By now you’ve seen the video and heard the outrage: A group of student demonstrators at the University of California Davis supporting the Occupy Wall Street movement and protesting violent police action against University of Berkeley protesters two weeks earlier were pepper-sprayed by UC Davis police. If the incident doesn’t become an iconic, defining moment of the Occupy movement a la images of black Americans being hosed down by police during the civil rights movement, it has at least galvanized the cause and ignited a long-overdue debate about police aggression circa 2011.
While the UC Davis police were acting on orders by the university’s chancellor, Linda Katehi, it’s unlikely she instructed Lt. John Pike to nonchalantly stroll up and down and shower the students with military-grade pepper spray at point-blank range like he was killing cockroaches in his kitchen. No reasonable civilian would begrudge police officers their right to protect themselves while in the line of duty, but despite UC Davis Police Chief Annette Spicuzza’s statement that the pepper spray was used because students were preventing the officers from leaving, video and photographs of the incident contradict her account. Even Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly—who likened pepper spray to a nice, peppery vinaigrette on The O’Reilly Factor last night—thinks Spicuzza’s claim is bogus.