Greeting everyone. My name is Brad Barber, and the topic of my presentation today is on determining the reasonable amount of force for the Occupy Movement.
Before I get into specifics, let me ask a question. If the Occupy Movement had a mascot, who do you think it would be?
Or perhaps we can draw inspiration from an incident that happened not too long ago on a college campus…
That’s right, we’re talking about Lieutenant John Pike, an officer at the campus of UC Davis.
His public act was videotaped and spread through the internet, turning him into a symbol for resistance by Occupiers…
Pepper Spray Cop.
With just a little imagination, John Pike has managed to pepper spray down through the ages.
Lieutenant Pike became the face of all those who opposed the Occupy Movement. It was also a prime demonstration of the power of social media to spread ideas and messages in this digital age, and became the focal point for rallying support for the movement and generating negative publicity for the UC Davis campus and it’s police force.
This incident shines a light on the problem with law enforcement’s current strategy of dealing with Occupy protesters. There is a clear gap between what the public thinks is necessary and what law enforcement agencies employ.
It is understandably difficult for police to effectively decide just the right amount of force to use for each situation, and the public gets to have all of the information after the fact that police didn’t have at the time.
I will break down what happened at two separate Occupy incidents, highlighting the difference between the accepted levels of use of force. Through analysis of these situations, perhaps there is a solution to minimize damage to society while fostering a respect for authority figures.
The first incident happened at UC Davis
It all started when the UC Davis Chancellor ordered campus police to remove the Occupy encampments, which went down with few arrests or incidents. Protesters then surrounded police and chanted “If you let them leave… we will let you go.”
Police then spent 15 minutes carefully and calmly explaining to protesters that they would be required to use force if they did not move. That’s when it jumped to pepper-spraying the students. It is a prime example of the current tactics by police officers being out-of-date in this day and age.
The next incident happened at Occupy Oakland.
The short-term goal of the movement was to move the protesters to the vacant Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center. Unfortunately, the protesters were causing a lot of public and private property damage in the process, forcing police to confront the mob. When protesters responded by throwing objects and disrupting the peace, things took a turn for the worse.
Officers responded with smoke, tear gas, and bean bags, arresting more than 20 people in the process. While all of this was going on, some protesters broke into City Hall, trashed the place, and set fire to an American flag in front of the building.
Tensions clearly escalated quickly, and it made people question if police should bear some of the responsibility. After all, if the police had never confronted them in the first place, there is a good chance that there would not have been rioting in the streets. Should police take these things into account when they determine the amount of force to use?
Before we answer that, I should explain some of the methods and concerns currently in place when officers determine how much force to use.
If they do not use enough force, they run the risk of letting the suspect get away, which could have negative repercussions down the line, including the harm of citizens or other officers.
If they use too much force, they infringe upon the rights of citizens to be treated fairly.
Law enforcement agencies create a Use of Force doctrine that spells out in detail the acceptable use of force for different situations. It is designed to balance security needs with ethical concerns for the rights and well-being of intruders or suspects.
Unfortunately, this decision is too nuanced and dependent on the situation to be solved with a big list. Compounding that is the double standard applied by the public, because citizens expect police to be aggressive in enforcing the law against serious criminals, but they also want police to show restraint when they themselves are involved.
Technology also shifts the acceptable level of use of force, so that over time, what is acceptable evolves with society.
These incidents all have things in common, such as errors of judgment, escalated conflicts, and bad publicity for all sides. In both situations, things could have been better.
At UC Davis, the use of pepper spray was over the line, because they did not take into account that their actions would be broadcast across the internet. It was also unnecessary because their objective of moving the tents was complete.
But the protesters also should not have surrounded the police in an attempt to free apprehended students. It undermined the peaceful image of Occupy protests and helped escalate the situation.
At Occupy Oakland, it is clear that the protesters instigated the matter, and by throwing bottles and rocks at police, the protesters showed a mob mentality and lack of personal judgment that exhibited an image of immaturity and disrespect for Occupy protesters. And I’m sure I don’t need to say it, but don’t burn the American flag to make it point. It doesn’t project the kind of image who hope it will.
I’ll also address the question posed earlier. Would it have been such a bad thing if the Occupiers took the convention center without police intervention? Some argue that if the police had just backed off, a lot of property damage would have been minimized. This argument is weak because it does not let police officers do their job, and they have a civic duty to uphold the law. If the response to police escalates a situation, the blame should clearly be on the lawbreakers.
And now for my mediation.
Finding the middle ground for the amount of force to use is tricky, and requires a fundamental change in the approach of law enforcement; a change tailored specifically for Occupy protests. On the other side of the coin, the public needs to be educated on how police decide the amount of force to use and the problems that arise from doing so.
Looking back at UC Davis, it is clear that the police should have erred on the side of caution, because there was practically no risk to the officers or the general public.
At Occupy Oakland, police were forced to respond from the onset, and then blamed after the fact for instigating the chaos. The public should contemplate this double standard involved and see if it isn’t grounded in a bias against police officers in general.
Reasonable Use of Force For the Occupy Movement
Reasonable Use of ForceFor the Occupy Movement
If the Occupy Movementhad a mascot, who do you think it would be?
Lt. John Pike Became the face of opposition to the Occupy Movement Demonstrates how far social media has come in the capacity to spread ideas Rallied Occupy members and garnered unwanted publicity for UC Davis campus
Gap Amount of force law enforcement agencies apply to the Occupy Movement Amount of force public deems as necessary to employ
Perception of force Deciding how much force is reasonable or necessary is difficult Every situation is different Public judges that decision after the fact knowing all the variables
UC Davis and Occupy Oakland Two different Occupy incidents Highlight the difference between accepted levels of use of force Is there a solution to minimize damage to society and maintain respect for authority?
What happened? According to the Huffington Post, UC Davis chancellor, Linda P.B. Katehi orders campus police to remove the Occupy encampment(Cherkis) Police move in to remove tents with minimal arrests and incidents Protesters surround police and shout that they will let the cops go pending release of arrested students
What happened? Police spend upwards of 15 minutes giving out warnings to protesters that they would be required to use force if they did not move Prime example of current tactics by police officers being out-of-date and insufficient to resolving Occupy movement conflicts
What happened? According to The New York Times, Occupy goal was to move the protesters to the vacant Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center(Maslin Nir) Police confront protesters for destroying construction barriers Protesters respond with bottles, metal pipe, rocks, spray cans, improvised explosive devices, and burning flares
What happened? Officers respond with smoke, tear gas, and beanbags during the arrest of 20 people Night ends with protesters breaking into City Hall, breaking windows and property, and burning an American flag in front of the building
Whose fault? Tensions escalated quickly Would this have been a problem if police just let Occupiers take the vacant building? Do we blame the police officers for provoking retaliation and causing property damage?
Use of force doctrine Law enforcement agencies had to create a doctrine to determine acceptable use of force Strike a balance between security needs and ethical concerns for the rights and well-being of intruders or suspects(Use of force)
Double standard Decision is complicated Citizens expect the police to be aggressive in the enforcement of the criminal law against serious offenders(Alpert 486) They also expect the police to show restraint when they or those they know are involved
Technology Tasers Pepper spray Etc… Use of force becomes a moving target
Davis and Oakland Errors of judgment Escalated conflicts Bad publicity for police officers Negative publicity for protesters Could have been handled better
At UC Davis It is clear that pepper spray was not necessary for the police to leave The main objective of removing tents was already complete Didn’t take into account that their actions would be spread around the internet like wildfire
But… Occupy protesters should not have surrounded the cops in the first place Undermined the peaceful image of the protest and begged for retaliation
At Occupy Oakland Protesters got out of hand immediately No justification for escalation besides mob mentality or lack of personal judgment Exhibits an image of immaturity and lack of respect for authority and private property Don’t burn the American flag. For real.
Should police have backed off? Argument: Conflict and damage would have been kept to a minimum if police had backed off Argument is weak Should police let bank robbers do as they please because confronting them could cause a shootout?* *I know that is a hyperbole
Mediation Observations Finding the middle ground requires a fundamental change in the approach of law enforcement Need a change tailored for Occupy protest circumstances Public needs to understand the difficulty of deciding when to use force and how much
For UC Davis Police should have erred on the side of caution Risk to officers and public was minimal
For Occupy Oakland Police were forced to respond with force Police blamed after the fact for causing the chaos Public should contemplate the double standard presented and temper bias toward police
Works Cited "UC Davis Pepper Spray – What Really Happened". YouTube.com. 28 November 2011. Timasu. 1 April 2012. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hhPdH3wE0_Y&feature=related>. "Use of force." Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 11 January 2012. Web. 1 April 2012. Adams, Kenneth, et al. Use of Force By Police: Overview of National and Local Data. Washington, DC: U.S. Dept. of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, National Institute of Justice, 1999. Print. Alpert, Geoffrey P., and William C. Smith. "How Reasonable is the Reasonable Man?: Police and Excessive Force." The Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology 85.2 (1994): 481-501. Print. Cherkis, Jason. "UC Davis Police Pepper-Spray Seated Students In Occupy Dispute." The Huffington Post. 20 November 2011. Web. 1 April 2012. Maslin Nir, Sarah, and Matt Flegenheimer. "Hundreds Held in Oakland Occupy Protest." The New York Times. 29 January 2012. Web. 1 April 2012.