This remarkable video of the Occupy Davis incident—in which a line of armed cops responds to students sitting on the ground and refusing to leave by pepper spraying them as if they were insects—reveals the growing moral force of the popular movement and why the ruling elites are increasingly alarmed.
You can almost read the mind of this poor mook cop, guns and equipment dangling off him at every angle: uppity civilians are refusing to obey my order; therefore, I will assert my authority in the easiest, most effective possible way. No doubt he’s been at a dozen training courses sponsored by Homeland Security or the anti-terrorist network and long ago lost any sense of what policing is supposed to be about or how democratic societies are theoretically different from thug dictatorships.
The students, however, were not so easily intimidated and promptly performed what could become a defining moment of Occupy history. They began to chant, ‘Shame on you!’ and faced the cops down, even pushing them back. This was a brilliant, intuitive discovery of the moral force of righteousness, and Occupiers should replay it on the sides of buildings from coast to coast. The cops suddenly lose their bearings entirely: one moment they think they’re the revered guardians of public order; the next they’re exposed as bullies. Their faces tell it all: they don’t know if maybe the kids aren’t right.
I am reminded of a similar although much more vicious incident during my years reporting from Chile during the Pinochet dictatorship. Shortly after the notorious degollados murders (the word means, ‘those whose throats were cut’), there was a memorial ceremony in the main Santiago cemetery for the three victims. These were high-ranking Communist Party leaders who were snatched off the streets—in one case as the man was leaving his children at school—and later found dead in a field near the airport.
Memorials such as these were always swarming with heavily armed cops desperately trying to provoke any sort of incident so that they could start cracking heads and hauling people in. (The corrupt press would then blame the victims for starting ‘violence.’) Family members in attendance often had lost relatives to the torture dungeons of the regime or had them disappear never to be seen again. So the rage and resentment was right on the surface, and the attendees had to exercise enormous self-control to avoid giving the goons an excuse.
One of the dead men came from a well-known artist family, and his father, Roberto Parada, began to read a poem, which was entitled, ‘Ode to a Vile Bastard’ while his mother, the stage actress María Maluenda, and the widow, Estela Ortiz, looked on. The cops confidently circulated through the crowd, jostling the mourners and ready to pounce. But Parada just kept reading his screed against the regime and by extension those of its enforcers present, despite the vast imbalance of weaponry and ostensible power. It was an inspiring moment. Then Estela Ortiz then took the stage and let loose a volley of defiant denunciation that I only wish I had had the presence of mind to record. She was utterly fearless and directed her words right into the faces of the cops, cursing them as animals and cowardly thugs of a corrupt regime.
Little by little, the cops began to fall back. The looks on their faces were exactly what we see in the Davis video: surprise, then guilty shock. They suddenly saw themselves for what they were: armed goons harassing the mourning families of the civilian victims of the state that paid them.
Occupy’s radicalism is, in my opinion, precisely there: it is turning the tables on the smug exploiters and making it no longer cool for them to sit atop the pyramid flashing their filthy fortunes. Bankers are no longer the smartest, the hippest, the cleverest, the guys to meet, the A list with the hot babes—they are quickly becoming pariahs, and this, more than anything, will undermine their cozy get-rich-quick schemes.