Posted by: Mark Gimein on November 21, 2011 at 4:20 PM
This weekend, videos of the pepper spraying of protesters at UC Davis went viral. Many students captured a police officer, Lieutenant John Pike, directing the pepper spray canister at the faces of students with arms locked on the UC Davis blog. The image of Pike calmly walking along and spraying the students as if he was misting a flower box is quickly becoming one of iconic images of the protests. Above, “Un dimanche aprÃ¨s-midi Ã l’ÃŽle de la Grande Jatte avec Lieutenant John Pike,” an image that’s been racing around blogs and Facebook.*
The aftermath of the UC Davis events has also gotten plenty of attention. Notable is this video, of university chancellor Linda Katehi walking to her car past hundreds of students staging a silent vigil.
An unsettling aspect of the UC Davis meme, however, is that the events there are not the most troubling of recent weeks. The Guardian reported two weeks ago on a veteran whose spleen was ruptured by a police beating in Oakland. According to the paper, the man, Kayvan Sabhegi, was left to lie in a cell for hours without medical attention. On Friday the newspaper followed up with a video that has emerged of the beating.
Most troubling here is that the violence inflicted on Sabhegi is substantially greater than what happened at UC Davis, but it transpired amid the confusion of flash grenades and tear gas. The UC Davis protest took place on a sunny afternoon, with cameras clicking away all around. It happened against this background of calm, and is exhaustively documented. The incident took off instantly on the web, and the officers involved, as well as the University’s police chief, have been placed on leave during a pending investigation.
While the story of Scott OIsen, the veteran carried off from the Oakland protests with a serious head injury, became a rallying cry for the movement, the Sabhegi story was much slower to take off. Most of the elements of this have been slower to emerge. As Sabhegi is knocked to the ground and blows rain down on him, it’s hard to see exactly what’s happening because Sabhegi is surrounded by several police officers and out of the view of the cameras. According to the Guardian, the person who shot the footage did not know about the extent of Sabhegi’s injuries until much later. There were no video cameras running as Sabhegi suffered in a cell from the pain of a ruptured spleen.
The UC Davis video implies a question: if this can happen on a college campus in broad daylight, aren’t there worse events that are not as quickly documented, reported, and publicized? Based on the story and video of Sabhegi, the answer seems to be “Yes.”
*No site seems to cite the original creator of the George Seurat/UC Davis composite. We’re hoping he or she will step forward to get credit.