TIMOTHY NOAH NOVEMBER 22, 2011
[Guest post by Nathan Pippenger]
If you somehow haven’t seen the video of campus security officers pepper-spraying the students at UC Davis’s Occupy protest, watch it now:
These situations are complicated and difficult to reconstruct from just a few minutes of video footage, but it seems obvious that the students in the video posed an immediate threat to nobody. But that wasn’t the take on Fox News last night, when Megyn Kelly and Bill O’Reilly held a sort of ad hoc summit on the events. The problem was that nosy (liberal) people might overreact to all this. Kelly expressed some perfunctory concern, but she nonetheless reasoned that pepper spray has the word “pepper” in it, so it’s basically a food. No worries there! Bill, for his part, chimed in with something truly frightening: “I don’t think we have the right to Monday-morning-quarterback the police.” Really. Watch for yourself:
A couple of things:
1. First of all, pepper spray is not, as Kelly claimed, “a food product, essentially.” The officers weren’t throwing garlic cloves at the students. As The Wall Street Journal explained recently, “pepper spray is far more potent than even the hottest of hot peppers,” and the best research on its effects found “no scientific basis” for the claim that it is essentially safe. If she thinks we ought to be blasé about the stuff, Kelly should at least display the integrity of Christopher Hitchens, who had doubts about whether waterboarding was torture until he subjected himself to it. (He came away convinced.) Are any of Fox’s hosts willing to undergo the same test?*
2. Second, it’s downright batty to claim that any public official, especially those entrusted to wield violence against citizens, is somehow above scrutiny or criticism. In a free society, we don’t just have the right to question what happened at UC Davis; we have the duty to. That doesn’t mean we should jump to conclusions, but it does mean we should be very disturbed by these images.
*N.B.: Sometimes this method of reporting can have unintentionally comic effects.