Monday, November 28, 2011

Would we in Illinois regard the meme-d pepper-spray cop as the victim?

It’s the Chicagoan in me that caused a certain reaction to a CNN report I saw Sunday morning – one about how people are taking the image of  a police officer using pepper spray on students at a University of California campus and spreading it all across the Internet.
Who thinks cop is the victim? Image provided by

How many people here believe that the police officer (since identified as Lt. John Pike) is the victim in all of this, and that the people who are creating such images are somehow doing him wrong?

BECAUSE THAT CERTAINLY is the attitude that is spawned by Illinois law. I’m referring to the law that says that people who take video of police officers in action without their advance knowledge and consent are committing a crime.

If this had happened in Illinois, I’m fairly sure that someone would want to believe that the person who took the original images that are now being doctored-up into everything from a police officer spraying Bambi to Jesus Christ himself at the Last Supper would be worthy of prosecution.

Personally, I have always thought the Illinois law against such images was some sort of gross overreaction by conservative ideologues who don’t want anything done by their police to be used against him.

Even, and perhaps in particular, images of a police lieutenant using pepper spray to knock the sense out of Occupy Wall Street-type protesters who were peacefully sitting.

MY REACTION TO the Sunday morning news report was to wonder how quickly the state’s attorney’s office in Cook County would have sought to prosecute somebody for taking the image – had it involved the Chicago versions of the “Occupy” protesters and had it occurred in our fair city?

Which to me is such a gross over-reaction. Yet it is in character with the way that similar cases have been handled by police in Chicago. And I’m wondering how many people will want to believe that this is somehow disrespectful toward law enforcement personnel in general.

I know that some people are going to claim that this type of commentary is, in and of itself, somehow disrespectful or anti-law enforcement. Even though I do not believe it to be.

It is just that I have always thought that law enforcement personnel of all types should be held to a higher standard than the masses of our society. We do, after all, give these people considerable power to make judgment calls in cases that can result in the arrest and detention of individuals.

IF ANYTHING, A part of me wishes that it were possible for every single moment of a police officer’s on-duty activity to be video-taped. Perhaps if police realized that we were watching and that their professional conduct would be assessed in a blow-by-blow nature, there would be fewer incidents of official misconduct.

Actually, such an attitude could go to the benefit of the police, since if we could see them in action we might well gain respect for those incidents where they manage to show professional restraint in the handling of an individual whose own conduct crosses the line into “despicable.”

It also would serve as further evidence in their own cases – since I have seen in court proceedings how much credibility video gets from people where they can see what, and how, something actually happened.

But for that credibility to be maintained, we really can’t have a situation where police control the cameras and can keep us from seeing the screw-ups that occur all too often.

SO WHAT DO I think of the CNN report that was one of the first images I woke up to on Sunday morning?

I thought it was a bit trivial – and little more than an excuse to put on the air some image of Spongebob Squarepants getting blasted in the face with pepper spray.

But sometimes, it is the trivial details that, when put together, can illustrate a larger point of some seriousness. And the idea that our laws somehow would elevate triviality to criminal status makes me wonder how long it will be until the people put pressure on such laws to change.

Because the current law on such videotaping (particularly at a time when our society has become one where real people have less and less privacy) is one that only the 1 percent of society could truly support because they think it will be unleashed on the other 99 percent of us.


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