Sunday, November 20, 2011

Close to home

Why is it that, of all of the Occupy activities that have gone on for the past two months, the pepper-spraying of peaceful UC Davis students strikes me so much more strongly than any other?

The extremity of the incident is hard to ignore: riot-geared police officers, decked in body armor and military weaponry, approach and attack unarmed and peaceful demonstrators seated in a position of pure passivity. Whether or not you agree with the reasons for the protest (I do, but I'm certain some of my readers do not), the level of force used against the sitting students is clearly out of proportion by several orders of magnitude.

The diffidence of the university administrators (in particular, UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi) is as striking. Afterward she is coolly dismissive of the protestors, adopting a detached and thoroughly establishmentarian "well, that's what happens when you don't do as you're told" stance in the wake of the attack.

The immediacy (and ubiquity) of the images plays a part, too: they're arresting and unavoidable...and every video of the attack clearly shows a dozen or more others actively filming the incident, a self-replicating postmodernist pastiche of views, every one showcasing unmitigated brutality.

All of these aspects of the attack factor into its effect on me, but I think what's most striking to me is how similar the students attacked are to my own. How easily those Davis kids could be the ones who come to my classes, who hang out with me in the Math Lab, who joke with me in the hall and who ride with me to conferences! How easily my kids could have been the ones writhing in agony as they gasp for breath and when they finally find it spend several hours coughing up blood! They're interchangeable. I find myself putting my students' faces over those of the kids in the video clips, and I shudder.

I wonder: how differently would my own institution have responded to actions like those of the peaceful students at UC Davis?

No comments: