If you haven't seen this video yet from yesterday's police action at Occupy UC Davis, you have to watch it, and watch it through the end. Honestly... it brought tears to my eyes. Tears of joy.
It starts with a group of students quietly and peaceful sitting on the ground and linking arms as they are viciously pepper sprayed by UC Davis police... officers whose job it is to protect them. You can't see from this video, but reports and photos from the campus newspaper, the California Aggie, show that the students were sitting in a circle around a small group of tents at an encampment in the university quad.
The attack on the students is provoked by nothing except their refusal to obey police orders. The usual chaos ensues for a few minutes. Victims shriek in pain, while some in the crowd frantically search for water. Several of the protesters are cuffed and dragged away, rather than receiving the medical attention they need. It is outrageous. It is unforgivable. And then something amazing happens.
The remaining students, who far outnumber the contingent of police, slowly start to encircle the officers while chanting "Shame on you!" The chants get louder and more menacing as the crowd gets closer, herding the police into a defensive huddle. Officers raise their weapons toward the crowd, warning them to back off, but at this distance and in these numbers, their riot gear would offer them little protection should the crowd suddenly charge. Sensing their advantage, the students change their chant to the more defiant "Whose university? Our university!" Tensions rise. One twitchy trigger finger and anything could happen. Then a lone voice initiates the familiar call and response of the human mic:
Voice: "Mic check!" Crowd: "Mic check!"
Voice: "We are willing..." Crowd: "We are willing..."
Voice: "To give you a brief moment..." Crowd: "To give you a brief moment..."
Voice: "Of peace..." Crowd: "Of peace..."
Voice: "In order to take your weapons..." Crowd: "In order to take your weapons..."
Voice: "And your friends..." Crowd: "And your friends..."
Voice: "And go." Crowd: "And go."
Voice: "Please do not return..." Crowd: "Please do not return..."
Voice: "We are giving you a moment of peace." Crowd: "We are giving you a moment of peace."
The crowd then starts chanting "You can go! You can go!", and after a few moments the police turn their backs to the crowd and do exactly that, wisely taking advantage of the offered truce, and eliciting cheers and applause from the crowd.
Two quick observations. First, anybody who defends the use of pepper spray in situations like this is not only defending police brutality, but clearly advocating for the incitement of violence. Everybody involved, the officers and the students, are fortunate that the crowd showed such admirable restraint.
Second, anybody who still dismisses civil disobedience of this sort—resisting the removal of illegal encampments—as either inappropriate or counterproductive to the message and aims of the Occupy movement, has their head stuck thoroughly up their ass. This is what democracy looks like.