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Code Pinky and the Brain

This video shows adorably dressed Code Pink members being knocked down or grabbed by police officers at the Denver convention.

The Denver convention is high drama. There are protesters there is pageantry. Michell is an unalloyed patriot with nothing bad to say about the US (save perhaps the Bush administration). Hillary wants to see us united. PUMA wants a delegate-led coup.

The Denver police have special holding areas with metal cages and barbed wire containment areas. If we could jack into cyberspace rather than dialing it up on our iPhones it'd be William Gibson's nightmare future come true. And what do we have here? Code-Pink (named after the terror-threat color codes) getting (arguably) hit with a baton!

What's The Do We See?
Firstly let's look at the film-clip. It begins "en media res"--we can hear shouting and it fades in to show us a cop getting into a police golf-cart(?). We can hear people chanting and we can hear the woman (Alicia Forrest) say "do it again!" The policeman calls her a bitch (as far as I can tell) and gives her a hard smacking push with his baton--she goes down.

There's a scatter of debris and people gather around. She doesn't get up then--but after the cut we see her giving an interview when a police "snatch team" grabs her and hustles her away from the cameras.

What Don't We See
Whatever precipitated the smack. Certainly it was on film and for whatever reason the videographer decided not to show it. We also do not see Forrest get up--although according to this the video is chronological: she was standing and giving an interview later on.

Code Pink is known for disruptive behavior--one of their hallmarks is being arrested and provoking a response. Here's what I think.

Did The Cop Strike Her? My analysis is no. It was a hard push. I believe that both hands pushed rather than one hand turning the stick and the the other pushing hard (as with a strike). Furthermore, if the officer had hit her as hard as it is possible to hit someone with a similar move she would have suffered at least a moderate injury. She appeared uninjured later in the piece.

What Are The Police Doing Grabbing Her!? One of my first drills with the National Guard was crowd-control. In this situation key agitators can be taken into custody. The video shows near-perfect execution of this: a shield-wall of officers moves forward clearing a way to the person. It breaks and the "grab team" goes in and takes the person, pulling them back behind the rapidly closing wall (in this case, as the people are not rioting, they don't need shields and gear). The person is cuffed or otherwise restrained and the whole team moves back to a controlled area.

It looks bad--it's standard operating procedure.

Is it excessive use of force? I am not an expert in this--but I believe the answer is "yes." If she is seen as being actively disruptive--of increasing tensions and potential for harm in the area then the police are within their rights to arrest her. They are also within their rights to remove her from the vicinity ("Move away from the vehicle.")

This must start with escalation: verbal, soft hand, heavy hand, and then the use of a weapon. I believe that a push with the stick may qualify as "heavy hand" which would be an improper escalation. However, the officer, I believe, was within his rights to physically move her back. I think he would have needed to try to take her and simply escort her away from the vehicle. If she resisted that, he could escalate.

Why'd She Fall Down Like That? If you are in a resistance situation and you are hit you will be told to fall down. There are two reasons for this: (1) it prevents you from being struck again, immediately, harder and (2) it looks better on the cameras if you fall down rather than simply backing up. Furthermore, if the police try to arrest you, if you are prone you are harder and more time consuming to handle.

In short, we can learn very little from the video of her falling. For my money? It was a hard shove and it might have knocked her down regardless of the strategy. I highly doubt that she would be unable to just get back up.

My Take
We will have to see what Code Pink's response is. There is a chance that she was seriously injured while in custody or my analysis of the video is wrong. Apparently she is still in jail at the time of this writing and we won't know if there was damage until later. If she was hurt then there's a problem: no matter how annoying she was, if the police are provoked into causing her real harm, then there is a leadership problem that must be addressed and disciplined.

That said, I believe that clashing with police on camera as was done here is a very poor approach to civil disobedience. I am not especially authoritarian and my sympathizes were not with Code Pink--they were with the crew that has to deal with them and their disruption.

In short, while this was presented to me (via IM) as something horrific, I don't find much to object to here--a protester provokes a police response and gets it. Everyone ought to go home happy!




( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 28th, 2008 01:19 am (UTC)
Did The Cop Strike Her? My analysis is no. It was a hard push.

In hockey what he did is called a "cross check", and doing it to a beefy armored male opponent who also has his own stick will get you at least 2 minutes in the penalty box and possibly a suspension of some sort -- even if it's "provoked".

Why'd She Fall Down Like That?

Unless that video is sped up, I think that F=ma is a perfectly legitimate explanation.

a protester provokes a police response and gets it. Everyone ought to go home happy!

While I'm not claiming that the police shouldn't have *any* response I do have to wonder if this particular response was appropriate.

It's very dangerous to assume that "she had it coming" and/or "she wanted that to happen to make the cops look bad". What could she have done that could have *deserved* that response? She didn't have any weapon in her hand, so even a physical assault on the (armored) officer might be too close to the line.

Anything short of that (including yelling, spitting, or refusing to move) is, in my opinion, is not nearly enough to warrant an attack that could have easily caused real harm (broken arm, broken ribs, punctured lung, whiplash). Note that it doesn't matter whether she *did* get injured; the fact that there's a significant *possibility* of injury means that we have to control when such force is allowed.

When you give an authority figure permission to use force (and indeed reward them for doing so), then you have to make absolutely sure that they're held to higher standards of judgment when using that force. If their judgment lapses, you must correct it. Otherwise, you've created a bully.
Aug. 28th, 2008 01:47 pm (UTC)
I agree that the dude ramped it up too fast. As to the why she fell-down question it was more about her laying on the ground in the fetal position than the actual fall. I mean, it was probably enough to *get* her down--but I suspect she could've got right back up.

I also agree about the "bully" aspect--but I think that in the face of carefully honed provocation this isn't quite the shocking case of police brutality it could be.

Again it comes back to what you don't see: whatever was cut before the single act. I suspect that'll tell us things Code Pink doesn't want us to know.

Aug. 28th, 2008 03:53 pm (UTC)
This event was so far from actual police brutality that I don't understand why it is even being talked about.
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )