Jesse Hagopian is an award-winning history teacher at Garfield High School, an author, an outspoken activist, and a leader of the fight against excessive school testing. And yesterday, near the end of the MLK Day march, he was assaulted by Seattle Police without provocation.
— Jesse Hagopian (@JessedHagopian) January 20, 2015
As Hagopian explains in further detail on his Facebook page:
I was marching for Martin Luther King day today–amazing march! At one point after the big main march, group of bike cops set up a line to keep us from marching. Some people walked through the line, but I didn’t. When my phone rang, I turned away from the cops and began walking away to answer the phone. A cop then ran up in my face and pepper sprayed me right in the face. The milk has helped a lot and I’m beginning to feel better. Wish we had a better world.
Hagopian is a public figure of sorts, a fixture at social justice rallies and protests, and a relatively frequent subject of media coverage. He’s not known to be violent in any way, but he is known to be a leader. So not having seen the incident, here’s my bit of informed conjecture as to what might have happened: The police recognized him, saw him reach for his phone, and suspected he might be organizing activities on the ground. So they disabled him.
That’s right. My guess is that the police pepper sprayed Hagopian in order to prevent him from using his phone.
I suppose it’s possible the officer in question is just an asshole who indiscriminately assaulted Hagopian for no apparent reason (or an asshole who recognized Hagopian and saw an opportunity to assault him just because), but in any case, the point is that once again an officer assaulted an innocent person and got away with it.
And yes, pepper spraying somebody in the face is assault. If I were to walk up to you and pepper spray you in the face, I would be charged with assault. And if I were to walk up to a Seattle police officer and pepper spray him in the face I would certainly be charged with assaulting a police officer (assuming I survived the encounter). But police have learned from experience that they have near absolute impunity to pepper spray anybody, with no legal consequences whatsoever. It’s gotten to the point where they even laugh about it. Pepper spray—It’s funny! Ha-ha!
Note that the officer didn’t run up to Hagopian and punch him in the face. That would have left a mark. He would’ve had to then arrest Hagopian and charge him with something (usually resisting arrest and/or assaulting a police officer) in order to avoid facing charges of his own—which, you know, is a hassle. So he pepper sprayed him.
And yes, I can only presume that Hagopian was innocent of any legal transgression, based on the fact that he was neither arrested nor charged. Which raises a related issue: The stunning number of citizens who are pepper sprayed (i.e. assaulted) by police and charged with absolutely nothing. No arrest. No charges. Nada. Because under our current rules of engagement, you apparently don’t have to engage in illegal behavior, present a danger to yourself or others, or refuse to comply with a legal order to be assaulted by the police. The caustic chemical burning your eyes is evidence enough that you were a valid target.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not totally opposed to pepper spray. I fully support its use as an alternative to deadly force. But its lazy and indiscriminate use as a means of crowd control or for forcing compliance from peaceful citizens should be a fucking crime.