US police officers violently confronted anti-corporatism protesters camping on the UC Davis campus on Friday, spraying chemical irritant on students that were sitting on the ground.
Many UC Davis alumni, staff, students, and faculty have expressed outrage over the incident.
Press TV has conducted an interview with journalist and human rights campaigner, Stefan Simanowitz, to further explore the issue.
The video offers the opinions of two additional guests: Don Debar, an anti-war activist, and Paul Sheldon Foote who is a professor at California State University. The following is a rush transcription of the interview:
Press TV: Now Stefan, let’s look at the law enforcement side of this. One law enforcement official called the use of force “fairly standard police procedure.” Another said pepper spray is a “compliance tool” that can be used on subjects who do not resist.
How justified has the use of force become throughout the Occupy protests in the US, because you are a human rights campaigner? What do you think about this?
Simanowitz: Well, I mean obviously force is going to be used in situations where police have been ordered by the city in New York or wherever to move protestors away, but it’s the question of excessive force which is the issue here.
I think police need to exercise restraint in such situations, the protestors are angry, that is why they are out on the street, but they are very committed to peaceful protests and I think the images that we are seeing of police, as you say, spraying people at point blank range, beating people and it is not just students who have been beaten.
On a campus, there were members of a faculty; there was a Pulitzer Prize winning writer, in Seattle there was an 84 years old woman that was sprayed on the face and these people become kind of the martyrs, the victims and people are watching.
I was in Zuccotti Park; I was in New York, about a month ago. One of the people I met there had watched footage of people being sprayed in the face and that is why he comes down to Zuccotti Park and then he joined the march and was arrested with the 700 people on Brooklyn Bridge.
He was telling me, as he came out of the prison, he realized his commitment to the cause; his support for the cause had transformed into commitment. I think this is what happens when we see images like these, people do get engaged.
Press TV: Stefan, speaking about when a government faces something like this, the US government is facing this huge movement, with a broad range of demands, is it taking the proper approach about it?
Speaking about the mainstream media, speaking about how it is dealing with the encampments, what do you think would have been the proper way that the government should have dealt with this protest movements, if it hasn’t dealt with it in the proper way?
Simanowitz: I think the way it is dealing with it is actually backfiring. As we saw on Thursday, we had the biggest demonstration in New York, over 30,000 people marching to Foley Square, and a lot of public anger and a lot of very bad publicity as well and a very sympathetic media in many ways.
Also a lot of support, not just from the mainstream of the public, but also among politicians and celebrities and academics, even President Obama himself has talked about how the movement is expressing legitimate frustrations.
I think it is interesting to see how the movement has shifted the political topography, not just in America, I know we are focusing on America now but on the day after that the protestors were moved from Zuccotti Park, the protectors in Saint Paul’s Cathedral here in London were served with eviction notices.
That is going to take a little time to go through the High Court, but at the same time, it’s no coincidence that the protestors across America and in London are facing attempts by governments who are supporting the corporations.
One of the things we are talking about in terms of the wide range of people, there was one very cohesive thing that brings the people together and that is anger at corporate greed, at government mismanagement and about inequality.
I think these are the thing that people are challenging and it is not about a list of demands; it is about opening a space where people can think about alternatives and it is about a democratic awakening, changing the way that our country and globally how the world is run because something is not working and I think that there needs to be change and this is a very clear expression of that.
Press TV: Stefan, you said earlier in your remarks that President Obama has been acknowledging that a lot of the demands that people are making are legitimate, and a lot of observers have been saying that maybe this is going to give the Democrats a second chance to aligned themselves with the protest movements. What is your opinion on that?
Simanowitz: Well, obviously next year is an election year in America, so it is going to play quite heavily, but it is not so much about what the occupation movements are doing, it is more about what the economy is doing and what the people are demanding because the occupation movement is not a political party, it doesn’t have a list of demands, it doesn’t have a spokesperson; it is about expressing frustration, it is about exploring alternatives and that is in fact what they are doing.
If you go down to the movements in London or in Madrid, or if you had been able to go to Zuccotti Park when they were still there, what you will find is working groups discussing the alternatives, looking outweighs of challenging the system about influencing politics about introducing some more fairness, making sure that the regulators, who regulate the industries, are properly independent, making sure of that.
But one thing I would say is that you cannot evict an idea and that is one of the things that they are saying and that this movement is much more about camping in parks and the ideas and the frustrations that it is expressing are not going to go away any time soon.