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.

6 thoughts on “‘Appropriately’

  1. Damn, but police officers (like the white shirted lt.) sure can get touchy and cavalier in using their power. Reading your report brought back to me an incident when I was a teacher. During a strike, we were picketing at the school board office early in the morning, when strike breaking teachers were reporting to the central office to be sent out to schools to try to keep some open. We picketing teachers were on both sides of the driveway leading to the parking lot, jeering at the scabs and calling out by name those we recognized.

    It was a beautiful Spring day (and the first time we hadn’t had our contracts expire in the dead of winter, which in Milwaukee, pre-global warming, was colder than … , etc.), and there was a lot of socializing among teachers who don’t get to see people from other schools all that often. When there was no traffic, we would cross from one side of the driveway to another, chitchat, discuss negotiating issues, maybe return to our original side.

    Suddenly, we were ordered to stay off the driveway, which took awhile to be heard clearly and to sink in. I stepped off the curb to approach an officer to ask why we had previously been permitted to cross the road and now could not; I was ordered back on the curb. I then asked to speak to his superior.

    At which point, a lt. or above, really short bantam rooster of a man, walked over and told the cops to arrest me. I stated to him that I had only been asking why we were told we could not do what clearly had been permitted for a couple hours (I may have mentioned the first amendment), and then he told the cops to get me the hell out of there and into the paddy wagon.

    So, after a nicely dramatic pause on the top step of the paddy wagon, where I blew kisses to the crowd and raised both arms with my fingers forming the V for victory sign (which did make the local news), I was hustled into the wagon.

    After they’d collected enough arrestees, most on “charges” as valid as mine, we were taken Downtown to be booked.

    Where they found I had some outstanding parking tickets (where I lived it was almost impossible to avoid them, due to opposite side of the street parking regulations — and my tendency to oversleep).

    But, I eventually brought in to a Asst DA who asked the arresting officers the charges and what happened: “Violence? No. Attempts to stir up the crowd or verbal abuse? No. Well, what then? “Asking a lot of questions, sir. Why the arrest? Lt. XXX told us to, and he’s a real hard ass.”

    I can’t recall the actual charge, perhaps refusal to obey a lawful order…but the teachers’ union had attorneys downtown ready to assist any picketers who were arrested.

    And I would have been let go, except for those parking tickets. So I was taken to the Group W bench (well, a bench in a prisoner holding room leading to the courtroom with all sorts of people arrested the previous night; lots of prostitutes, drunks).

    My point is that just talking to the police as if they’re rational human beings can be used as “grounds” to arrest you and get you out of the picketing or protest. We’re supposed to cower in the face of authority, STFU, and be good little robots.

    Ah, just remembered that in the back parking lot, behind the school board office building someone had thrown an egg at a strike breaking teacher’s windshield, which led to the crackdown on all the picketers. So, anger at someone they couldn’t pin down was spread to those they could get hold of…. Heh.

  2. They do this because they can. Cop culture is all about “us vs. them” no matter how peaceful you are. These days, if you aren’t a cop, you’re a criminal or a terrorist.

  3. Never EVER talk to the cops. Everything you say can and will be held against you. The only thing you should say is “I am exercising my Miranda rights, and I want my lawyer.” then just act like a deaf mute.

  4. The policemen in blue with the orange net deployed to keep people on the sidewalk looked in control and as if they had the situation in hand in the video…they also had to duck back to avoid the spray used by the officer in the white shirt. It sounds pretty asinine to say the spray was in response to something done previously…isn’t the point of using spray to control an active situation, not as punishment after the fact of being subdued? And if Chelsea Elliott wasn’t arrested, her actions not warranting a trip to jail, why the spray?

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