Two weeks after the pepper spray incident at UC Davis on Nov. 18 during a protest between Occupy protesters and police, our nation is still unnerved.
The now infamous picture where Police Officer John Pike is in the act of shooting pepper spray towards the faces of students brings to light the unfortunate culmination of many protests across the country.
We would be wasting valuable time if we argued whether or not the students were peaceful or not, or whether or not the officers were simply following protocol.
What we need to do is question our current system of law enforcement, one that in recent years has seen far too many image-tarnishing episodes of physical force that are continuously damaging a much needed relationship within our communities.
As students and members of an academic institution, it is our obligation to pressure this system to re-evaluate the ethics and tactics used upon students and those engaged in democratic forms of expression.
Whether or not we want to call it police brutality, at the end of the day students were physically harmed, and that should never be the result of any peaceful situation.
We are living in a post-9/11 climate, which has led some departments to respond more forcefully and fearfully to protests than they might have before.
Officer Pike is merely the endpoint of a structural system that put him in the position to be standing in front of those students and allowed him to believe spraying human beings with a chemical known to be injurious to health is justifiable.
Our police forces have enshrined a paradigm of protest policing which turns local cops into paramilitary forces, and too many incidents around the country attest to the widespread deployment of these tactics. If we simply vilify Pike, we let the institution off way too easy.
Situations like this only further demolish an already fragmented relationship between law enforcement and the communities they are required to serve.
Currently, many people view police with contempt and hostility because of previously misguided uses of force of which, communities feel, only resulted in pain and not a solution.
Without a doubt, we need law enforcement in America. Their presence at protests is necessary to ensure people are safe.
But pepper spray should not have been an option; it is simply demeaning. It is hard to accept that our police system in America believes this harmful toxin and poison is the best option when dealing with protesters.
This is what happens when an authority has become unaccountable for its actions and has lost sense of human connection.
If there is anything to be learned from the UC Davis pepper spray incident, it is that we need to question and then amend the current methodologies practiced for a more humane and dignified approach to law enforcement.
A stronger working cooperative relationship between police officers and members of the community can prevent incidents like that at UC Davis in the future, as the sense of communal responsibility and human connection will be restored.
Opening the discussion and being proactive about the mentality behind how to treat protesters is what we demand from our law enforcement.
Regardless of opinions, we can all attest there is a strong dent in how our interaction with law enforcement has weakened our system and truly does nothing to strengthen the safety of our communities.
We need a change now instead of waiting for more episodes like UC Davis to occur and additional officers like Pike to serve as the catalyst for what should have occurred years before.
We want to be protected, but beyond anything else we want accountability for a lack of judgment for the greater good of our communities.
This entry was published in The Pioneer Online on Thursday, December 1st, 2011 at 1:09 pm.