The Longest Now

Paramilitary police protocols in the US : context and consequences
Sunday November 20th 2011, 11:36 pm
Filed under: chain-gang,international,meta,metrics

Update: BoingBoing has a lovely interview with one of the students who was sprayed by the police.

Alexis Madrigal writes a sharp historical review of how policing has changed since the 60’s, and the dramatic rise in paramilitary training and expectations among police forces across the country since the Seattle WTO protest.

He also notes with compassion that aggressive police are a symptom of a system we have deliberately chosen as a society.  He references past phases of the public-police social contract, and notes that brutal treatment of students by police
a) isn’t new (it was common in the 1960’s before being toned down), and
b) isn’t a matter of a few bad actors like Lt. John Pike
We need to recognize the systemic problems everywhere in the US,  now filtering onto university campuses, and address them at their heart.

That said, we still have clear legal standards for when it is and is not appropriate to pepper spray civilians in the course of policing.  In prisons, riots, or public squares, precedent suggests it can not reasonably be used on seated or immobile protesters.

Pike violated federal law in his use of excessive force, and is unlikely to be protected by the qualified immunity sometimes granted to officers. Since a number of the students sprayed were injured, some still hospitalized the next day, and this use of pepper spray is usually considered to ‘exceed reasonable bounds’, Pike and his department face significant legal challenges. They will almost certainly try to settle any claims out of court.

Is there a social advantage to trying to push such a case through to conclusion?  Assuming a student could be found willing to bear the heavy burden of a prolonged case, is this a useful fulcrum for bringing about change across the country?

All of this leaves aside the most extreme claims of abuse: spraying pepper spray directly into students’ mouths. If that truly happened – something unheard of in recent memory – I hope we will see the details brought to light.

We could all use an better understanding of appropriate v. excessive force, to match recent shifts in police tactics.

1 Comment so far
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The amount of anger involved with policing is amazing. We really need to take a step back and look what their code of honor reflects

Comment by Dustin Meyers 11.21.11 @ 9:14 am

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