Pepper Spray Is the New Shark Attack

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The national pick-up of the story of a 14-year-old high school student pepper-spraying her Harlem classmates seems to be following the same pattern as the media fascinations with turning other horrible though random events into a trend.  The Winter of Pepper Spray, which doesn't have quite the same ring as Summer of the Shark, but we're ready. The Harlem report follows on the heels of that shopper pepper-spraying her competition in a Wal-Mart Black Friday scrum. Neither attack have any direct evidence of "inspiration" by pepper spraying cops at Occupy Wall Street protests, and it's really hard to know right now whether the use of pepper spray has actually picked up nationwide, or if we're just experiencing a moment of fascination with the stuff after so many high-profile pepper-spraying incidents. It sure looks like the summer of 2001, when shark attack stories became all the rage after a nasty July attack in Florida, even though there was no actual uptick in attacks. Pepper spray has been around for a long time, it's pretty easy to buy, and people frequently misuse it. 

Back in 2009, a bunch of high school students using pepper spray on each other was relegated to the New York Post's crime blotter: "A melee broke out yesterday in a Fordham high-school lunchroom when students began attacking one another with pepper spray, authorities said. As many as 31 kids were involved in the fracas at 12:53 p.m. at Theodore Roosevelt HS. Several were taken to hospitals, officials said." But today it's a surefire way to get a story into the national news cycle, so we expect to see more of these in the coming weeks.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.