Now that the videos have gone viral, the NYPD has come up with a rationale for why they used pepper spray on a group of young protesters for no apparent reason:
As the police arrested a protester in the street, an officer wearing a white shirt — indicating a rank of lieutenant or above — walked toward a group of demonstrators nearby and sent a blast of pepper spray that hit four women, the videos show.
Numerous videos and photos captured the aftermath: two women crumpled on the sidewalk in pain, one of them screaming. They were temporarily blinded, one of the women, Chelsea Elliott, said.
Ms. Elliott, 25, who was not arrested, acknowledged that “there were some rough people out there” at the protests. She and the other women were penned in behind police netting meant for crowd control. But, she said, neither she nor the women around her did anything to warrant having pepper spray used on them.
“Out of all the people they chose to spray, it was just me and three other girls,” she said Sunday in a telephone interview. “I’m not pushing against anybody, or trying to escape.”
The Police Department’s chief spokesman, Paul J. Browne, said the police had used the pepper spray “appropriately.”
“Pepper spray was used once,” he added, “after individuals confronted officers and tried to prevent them from deploying a mesh barrier — something that was edited out or otherwise not captured in the video.”
Notice the careful wording: “Confronted officers and tried to prevent them from deploying a mesh barrier.” Sounds like they’re saying these women simply expressed their opinion. Guess we’ll have to wait for the lawyers to figure this one out!
[…] Ms. Elliott was one of several protesters on East 12th Street who had been corralled behind the plastic netting, which was being held by a line of police officers.
Ms. Elliott said she spent part of the time trying to engage the police officer nearest her in a conversation about pensions.
“I’m just trying to converse with them in a civilized manner, and tell them I’m a civilized human being,” Ms. Elliott said. She remembered saying, “Stop! Why are you doing this?” in response to an arrest not far away, but doing nothing else to attract attention.
“A cop in a white shirt — I think he’s a superior officer — just comes along and does these quick little spritzes of pepper spray in my and these three other girls’ eyes,” she added. The officer’s identity was not provided by the police.
The scene around Ms. Elliott verged on the unruly on Saturday. The police made arrests in the area on charges not only of disorderly conduct and impeding traffic, but also of inciting to riot and assaulting a police officer. About 80 people were arrested; some spent the night in jail and were arraigned on Sunday.
Patrick Bruner, a spokesman for the protesters, said he believed that pepper spray was used several times on Saturday. “I think it is very fair to call it police brutality,” he said.
The Police Department rarely uses pepper spray as a means of crowd control. Although the police used it during a large-scale antiwar protest in 2003, it was not used with much frequency during the protests associated with the Republican National Convention in New York in 2004, although they were some of the largest demonstrations in the city in years.
“We don’t use it indiscriminately like other cities do,” said Thomas Graham, a retired deputy chief who until last year commanded the department’s Disorder Control Unit. “You’re not just spraying indiscriminately into a crowd.”
Police officers, he said, “have the choice between spraying the guy or struggling with the guy with the night stick,” he said, adding, “Get poked with a nightstick good and hard and you might have a cracked rib from that.”
Got that? For the crime of saying “stop, why are you doing this?”, they’re lucky it was “only” pepper spray — and not a cracked rib.