Violence against peaceful protesters–a federal crime?

So far I have not been able to get past the still image of the latest shocking example of police violence inflicted on unresisting young people.

I don’t need to watch the students begin to writhe and cry out in pain, I don’t have to hear the gasps of the onlookers or the shouts of the cops as the situation shifts suddenly from quiet resistance to chaotic disarray.  My imagination can set it all in motion, without the aid of video.

But the video was shot, and is now making its viral way around the Web, just like those shocking images, from not very long ago, of the abused prisoners in Abu Ghraib.

There too, what was striking was the imbalance of power–the heavily armed and aggressively clothed military police, against unarmed, and, in the case of Abu Ghraib, naked civilians, whose only crime, in most cases, was being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

At both UC Davis and Abu Ghraib, the victims may have lacked firepower, but they have something even more potent on their side: the moral outrage of the onlookers.  Once those moments of violation are caught on film and sent out into cyberspace, it doesn’t take long for public opinion to rise up against such an obvious abuse of power.

I am always curious, in a morbid sort of way, about the mentality of the perpetrators of this kind of violence.  Are they the grown-up version of the 7th grade bully, who takes pleasure in making other kids squirm?  Has their capacity for empathy been dulled or extinguished?  Are they simply sick, psychopathic sadists?

If any of these are the case, how could we have entrusted the crucial job of maintaining social order–otherwise known as policing–to such people?

The same old boys’ club that protected Jerry Sandusky and the Catholic priest pedophiles all those years is a strong force in the military and the police forces.  But at some point an individual will push things too far, and the club will no longer be able to protect him.  Thus Charles Graner, the mastermind behind the Abu Ghraib abuses, was eventually thrown in prison himself, and the officer who took it upon himself to casually pepper-spray those innocent UC Davis students has been suspended.

Nobody in the U.S. wants to see an eruption here of the kind of civil violence that overtook Egypt, Yemen, Libya, and so many other countries where civilians have been pitted against police or soldiers deployed by government officials who cared more about their own power than about the rights of their citizens.

Here in the U.S., we simply want to be able to exercise our constitutional right to peaceably gather in public places to express our political views.

Any city, state or federal government official who inflicts violence on such a peaceful gathering is guilty not only of a serious human rights violation, but also of violating the U.S. Constitution.

Last time I looked, this was a federal crime.

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