Please, Do Not Pepper Spray My Grandmother

by ursavoice

Ryan Graham
J.D. Candidate 2013, UCI Law

    From students to seniors, it seems like everybody is getting pepper sprayed these days. I have never been to a public protest (unless you consider a pride festival a public protest). I do not know how it feels to be told to vacate an area where I believe my presence is lawful, and my purpose is noble. Thankfully, I also do not know how it feels to be assaulted by police with pepper spray. However, I do know that capricious use of such crowd-control devices ignores the golden rule many of our grandmothers taught us: do unto others, as you would have them do unto you.

    Police in Seattle sprayed an 84-year-old woman, someone’s grandmother, with pepper spray at an Occupy protest on November 16. Granted, pepper spray can be an excellent less-than-lethal law enforcement tool. Like Tasers and sticky foam, pepper spray can even save lives. Police can incapacitate a brutish, would-be assailant instead of shooting the poor thug dead. Ideally, this saves the life of the officer and the life of the attacker. The aversion of a net loss of life is a net gain for all! But using pepper spray to incapacitate a 4’10” grandmother is disproportionate, unjustified, and mean.

    Unfortunately, the purpose of less-than-lethal weapons is being forgotten. The linguistic history of pepper spray’s less effective sibling, mace, is instructive. “Mace” is homographic to a whimsical medieval weapon: a large club covered in spikes. To the extent that these sprays are substitutes for guns and large, medieval, spike-covered clubs, police should be as reluctant to pepper spray a grandmother as they hopefully would be to shoot or club her.

    So, what does capricious use of pepper spray gain? My angst.

    In fact, it makes me question whether the use of pepper spray is motivated, not by fear of danger, but by distaste for protestors’ political agendas. Police did not pepper spray members of the Westboro Baptist Church when they protested Mathew Shepard’s funeral; nor do police pepper spray them when they protest military funerals (although a civilian has tried). Members of the Tea Party do not get pepper sprayed. Is this because their messages are less progressive?

I do not actually know how police decide which protesters to pepper spray, or at which protests. But, I do know that I have a grandmother. She is delightful, pays her taxes on time, has never been to jail, and has an American flag in her back yard. The direction of our nation upsets her. However, she is a conservative. So, police, before you pepper spray someone’s progressive grandmother at the next Occupy protest, think about whether you would pepper spray mine, and whether you would like it if I pepper sprayed yours.

    Please, remember the golden rule and don’t pepper spray anyone’s grandmother.