Pepper Spray & Distorting the News

December 4, 2011 · 8 comments in Braided Journalism,Personal & off-the-wall,Politics


You’ve probably have already seen the UC Davis Pepper Spray Video. You probably already have an opinion and its likely you have strong feelings about it. The problem is what you saw was severely edited to give one perspective of a series of events that are not as simple and straight-forward as that short clip would have you believe.

Watch this long version. Yep, it’s all of 15-minutes long, about the length of 30 Fox news clips. But if you do it this one time, you may start to understand how news editors can snip out balance to promote agendas.

In fact, after watching the long version, my opinion did not change. But my concerns that the new citizen journalism can present through a lens that is as filtered as the shoddiest of traditional news organizations have been known to give us.

It is obvious, that the original pepper spray video was shortened to promote a point of view and to me that lessens the credibility of students who risked arrest and pepper spray for a cause that many of us do not understand–but they passionately believe in.

Did the police act rightfully or wrongly? You and I may continue to disagree. But we cannot intelligently decide unless those reporting the incident are responsible to give us a reasonably ba;lanced report on what happened.

Distortion of the truth in the name of a cause damages the credibility of that cause if you ask me.

Let us understand that non-violent protest is designed to provoke authorities to further a cause. Leaders through the years have suffered arrests, beatings and gas. This raises public awareness and sympathy. It is very powerful and has brought down governments, ended wars, destroyed unjust and discriminating causes.

The essence of it is to reveal that truth is on your side. That’s what giants of protest Like King and Gandhi did. That’s why in America, students in the 6os sometimes died to end an unjust war or Jim Crow segregation.

Lying doesn’t get you there; nor does distortion. All that does is make you the citizen version of Fox News, grinding the facts through distorted lenses and filters.









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Blog Libel, Pepper Spray & Citizen Journalism — Global Neighbourhoods
December 8, 2011 at 12:31 pm


Dagan Henderson December 4, 2011 at 1:50 pm

First, in response to Jesse’s assertion that the policy reacted poorly and were ill prepared, I completely disagree. At the end of the day, it got no worse than pepper spray. You may scoff at that, but what you may not realize is that every one of those police officers has likely been pepper sprayed him- or herself. It is a common part of California’s police academy curriculum. The rationale for using pepper spray in an instance like this is that the reaction to being pepper sprayed is to back away. Conversely, a common reaction to being physically moved (the only other option), is to fight back. And a common crowd reaction when a member of the crowd is seen fighting with an enemy of the crowd is to attack the enemy, regardless of what started the fight.

The fact that the violence failed to escalate beyond pepper spray is a testament to the training, preparedness and levelheadedness of the UCD police officers involved.

Second, to suggest that surrounding a group of police officers and making demands qualifies as nonviolent, as Jeff suggests, seems naïve. To me at least, the term nonviolent implies that it is unlikely that a protest will turn to violence. While watching the video shared in this post, my impression was that the protesters could turn violent with very little provocation, such as the students blocking the path being physically moved instead of pepper sprayed, for example.

Additionally, I think it is immensely important to point out that the arrested students were in no physical danger at any time. We do have a justice system in place in our country, and it includes the right to be judged by 12 of our peers. After being removed from the rally, the arrested protesters were likely humanely transported, processed, held for a short period of time, and released pending a decision from the D.A. as to if and how they will be tried. The actions of the crowd, however, were more in line with the belief that their fellow protesters were in physical danger and must be saved, which was clearly not the case.

Finally, let’s consider just how dangerous it would be to set a precedent that it is okay to (1) directly disobey an order from a police officer for a prolonged period of time, (2) seriously interfere with a police officer’s ability to perform his or her duties, (3) imprison a police officer and demand that he or she release an individual that has been arrested.

If the protesters felt they were being wrongfully forced to relocate and then wrongfully arrested for refusing to follow a police officer’s order, the appropriate action is to address the issues in a court of law. Behaving the way the UCD protesters did in this country (where freedom of speech and the right to peacefully and lawfully assemble or guaranteed) shamefully downplays the far more serious issues protesters in other, less free countries face.

Jesse Luna December 5, 2011 at 10:42 pm

Dagan, the police totally blew it. They didn’t have enough officers and didn’t have a good plan. That put them in a bad situation and they had to spray their way out. They were not in control at all.

Also, there’s no playbook where finding yourself surrounded is part of a good plan. When that happens you’re usually sunk.

Dagan Henderson December 5, 2011 at 11:28 pm

Would you have preferred they send 100 officers in riot gear who reacted quickly to physically prevent the protesters from surrounding them?

In this scenario, the appropriate response is a lot like a chess game. Clearly, the officers followed command and control and thought out their responses carefully.

I find it interesting that you are focusing your arguments on the actions of the police officers. What about the actions of the protesters? Do you sincerely believe that imprisoning police officers and attempting to force them to release those in their custody is okay?

Jesse Luna December 6, 2011 at 8:34 am

Dagan, I’m not sure what the entire timeline was behind the police’s actions. That would help dictate their strategy. When LAPD raided the OccupyLA encampment, they had planned it for over a month including having undercover police to get intelligence and to push out people they thought were troublemakers and who could escalate things. They also had several community relations officers meet with protesters on a 24-7 basis. Obviously the UCD protest was different but I just wanted to give an example of extreme planning to help disperse a crowd.

As I mentioned before, I think the students could have had a better objective. For example, they could have gotten media coverage of them being arrested to make a statement. In that case they could have chosen up front who would volunteer to be arrested and had self-policing to keep others from getting in the way as the police went to arrest folks. They didn’t do that and the police planned poorly so things escalated.

I’ve been on the protesters side of the police line so I’m speaking from that perspective. My colleagues have been arrested at several recent highly publicized actions here in LA and it’s been important to be aware of how things flow to avoid escalation.

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Jesse Luna December 4, 2011 at 12:29 pm

What stands out in the video is how ill prepared the police were to deal with the issue at hand. They did not have enough officers, they had no plan for extracting anyone who was to be arrested. This poor management caused the other issues where they allowed themselves to be surrounded which put them in a massively reactive situation. They are supposed to be professionals and know how to deal with crowds.

As to editorializing via video, this video had very slanted views and editing even though it was longer. Yes, seeing other aspects helps see the context but the captions had only one perspective.

I would have liked to have seen how those specific students that were sitting were selected to be arrested. Did they volunteer in a non violent way or were they singled out for specific things that they did like stand in the wrong place. If they were singled out because they were standing in the wrong place then that complicates things because then the goal of the protest becomes to free those who are going to be arrested. If the students’ goal was to get arrested in a show of solidarity and to do so in a non violent way then the other students should have backed away and allowed the police to arrest them.

Of course, the pepper spraying part was a ridiculous use of brutal force that should not have occurred. I think allowing the police to leave was a great sign that the students intended to be peaceful.

I’ve recently been at two different rallies/protests in Downtown LA where there were arrests and that was part of the protest action. Those arrestees included some of my co-workers. The police did not make the same mistakes that the UCD police made and the police largely behaved themselves.

Jeff Eaton December 4, 2011 at 12:08 pm

Context is important because the ‘full record’ can tell a different story than a tightly edited snippet. Because of that, I’m definitely in favor of ensuring that source material is always available after edited videos are posted, but editing is always necessary. The disagreement in our culture about this particular incident seems to be between those who feel that physical punishment of nonviolent protesters is acceptable, and those who feel it is unacceptable. In this case I’m not clear what the “different story” is – it seems to just be someone insisting that the mere presence of context invalidates the complaints about the physical punishment. All abuse of authority exists in a larger context, but that context does not necessarily make it appropriate or acceptable.

The challenge we currently face in an information-swamped culture is that it’s very easy for people to isolate themselves in an ‘analysis bubble’ that ensures they only every see news, events, and even source material in an environment of discourse that supports their existing biases and narratives.

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