An Important Video to Watch: Pepper-Spray by a Cruel and Cowardly NYC Cop

(Update below.) Unless there is something faked about this video, which is on the New York Times' City Room site and is based on annotation and slow-mo apparently from USLaw.com, a uniformed New York City police officer abused power in a way that was cruel and cowardly during yesterday's Wall Street protests. It's worth the time to watch.
 

He walks up; unprovoked he shoots Mace or pepper spray straight into the eyes of women held inside a police enclosure; he turns and walks away quickly (as they scream, wail, and fall to the ground clawing at their eyes) in a way familiar from hitmen in crime movies; and he discreetly reholsters his spray can.

You may have already seen this. If you haven't, it is worth knowing about. If this is what it looks like, it is outrageous. The mayor and others should say something. And this man can certainly be identified.
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Update: according to the NYT, the chief police spokesman, Paul Browne, said that the policeman used pepper spray "appropriately." Great. On the video we can't hear what either side is saying. But at face value, the casualness of the officer who saunters over, sprays right in the women's eyes, and then slinks away without a backward glance, as if he'd just put down an animal, does not match my sense of "appropriate" behavior by officers of the law in a free society.

Think about it: If this were part of some concerted, "appropriate" crowd-control plan, then presumably the pepper-spray officer would have talked with the other policemen trying to control the women. He would have stayed on the scene; he had done something dramatic to affect a situation, so -- again, if this were "appropriate" -- presumably he would have talked with the other officers about what to do next. But look at that video and see what seems "appropriate" to you.

Police officers make countless hard decisions every day, often at the risk of their own safety or lives. It's a harder job than I have. But everything about this scene suggests an officer who has forgotten about some of these hard choices. He just zaps 'em and walks away as they scream.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.

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