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Taibbi writes: "The UC Davis instant crystallized all of this in one horrifying image. Anyone who commits violence against a defenseless person is lost. And the powers that be in this country are lost. They’ve been going down this road for years now, and they no longer stand for anything."

Matt Taibbi at Skylight Studio in New York, 10/27/10. (photo: Neilson Barnard/Getty Images)
Matt Taibbi at Skylight Studio in New York, 10/27/10. (photo: Neilson Barnard/Getty Images)



Pepper-Spray Incident Reveals Weakness Up Top

By Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone

22 November 11

 

Occupy Wall Street: Take the Bull by the Horns

 

as absolutely mesmerized last night watching the viral video of the UC-Davis pepper-spraying. It was totally amazing, simultaneously one of most depressing and inspiring things I've seen in many years.

To recap for those who haven't seen it: police in paramilitary gear line up in front of a group of Occupy protesters peacefully assembled on a quad pathway. Completely unprovoked, police decide to douse the whole group of sitting protesters with pepper spray. There is crying and chaos and panic, but the wheezing protesters sit resolutely in place and refuse to move despite the assault.

Finally, in what to me is the most amazing part, the protesters gather together and move forward shouting "Shame On You! Shame On You!" over and over again. You can literally see the painful truth of those words cutting the resolve of the policemen and forcing them backwards.

Glenn Greenwald's post at Salon says this far better than I can, but there are undeniable conclusions one can draw from this incident. The main thing is that the frenzied dissolution of due process and individual rights that took took place under George Bush's watch, and continued uncorrected even when supposed liberal constitutional lawyer Barack Obama took office, has now come full circle and become an important element to the newer political controversy involving domestic/financial corruption and economic injustice.

As Glenn points out, when we militarized our society in response to the global terrorist threat, we created a new psychological atmosphere in which the use of force and military technology became a favored method for dealing with dissent of any kind. As Glenn writes:

The US Government - in the name of Terrorism - has aggressively para-militarized the nation's domestic police forces by lavishing them with countless military-style weapons and other war-like technologies, training them in war-zone military tactics, and generally imposing a war mentality on them. Arming domestic police forces with para-military weaponry will ensure their systematic use even in the absence of a Terrorist attack on US soil ... It's a very small step to go from supporting the abuse of defenseless detainees (including one's fellow citizens) to supporting the pepper-spraying and tasering of non-violent political protesters.

Why did that step turn out to be so small? Because of the countless decisions we made in years past to undermine our own attitudes toward the rule of law and individual rights. Every time we looked the other way when the president asked for the right to detain people without trials, to engage in warrantless searches, to eavesdrop on private citizens without even a judge knowing about it, we made it harder to answer the question: What is it we're actually defending?

In another time, maybe, we might have been able to argue that we were using force to defend the principles of modern Western civilization, that we were "spreading democracy."

Instead, we completely shat upon every principle we ever stood for, stooping to torture and assassination and extrajudicial detention.

From the very start we unleashed those despotic practices on foreigners, whom large pluralities of the population agreed had no rights at all. But then as time went on we started to hear about rendition and extralegal detention cases involving American citizens, too, though a lot of those Americans turned out to be Muslims or Muslim-sympathizers, people with funny names.

And people mostly shrugged at that, of course, just as they shrugged for years at the insane erosion of due process in the world of drug enforcement. People yawned at the no-knock warrants and the devastating parade of new consequences for people with drug convictions (depending on the state, losing the right to vote, to receive educational aid, to live in public housing, to use food stamps, and so on).

They didn't even care much about the too-innocuously-named new practice of "civil asset forfeiture," in which the state can legally seize the property of anyone, guilty or innocent, who is implicated in a drug investigation - a law that permits the state to unilaterally deem property to be guilty of a crime.

The population mostly blew off these developments, thinking that these issues only concerned the guilty, terrorists, drug dealers, etc. And they didn't seem to worry very much when word leaked out that the state had struck an astonishingly far-reaching series of new cooperative arrangements with the various private telecommunications industries. Nobody blinked when word came out that the government was now cheerfully pairing up with companies like AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth to monitor our phone and Internet activities.

Who cared? If you don't have anything to hide, the thinking went, it shouldn't bother you that the government might be checking your phone records, seeing what sites you've been visiting, or quietly distributing armored cars and submachine guns to every ass-end suburban and beyond-suburban police force in America.

We had all of these arguments in the Bush years and it's nothing new to assert that much of our population made a huge mistake in giving up so many of our basic rights to due process. What's new is that we're now seeing the political consequences of those decisions.

Again, when we abandoned our principles in order to use force against terrorists and drug dealers, the answer to the question, What are we defending? started to change.

The original answer, ostensibly, was, "We are defending the peaceful and law-abiding citizens of the United States, their principles, and everything America stands for."

Then after a while it became, "We're defending the current population of the country, but we can't defend the principles so much anymore, because they weigh us down in the fight against a ruthless enemy who must be stopped at all costs."

Then finally it became this: "We are defending ourselves, against the citizens who insist on keeping their rights and their principles."

What happened at UC Davis was the inevitable result of our failure to make sure our government stayed in the business of defending our principles. When we stopped insisting on that relationship with our government, they became something separate from us.

And we are stuck now with this fundamental conflict, whereby most of us are insisting that the law should apply equally to everyone, while the people running this country for years now have been operating according to the completely opposite principle that different people have different rights, and who deserves what protections is a completely subjective matter, determined by those in power, on a case-by-case basis.

Not to belabor the point, but the person who commits fraud to obtain food stamps goes to jail, while the banker who commits fraud for a million-dollar bonus does not. Or if you accept aid in the form of Section-8 housing, the state may insist on its right to conduct warrantless "compliance check" searches of your home at any time - but if you take billions in bailout aid, you do not even have to open your books to the taxpayer who is the de facto owner of your company.

The state wants to retain the power to make these subjective decisions, because being allowed to selectively enforce the law effectively means they have despotic power. And who wants to lose that?

The UC Davis incident crystallized all of this in one horrifying image. Anyone who commits violence against a defenseless person is lost. And the powers that be in this country are lost. They've been going down this road for years now, and they no longer stand for anything.

All that tricked-up military gear, with that corny, faux-menacing, over-the-top Spaceballs stormtrooper look that police everywhere seem to favor more and more - all of this is symbolic of the increasingly total lack of ideas behind all that force.

It was bad enough when we made police defend the use of torture and extrajudicial detention. Now they're being asked to defend mass theft, Lloyd Blankfein's bailout-paid bonus, the principle of Angelo Mozilo not doing jail time, and 28% credit card interest rates.

How strong can anyone defending those causes be? These people are weak and pathetic, and they're getting weaker. And boy, are they showing it. Way to gear up with combat helmets and the submachine guns, fellas, to take on a bunch of co-eds sitting Indian-style on a campus quad. Maybe after work you can go break up a game of duck-duck-goose at the local Chuck E Cheese. I'd bring the APC for that one.

Bravo to those kids who hung in there and took it. And bravo for standing up and showing everyone what real strength is. There is no strength without principle. You have it. They lost it. It's as simple as that.

 

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+99 # Kayjay 2011-11-22 18:00
Thanks for a great piece Matt. It's imperative that we all emulate the courage of of these college kids and demand an end to the police state and erosion of our civil rights. Right now, we have storm troopers pepper spraying American citizens like they were rose bushes. If the 99 percent remains mum on this one, can TANKS rolling our major cities be far off? OWS must persevere!
 
 
+59 # pernsey 2011-11-22 18:39
GO OWS!!!

Shame on those storm trooper rejects!!!
 
 
+64 # dloehr 2011-11-22 21:36
Let's see... Our government aids the corporate takeover of elections, environmental protection, etc. The police have become militarized so the only costume touch they lack are the brown shirts and SS labels. Mussolini called fascism "corporatism," saying they were the same thing. The government serves the corporations, while the citizens are beat into compliance. We're in a full-fledged American style of fascism. As you note, Matt, we've become numb to the angry and ugly beast our nation has become. Our presidents freely invade any country with oil, even replaying the same bogus rhetoric for the lusted-after invasion of Iran that they used for the invasion of Iraq. In this light, the OWS folks have become the heroic and principled opposition to cowardly and unprincipled actions by our government and police. We're in Germany, in the mid-1930s.
 
 
+28 # geohunt1 2011-11-22 21:40
Well said. Completely true. We will have to see if wrong-doers are appropriately punished.
 
 
+57 # Celt Glen 2011-11-22 21:56
I replied to my usual Obama emails asking for support...in my replies I stated; WHEN POTUS SPEAKS AGAINST POLICE BRUTALITY ON FREE SPEECH AND FREEDOM TO ASSEMBLE I WILL SEND YOU MORE MONEY----BUT NOT UNTIL THEN....YOU ARE LOOSING MY VOTE AND MY CONTRIBUTIONS.
 
 
+64 # luvdoc 2011-11-22 22:07
As I watched the impassive, helmeted robo-cop pepper spray those brave young students @ UC Davis I cried salty tears. As I watch those pathetic school officials scramble to diffuse & justify what their minions I want to throw up.

I swell with pride @ the power of OCCUPY.
 
 
+18 # shortonfaith 2011-11-22 22:32
Almost to horrifying to watch again. Leaders who allow this across America also rape 10 year old so college sports programs can bring in another S400 million. All of these leaders would just as soon rape their mothers as do the right thing. The real problem is that some money grabbing Nazi company convinced community leaders it was OK to treat citizens in this manner. Judges turn & look the other way on these actions because they've invested in prisons to hold citizens who only crime is believing they were free to stand up & be counted. The saddest part is none of these cops will go to jail & none of these leaders will be held accountable. Were are the screaming outraged voices of other leaders across America. Why hasn't some Governor stood up & cried; "You can protest here. We want good citizens like you brave kids in our towns & states."

There's still hard work to be done & we need hard hitters like Matt & Kieth out telling our side. Members of the true 4 estate. Not those want-to-be reporters spouting the corporate fight songs. Thanks again
 
 
+15 # Dave_s Not Here 2011-11-22 22:40
"If the 99 percent remains mum on this one, can TANKS rolling our major cities be far off?"

You can be sure that if the situation ever gets to the point that there is open rebellion, similar to what happened in China twenty or so years ago, TANKS WILL BE ROLLING in the streets of the cities. Those ignorant, mercenary thugs aren't going to give up control easily and it will be bloody.

I can only hope that the insurrection doesn't spill over the border into Canada, where I think I'm reasonably safe from the worst of what's coming to the USA.
 
 
+27 # balancingact 2011-11-23 00:51
I'd say Matt Taibbi does a good job at summarizing the alarming departure this country has taken from its Constitutional principles of justice and liberty. Why is State power instigating this control and repression? I suggest the government, with some exceptions, has abdicated its obligation to govern for the common good and is, instead, actively establishing an entrenched aristocracy.

Yet, the difference today- as compared to previous centuries when wealth was accumulated via vastly unequal class structure- is that the pursuit of wealth by corporations is bringing about unparalleled environmental breakdown. In the name of a "free market" economy, many corporate leaders/owners and politicians are obviously wrecking, polluting, impoverishing, and even brutalizing life- including depleting the prospects for future generations- so they can amass tens or hundreds of millions of dollars and sustain ludicrous expectations of luxury and wastefulness.

A democratic and just society cannot exist when only a segment of said society has usurped economic and political power disproportional ly for themselves. And no society can exist without a healthy environment. If the photo of a blue planet in space teaches anything, it's that we must live in balance with the Earth and life.








.
 
 
+9 # Firehawk70 2011-11-23 02:17
I think about a movie like Robocop where the police are corporate owned (like the multi-million dollar Chase bank payment to the NYPD), or V for Vendetta, or countless other dystopian hell flicks - and I think we never thought good old America could ever get that way.
 
 
+9 # mwd870 2011-11-23 05:07
Another great article, Matt. I hope some of those people up top are paying attention.
 
 
+6 # mwd870 2011-11-23 06:52
Also, point taken here:

"The population mostly blew off these developments, thinking that these issues only concerned the guilty, terrorists, drug dealers, etc. And they didn't seem to worry very much when word leaked out that the state had struck an astonishingly far-reaching series of new cooperative arrangements with the various private telecommunicati ons industries. Nobody blinked when word came out that the government was now cheerfully pairing up with companies like AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth to monitor our phone and Internet activities.

Who cared? If you don't have anything to hide, the thinking went, it shouldn't bother you that the government might be checking your phone records, seeing what sites you've been visiting, or quietly distributing armored cars and submachine guns to every ass-end suburban and beyond-suburban police force in America.

We had all of these arguments in the Bush years and it's nothing new to assert that much of our population made a huge mistake in giving up so many of our basic rights to due process. What's new is that we're now seeing the political consequences of those decisions."
 
 
+16 # lcarrier 2011-11-23 05:15
The violent police response to OWS protesters has ripped the scab off the wound inflicted on our republic by the military-indust rial-political elites. Now we stand bleeding for all the world to see.
 
 
+7 # MainStreetMentor 2011-11-23 06:08
Wall Street, and the Corporatocracy in general, feel over confident in their ability to hire mercenaries, including uniformed, civil servant employees (i.e., municipal police) to do their miscreant bidding. There seems something inherently wrong in allowing the hiring of employees of a municipal (or ANY) government to do the bidding of privatized businesses. It’s as if there is a conflict of interest – on the one hand, such uniformed police are supposed to protect and defend the citizenry – on the other, they are accepting fees to beat the daylights out of those same, peacefully protesting citizens. Is there any wonder police within the United States are NOT trusted by the populace?
 
 
+11 # LessSaid 2011-11-23 06:38
I think one of the biggest revelations that has been exposed is the erosion of individual and human rights in the U.S. and around the world. I think the 99%ers who are sitting on the sidelines who don't understand or agree with the OWS should at least be concern about their lack of freedom to express themselves publicly as an individual and/or with others. After all the Constitution does state that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, ofr prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grivances."

Which means any law and action that place a limitation on OWS or others to do so is unconstitutiona l. In some cases, the OWS many be breaking a law. But, the law is unlawful in the first place. From my experiences, a lot of Americas don't know what the first amendment says. Let alone what it really means. People need to start checking all laws against the Constitution and not let others tell them what is constitutinal. But, for now the first amendment shouldn't be just talked about, it should be in writing everywhere. If I had the money, it would be on bill boards everywhere.
 
 
0 # Jimboboy 2011-11-26 13:57
People should remember that the Juror is the supreme authority of US law and there are no laws that say that Jurors are required to give heed to anything a Judge tells them!
 
 
+13 # stonecutter 2011-11-23 06:58
Matt Taibbi hits another home run.

Notwithstanding his brilliance in thought and artful execution, his core message has been distilled countless times before by others. An essential problem, in the current grab bag of seemingly intractable flaws, is we're a nation that does not care to learn from past bad acts, mostly intentional, that have grossly distorted, let alone undermined our Constitution, so we're condemned to repeat them with amoral relish, contemptuous of the great mass of our peaceful citizens who are often brutalized in their wake.

A serial viewing at a wishful People's Film Festival of "Syriana", "Rendition", "Body of Lies", "The Kingdom" "Too Big to Fail", "The Company Men", "Inside Job" and "Margin Call", to name a few of the best, would provide all the education an informed, observant, thoughtful, responsible, concerned citizen needs to understand the steep (insurmountable ?) hole we've dug for ourselves as a nation of putatively superior due process, equality under the law and moral principles of fairness and justice.

Watching that prick cop and his drones arrogantly spray those peaceful kids with military-grade pepper spray designed to stop a grizzly in its tracks was enough to trash any moral superiority he or the power structure he represents may have claimed. The "rules" are once again being challenged at their core.
 
 
+10 # cordleycoit 2011-11-23 08:20
The problem is deeper than simply reworking a few bad laws.
The economic system has been tampered with so often that we have a feudal maze of privilege, custom and rigged markets. We must rethink economic theory it's self to defang the oligarchs and their mercenary armies before they finish enslaving the human experience.
 
 
+2 # Above God 2011-11-23 08:29
Obama will win reelection in 2012. The Republicans will go all in to elect a Jeb Bush type as a moderate choice in 2016. The corporatocracy will join forces with the police local,state and federal to form a fascist government that would make Hitler proud. We have to move on to the 2nd Amendment now and form local militias regulated from within to defeat the fascist swine that have overpowered the 1st Amendment right to peaceful freedom of assembly and protest. Seig Heil
 
 
+3 # Karlus58 2011-11-23 09:23
So who will protect us from the police?
 
 
+1 # Jimboboy 2011-11-26 13:54
The Bill of Rights says we must, thus the 2nd Amendment!
 
 
+1 # susienoodle 2011-11-24 08:49
I don't remember if anything happened to those cops who killed the students at Kent State, but I assume nothing did. It's only a matter of time until this current bunch of sadists kill a few Occupy WS protestors. Really tragic it will have to come to that before we do what is long overdue. Our jails are overcrowded, but I think we can make room for that horrible pepper spray bully.
 
 
+4 # John Locke 2011-11-24 12:52
It wasn't Cops it was the National Guard with Live Amunition against peaceful protestors, it happened a few days later at Jackson State and 2 more peaceful students were killed...Nothin g happened to the guardsman
 
 
+2 # mtravis 2011-11-24 23:21
I would like to see the OWS come up with a focused slogan like: "STOP THE WARS, FEED THE PEOPLE, SAVE THE EARTH" US military spending is more than all countries of the world combined. Bring that money home to FEED THE PEOPLE. The military industrial complex sends it's profits to the 1% while being the biggest polluters on earth. It will be the toughest battle to outwit them but it must be done if we are to SAVE THE EARTH!
Winning this battle will require laser like focus that can't be co-opted. Just saying what we are mad about is not enough. I believe that many on the sidelines will rally to a clearly stated focus.
 
 
+2 # 777PIC 2011-11-25 16:53
How ironic our politicians including President Obama condemn violence against peaceful protestors in Iran, Syria and elsewhere.
These criminal thugs dressed as policemen reminds us of the Basijis during Green Revolution in Iran!
That coward right wing criminal bastard Lt. Pike should be tried for violating those heroic student's civil rights.
I'd like to see how tough he is as Mr. Bubba's new wife and without his gun and "storm trooper" costume!
 
 
-2 # Jimboboy 2011-11-26 13:51
I hated Bush at the time, still do, but long for the days when Gas was under $1/gallon and a pound of bacon could be had for $2! Obama is no friend of the poor, which is he is a closet racist.
 
 
+3 # Lola007 2011-11-26 16:45
I can't believe what I have just seen how dare you do that to people who are sitting there quiet making no problems just protesting some thing they believe in and you ass holes come a long and pull a cheap shot like that.
Then you ask why we hate you well you just answered your own question.
 
 
+2 # Vegan_Girl 2011-11-27 04:50
Those who sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither - and will get neither.

The only real security is in shared prosperity. We now have a long difficult struggle ahead of us to reclaim our democracy.

Matt Taibbi, keep up the great work!
 

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