November 22, 2011 by David Gillaspie
by David Gillaspie
Now you know the color of pepper spray.
Maybe you guessed red instead of orange, or black for black pepper?
Did you know the spray had such range? If you’ve had a wasp’s nest in your rafters and used bee killer in a can, you’ve seen that range.
The man with the spray bottles at UC, Davis, Lt. John Pike, used pepper spray as if he were dousing bugs. Maybe that’s what he saw?
What he didn’t see were students blocking an important thoroughfare. They sat on a walkway with no curbs, with grass borders.
Officer Pike, in a mix of students and police, went WWE by raising his spray bottles to the crowd before using them. You’ve seen the same move with a chair, or table, inside the pro wrestling ring.
After his show of ‘who’s got the pepper spray’ he walked the line of seated students and gassed them like a friendly exterminator called for a pesky ant infestation. In spite of what you might think if you’ve seen the video of Officer Pike, he’s not a Nazi with a handy spray can of Zyklon B herding victims into the showers.
This is a man casually carrying out his sworn duty. The casual part might be the sticking point with observers. How could he seem so nonchalant while he administered the pain of pepper spray? When you’re large and out of shape, when you’re a fat man, you don’t have the most spring in your step.
Officer Pike moved the best he could under the conditions imposed by age and poor health habits. The man is a load and carries himself with as much dignity possible.
There are other conditions worth mentioning. Officer Pike is listed as a UC Davis policeman. Not a city cop, or county mounty, but not a mall cop either. Imagine how his policeman friends doing real police work in the community view him.
“Check any hall passes today, John?”
“Take anyone down to the principals office?”
With over 32,000 students on campus, the odds are good that crime is a problem. Dorm theft, minors in possession of alcohol, and cross walk violations are reason for concern on all campuses. Penn State taught us there’s also serial child-rape, though it didn’t seem urgent to their campus police.
Through his motions in the UC Davis pepper spray video, Officer Pike demonstrates his need to be The Man. This pepper-slinger walked the mean quad alone with his orange mist. He didn’t need a wing man and his aim was true. What you might interpret as arrogance, or abuse of power, was Officer Pike showing the other officers how one man can make a difference.
And he did. For that he will suffer the consequences of his actions, though probably not stinging eyes and vomiting like the people in his line of spray.
The biggest mistake Lt. John Pike made was neglecting his chain of command. An experienced officer would send a lowly foot patrol guy in with the pepper spray, then blame a misunderstanding if things went wrong.
Another man had the same problem decades earlier, a lieutenant in Vietnam named William Calley.
He joined in with his troops in gunning hundreds of Vietnamese women, children, and aged and paid the price while his commanders let blame roll down on him. Even though WWII trials convicted Germans and Japanese of similar acts, the sort of acts that got them hung as war criminals, Lt. Calley got house arrest.
Who does Lt. Pike have to blame?
By showing his bravery in standing up to the seated protest and unloading pepper spray on them alone, can he say he was just following orders? The man needs to look up the definition of ‘insulation’ and ‘layers.’
He ought to look up rules of engagement while he’s in the UC Davis library. The short version is identify the enemy, engage the enemy, eradicate the enemy. Are a bunch of college kids pissed at a tuition hike an enemy worthy of the skills of Lt. John Pike? Is their tactic of sitting on the ground difficult to fathom?
Lt. Pike, did you miss the training session on how to deal with California college students? No one suggests that throwing them a bag of weed would diffuse the tense stand-off, but it might change the dynamic.
Instead, Lt. Pike gives hand signals understood by his command and they bunch up and move backward like Custer’s Last Stand in retreat. With non-lethal weapons at the ready, the troopers stepped back. The crowd cheered.
In the event you find yourself in conflict with real, or campus, police, keep this in mind: They give orders, you follow orders.
Keep an open dialogue with the policeman nearest you.
Show them you are not a bug they need to spray or squash.
Repeat their commands back to them to show you understand their requests.
Lt. Calley made it all easier for American soldiers after My Lai. Boot camp trainees learned to repeat what they understood an order to mean back to the officer who gave it.
Lt. Calley: Go over to that drainage ditch and waster ’em.
Private Jones: Sir, do you mean advance to the ditch and open fire on innocent women and children with my machine gun until they are all dead.
Lt. Calley: I said waste ’em, Private Jones.
Private Jones: Sir, do you mean shoot the unarmed villagers who live here to death?”
Lt. Calley: That’s exactly what I mean, Jones. Kill them.
Private Jones: Sir, that is an illegal order and I cannot follow it.
In the future, treat the police with due respect. Help them understand that you hear what they are telling you to do.
Either do what is requested, or not. Then brace yourselves for their follow up.
Afterward, do the responsible thing and make sure what happens to you for peaceful protest doesn’t happen to others. Learn the system better than Lt. Pike and help him out of it.