There has been a lot of discussion about the excessive force used by law enforcement officers at various instantiations of the now iconic “Occupy Wall Street” movement, but one voice offers an insightful and unique perspective that will be difficult to find elsewhere. Professor Tobian Winwright teaches theological ethics at St. Louis University, and before he began his academic career he had a career in law enforcement. He is someone whose view reflects intimate knowledge of what it’s like to be charged with keeping the peace and ensuring the safety of local citizens, while also having a rich knowledge and command of the Christian moral theological tradition. Here is, in part, what he had to say about the police action in recent weeks, it was published in the Huffington Post.
As a theological ethicist who also used to work in law enforcement, I feel obligated to comment on the latest incident involving police using pepper spray on Occupy Wall Street protesters. Garance Franke-Ruta over at The Atlantic provides, I think, a fair account of this, including most recently the incident at the University of California-Davis. In my view, based on the videos and the reports available to date, the spraying of kneeling students by Lt. John Pike was unjustified; it was excessive force and an example of police brutality. Most law enforcement officers are pepper-sprayed as part of their training so that they know what it feels like whenever they use it (plus, often when it is employed, some blows onto the officer, so s/he had be prepared beforehand for what it feels like). I remember being out of commission for a whole day following being sprayed directly in the face during training — it is very painful and incapacitating. Indeed, Fox’s Megyn Kelly should try it before making the silly comment that it’s “a food product, essentially.”
He goes on to address both the issue of proportionality and excessive force, as well as address the protesters, encouraging them to strongly embrace nonviolent action. He tells the protesters: “Be creative. Employ humor,” in an effort to mitigate heightened emotions at protest sites. He also makes the key point that these police officers and other law enforcement officials are not the Wall Street tycoons against whom these protests are staged, but oftentimes women and men who do not make very much money at all and are in a similarly distressed situation in which the protesters find themselves.
To read the rest of the article go to, “Protests, Police, and Pepper Spray: Nothing to Sneeze At.”