When I was in Tahrir Square and a gun went off, I remember being afraid of the cops. I instantly knew that the gun was not from a civilian, and it crossed my mind that the scariest thing in the world may just be the feeling of living in a place where you can’t trust the people whose job it is to protect you. Certainly the scariest thing about that day, for me, was knowing that if I were in trouble, no one in uniform was going to help me or anyone else.
Last night, I read the moving open letter from Nathan Brown, a member of the UC Davis faculty to Chancellor Linda Katehi, calling for her resignation. The chancellor called in cops to break up peaceful protesters, and the cops came wearing full riot gear and beat the defenseless protestors with batons. A week later, students and faculty came together to protest this brutality, and again the chancellor called in those same cops.
A few images stick out in my mind from the videos I’ve been watching, and one of them even made me cry. A professor holds out her wrists for a zip-tie arrest, and instead a cop grabs her by the hair and drags her to the ground. After, a young woman hides in the bushes and every cop who passes her jabs her at least once with a baton, but several due it more than that. When a young man tries to stop them, he is put in a headlock, and goes limp, but is then hit repeatedly with a baton. While he is incapacitated.
One of the more disturbing clips is of a cop intentionally pepper spraying students who are sitting crouched on the ground, their arms linked and faces blocked. He even does it with a flourish, presumably for the crowd of students watching. They have no weapons, they aren’t even standing up or in any way in an offensive position. They are just sitting there, and they take it. The cops use this moment of physical pain to try to drag students apart by their clothing and limbs. When they do separate them, the cops lean on them with what appears to be their full weight, knees in their back and yelling at them to get on their stomachs, even when they already are. One cop even l;laughs and smiles as students are lead away. If a person has no weapons, is on their stomach and can’t use their arms or legs, what danger do they present?
Later in that same video, cops slowly back away from protestors. They are in full-on riot gear, with their pellet guns drawn (which, as we all know, are horribly named and can in fact be deadly). How can they possibly think that they are the ones in danger here? They are wearing thousands of dollars in protective gear, armed with weapon, some of which they have already used (pepper spray and batons). Their opponents are shouting, “You can go,” and, “We will give you your moment of peace, we will not follow you.” Their opponents are armed only with their voices and their cell phones, cameras and ipads, trying to capture this for the world.
I dislike the way crowd control weapons have been named. And yes, they are weapons. The LRAD has been more aptly referred to as a sound cannon, for the way its frequencies are aimed at crowds they then debilitate. A pellet gun sounds like a fun toy you could perhaps buy at a dollar store, not the object that killed a college student in Boston in 2004. Pepper spray sounds innocuous and fun, and we see it as a joke so often in movies and television that it seems like a mild inconvenience and an entertaining story afterwards.
I don’t want to live in a country where we must fear the people who enforce our laws. I want law enforcement professionals to live in fear of breaking the laws that define their roles and existence. Aren’t we supposed to be better than countries like Egypt? Isn’t that what we keep telling ourselves all through our economic crisis, and as we sing that we’re proud to be American, where at least we know we’re free?
In the final video, at least seven cops can be seen hitting students repeatedly with batons. The students are unarmed and have their arms linked together. The students are peacefully protesting on their own campus. The Berkeley cops keep hitting them, and even after they stop, two in the corner of the video keep beating the same woman who was stuck in the bushes before.
I don’t care what the students were protesting. I don’t care what they said to the cops. I don’t even really care what their orders were, or what you think about politics in general or the Occupy movement. Patriotism means being proud of your country, and making sure your country stays a place you can be proud of. Our tax dollars pay for police brutality, while students, union members, academics and parents are subject to this kind of behavior we look down upon around the world. I’m not proud right now, are you?