In which I am pepper sprayed in the face by police at #OccupySeattle
Just a few comments: I don’t think it’s all that productive to curse at the cops. I tried to be an observer – I wasn’t saying anything or holding a sign, and I complied with all police orders. Some protesters did not immediately clear the intersection once the order to disperse was given. But when the police advanced in formation with pepper spray, protesters did peacefully clear the intersection.
For all their hyperbole, the guys yelling at the cops were accurate in pointing out that people were, at that point, standing on the sidewalk. When one protester seemed to puff his chest out, face-to-face with a cop, they grabbed him behind their police line and seemed to pile on top of him. As I tried to get it on camera, I was hit with a blast of pepper spray directly to the face. I saw it as it reached my eyes.
The protesters were well organized in helping me wash my eyes out (I feel they should have been better organized in communicating the objective of occupying the intersection to the public, but if anyone forgets what this is all about, see here). I wandered in a daze over to the “triage” area, where my eyes were doused a few more times, providing fleeting relief from the pain. But I couldn’t see much of anything and my whole upper body felt like it was on fire for a good 40 minutes, with a recurrence earlier this evening. Not my best look.
I hate to imagine the suffering that this 84-year-old woman went through after being sprayed. SPD’s use of pepper spray tonight was reckless and unnecessary and it surely has the effect, whether intentionally or not, of intimidating people from joining or even being near the Occupy movement.
Seattle, I’ve missed you.
Update 11/17: A couple things to add here. The NYT Lede blog posted this video in a round-up of Occupy news with the following observation. I think they’re right.
The police spokesman’s account said: “At one point a 17-year-old female suspect swung a stick at an officer but failed to strike him. As officers moved in to arrest the female suspect the officers were hindered in their efforts. Officers deployed pepper spray to move subjects away from them so they could affect the arrest of the female suspect.”
It seems possible that the protester seized by police officers and hurled to the ground in Mr. Herz’s video might have been a young woman wearing a hooded sweatshirt, rather than a man. If that is the arrest described in the police statement, the footage does not support the written account, since there was no sign of anyone swinging a stick, and the initial volley of pepper spray was fired well before the police moved to take that person into custody.
Whatever the motivation, it is hard not to be struck by the sheer volume of pepper spray used by the Seattle police officers.
Still smarting from the pepper spray, I engaged police officers, including a Sergeant, in conversations later Tuesday night. I told them I had essentially been assaulted while obeying police orders and exercising my rights. They had failed to do their jobs. The officers were polite – one even offered me some chocolates – but none of them apologized or admitted any fault at the time.
The KOMO radio host who interviewed me on Wednesday has egg on his face, after telling me that Seattle police have acted with the utmost professionalism and respect towards the protesters. And this KING 5 journalist’s report from that night is atrocious. He unabashedly took the police side and demonized all protesters as unruly and antagonistic. The reporter went on to say, “All demonstrations come at a price.” That sounds completely un-American to me.
Finally, here’s a quick interview a protester filmed with me right after I was sprayed in the face, in case there were any doubts about what happened. Again, not my best look.
When I find some time I will be contacting the police and my city council members to file a complaint, as well as attending future Occupy events.