their duty to allow themselves to be injured by these lawbreakers? Should they have used pepper spray only after one of them had received a broken leg or a black eye?