You know that video of the campus cop casually spraying UC Davis students in the face? In the comment thread, there are still some people defending as appropriate the use of pepper spray on peaceful protesters: "Failure to comply with a lawful order is usually sufficient justification for a police officer to use pepper spray," insisted one regular Slog commenter.
But imagine, if instead of unloading the pepper spray, the officer had instead casually kicked a student in the face? Or imagine that kick was aimed squarely at the face of 84-year-old Dorli Rainey? You think the officer would have been fired? You think he would've been sued, and likely prosecuted? Of course he would have.
Unlike a kick in the face, pepper spray tends not to leave any visible bruises or scars, but it's not like it hurts any less. Police are using it indiscriminately and without provocation against protesters because it appears more civil than boots, fists, and batons, yet inflicts at least as much pain. They are getting away with brutally assaulting civilians who pose no physical threat to the officers or others, simply because a spray of orange goo doesn't look particularly brutal.
But now imagine if a protester were to casually walk up to one of the officers and empty a can of pepper spray in his face. You think this pepper spraying protester wouldn't end up convicted and imprisoned on charges of assaulting a police officer? Of course he would. Because pepper spray is assault. And thus it should be reserved for use by police only when the use of such physical force is absolutely necessary... or so says one of the weapon's creators:
To Kamran Loghman, who helped develop pepper spray into a weapons-grade material with the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the 1980s, the incident at Davis violated his original intent.
“I have never seen such an inappropriate and improper use of chemical agents,” Mr. Loghman said in an interview.
Mr. Loghman, who also helped develop guidelines for police departments using the spray, said that use-of-force manuals generally advise that pepper spray is appropriate only if a person is physically threatening a police officer or another person.
Pepper spray is being used casually because it appears casual, but it is not. All the legal issues aside, if current police procedures really do permit the use of pepper spray as a convenient means of crowd control, then these procedures need to be changed. However inconvenient it might be to police and prosecutors, in a civil society, the consequences for civil disobedience should be arrest, not a kick in the face or its chemical equivalent.