During recent weeks, we have seen many instances of excessive police brutality against OWS protesters, against a movement which many politicians surely just want to make "go away." But it's unlikely that OWS will just fade into obscurity, as the movement gains more and more traction around the world - partially also because more and more people are appalled by the growing wave of violent police actions, including acts of pure sadism, which included the pepper spray incident on Friday at the campus of UC Davis, which received nationwide mainstream coverage. The action at the campus of UC Davis was preceded by another notable incident on Wednesday at the campus of UC Berkeley, when aggressive University policemen beat peaceful students with batons (view from closer HERE). Police at UC Berkeley even brutally pulled a female professor out of the crowd at her hair for no reason whatsoever - shocking video HERE (also read the video description).
The question is: Will politicians be able to ignore the violence against student and citizens, or will they start to address it? Will especially President Barack Obama, a man who in 2008 inspired many progressives with his message of hope and change, feel compelled to address the issue?
This question is justified, because when it came to violent police actions in the Middle East for example during the recent uprisings in Egypt, President Obama as well as Hillary Clinton had no hesitation to repeatedly condemn the actions of the Egyptian police. So should very similar actions be justified in the USA and elsewhere, just because they were done in the name of "democracy?" The same applies of course for violent police actions against the OWS movement in other countries, for example in Australia and the UK.
A very powerful, must-see video was posted on youtube already one months ago, addressing the contradictory behaviour of the American government - condemnation regarding actions abroad, silence regarding actions at home:
"Dear Mr. President: Will You Please Speak Up About Police Assaulting Protesters On College Campuses?"
Let me set aside the distressing irony that protesters in, say, Tahrir Square in Cairo last spring were, in the main, better treated by repressive authorities than protesters on a California campus.
Let me just talk politics.
Specifically, this: What would I do if I were president and running for re-election?
Let me go a bit further...
What would I do if I were running for re-election and I knew the Republicans were mounting a nationwide campaign to disenfranchise as many minority voters as possible?
What would I do if I were running for re-election and knew that many of my core supporters in 2008 felt disrespected and ignored by my Administration?
And, finally, what would I do if I were running for re-election and I had even the vaguest idea how many kids go to college and how many families back home were worrying about them -- and how many of those kids and parents considered themselves Democrats?
In that situation, I think -- again, I'm just making a political calculation here --- I'd take the opportunity to speak out about what happened at UC Davis.
Mr. President, making a short speech like this should not be a tough call.
Consider: Forbes magazine -- Forbes! -- has condemned the police.
Do you really want to be the last to speak up?
Or is it your intent to say nothing?
There comes a time, sir, when we must stand up and be counted --- or have our silence counted as its own kind of speech.
I'm sure there are many Americans --- not just college kids, their parents and their professors --- who would be grateful if you would remind us all of the right to assemble peacefully.
Some, perhaps, might even see that as a reason to vote for you.
So what should the answer be? Does "democracy" provide a permit for police brutality, for violent actions which are such so excessive that even conservative reporters complain about being assaulted by the police without any reason?
If police forces are being excessively violent, it's because they feel that they have political backing - and comments directed at OWS-protesters for example by Newt Gingrich like "Take a bath, get a job" or by NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg who said that the protets were "just an opportunity for a bunch of unions to complain or to protest, or whatever they want to do" just reaffirms a common belief that the protesters are not to be taken seriously, that they are outside the mainstream - and that they can or should be "beaten", if necessary.
Such an attitude is dangerous, and in the days of the internet where the brutality of the police is available for everyone to see, also unsustainable. A democracy is different from an authoritarian regime because it respects dissenting voices, and citizens in a democracy can expect from their political leaders that they acknowledge this fact and step in when excessive behaviour takes place.
Just a few days ago, Mayor Bloomberg said that "Make no mistake about it, if anyone's actions cross the line...we will respond accordingly", but he failed to address the fact that there are legions of video clips available on the internet which prove that it was the NYPD in the first place which repeatedly crossed the line.
We expect more from President Obama, and he should be the one to address the real issue -that there is a movement which exists for good reasons, and that these people have a right to protest with the full protection of the US constitution and the law.
Deborah Newell Tornello (litbrit) posted at her blog this quote by Barack Obama:
"I want to be very clear in calling upon the Egyptian authorities to refrain from any violence against peaceful protesters. The people of Egypt have rights that are universal. That includes the right to peaceful assembly and association, the right to free speech, and the ability to determine their own destiny. These are human rights. And the United States will stand up for them everywhere." —President Barack Obama
From the comments I can see that this is a controversial topic. While it is certainly correct that the police in the USA is governed on the state and local levels, there seems to be one misunderstanding. We don't believe that President Obama is to blame or that he should be held accountable - we just think that he should make a statement, as a representative of the people, and I believe that he could very well demand from state and local authorities in a speech that the right to a peaceful protest and the freedom of assembly should be recognized and should be protected. After all, it is a constitutional right.
I would like to address another point. In my post yesterday about the pepper spray incident at UC Davis I voiced my astonishment that the police was apparently carrying paintball guns. Visible for example on this picture on the right from the UC Davis incident which can be found on flickr:
Well, it turns out that I have to brush up my knowledge about the type of weapons the police usually carry these days. The twitter-user "lawscribe" explained to me what some of the policemen at UC Davis were really carrying on Friday:
Some research showed that "lawscribe" was correct.
From a report about a mock training prison riot:
Students are apparently on one level with a prison population these days, and the parents of the students from UC Davis might be interested to know that these pepperball guns can inflict very serious injuries, especially when they are being used at close range, and especially when the victim is being shot in the face.
From a report about a victim who was shot in the face, a student - and this incident happened already in 2005:
Stephen Lippenholz spent Sunday and Monday in a hospital bed in Prince George’s Hospital Center, the right side of his face scarred and swollen.
He needed dime-sized plastic shell fragments removed from his cheek, surgery to restructure his broken nose, and 40 stitches to close a cheek wound after police shot him in the face with a pepper pellet gun.
Lippenholz is just one of many who ran from Route 1 Saturday night with welts from pepper ball gun wounds, crying as pepper spray burnt their eyes or wheezing from the tear gas polluting the air. A significant number are coming forward, saying they were severely injured or violently arrested while acting as bystanders in the melee.
“They gave no warning, they just started shooting,” said Lippenholz, a sophomore letters and sciences major. “I think it’s pretty ridiculous they were using those guns to control the fans. There are so many other kinds they could use.”
His father, Richard Lippenholz, expressed similar emotions.
“My understanding is that the police shouldn’t be shooting into the crowd blindly,” he said. “I don’t think anyone deserves to be blinded or killed because a sign was torn down.”
Picture from this article:
I might sound very old fashioned, but for me, the permission to the University police to carry such type of guns should be reason alone for Chancellor Linda Katehi to resign. Students easily could have been severely wounded and could have even lost their eyes. I am appalled about what is happening in parts of the western world and do hope that this trend to turn police forces into paramilitary organizations will stop.