UC Davis Police Went Too Far

If video had not captured an officer pepper-spraying Occupy Davis protesters, the crime would have gone unpunished, Leonard Pitts Jr. writes in his Miami Herald column.

Occupy UC Davis protest sign (Getty Images)
Occupy UC Davis protest sign (Getty Images)

In his Miami Herald column, Leonard Pitts Jr. writes that video cameras have helped keep lawlessness among police officers largely in check. He makes the observation after a video surfaced of an officer walking back and forth, pepper-spraying student protesters at UC Davis.

… The victims of this assault have described the pain in searing terms. They speak of burning skin and vomiting, of the inability to breathe, of feeling as if acid had been poured into their faces. Two cops involved with this atrocity and the chief of police have been suspended — with pay. One hopes this is preparatory to a summary dismissal.

As we grapple with this vandalism of the First Amendment, we should ask ourselves this: what if there had been no cameras on hand? What if we had only the word of the protesters and their sympathizers that this happened versus the word of authority figures that it did not? Is it so hard to imagine the students’ claims being dismissed, the media attention being a fraction of what it is, the public’s outrage falling along predictable ideological lines and these cops getting a walk?

That’s worth keeping in mind as legislators and law officers around the country move to criminalize the act of videotaping police in the performance of their duties. As in Emily Good, the Rochester, N.Y., woman who was arrested in May for videotaping a traffic stop from her own front yard. As in Narces Benoit, who says Miami Beach police grabbed his hair, handcuffed him and stomped his cellphone (which police deny) after he recorded an officer-involved shooting in June. As in states that have written new laws or used existing wiretapping statutes to support this blatant usurpation of an American liberty.

Read Leonard Pitts Jr.’s entire column at the Miami Herald.