Mimesis Law
20 July 2019

Police In Pawtucket Pepper Spray Student Protestors

Oct. 9, 2015 (Mimesis Law) — There’s dispute over whether the protest from William Tolman High School students was peaceful or violent and “threatening” to police.  There’s a dispute over whether the video that shows a 14-year-old William Tolman student getting slammed to the ground is an act of police brutality or an officer attempting to subdue two out of control children.  What isn’t in dispute is the Pawtucket, Rhode Island police department’s decision to pepper spray a crowd of teenage protesters.

Police broke up a protest at a high school Thursday by pepper-spraying teens and arresting some of them.

Police arrested two adults and eight teenagers and even more were pepper-sprayed in a protest that was sparked by a video, which shows a Pawtucket police officer using a takedown move.

That “takedown move,” shown in the video that sparked the protest, looks remarkably similar to the one used on Gyasi Hughes.  Maybe school resource officers in Texas and Rhode Island are exchanging notes on the best way to violently throw a kid to the floor. The video was enough to cause an uproar with the William Tolman student body, who decided to organize a protest the next day.

Around 8 a.m. Thursday, about 40 or 50 students gathered across the street from Tolman, some carrying handmade signs, to protest the alleged mistreatment of the 14-year-old. At some point, police said, a student pulled a fire alarm inside the school, and students flooded out of the building and made their way to Roosevelt Avenue, across from City Hall and the Police Department, which are a short distance from the school.

Pawtucket Mayor Don Grebien did make an attempt to speak with the protestors, asking the children and parents involved to “put their trust” in him. “I’m going to listen to you,” he said, as if that would  ameliorate the entire problem.

The mayor later stood on the sidewalk across from City Hall and listened to students’ and parents’ concerns about what they said was police mistreatment. The mayor assured them that “their points were heard.”

The students “were concerned about what they saw on the video,” Grebien said during a news conference Thursday evening. “Sometimes it can look worse than it really is.”

I am at a loss when attempting to understand how choking a child and slamming one to the floor looks “worse than it really is.”  No matter how you paint your political narrative, it’s still a cop grabbing a child and tossing him to the floor.  That’s the beauty of video.  But kudos to the mayor for at least attempting to validate the concerns of the protesters.

Then someone broke a window, and that’s when the First Rule of Policing kicked in.

One of the students smashed the window of a car parked across from the police station, leaving glass shattered on the street, the police said. Officers then rushed outside. Some people in the group were spitting at and threatening officers, the police said, and one of the officers used pepper spray on several people in the crowd. The arrests followed on charges that included vandalism, resisting arrest, disorderly conduct and threat to a public official.

A group of kids weren’t using their nice words with officers.  A window was broken.  Maybe a cop was spit on.  There was no imminent threat here that required the use of a less-lethal device on children.  But the cops decided their lives were in imminent danger, and something needed to be done so those kids would go about their business and the cops could get home for dinner.  Hence, unleash the pepper spray.

Since the incident has now made national headlines, and the ACLU has issued a statement condemning the actions of last Wednesday and Thursday, Pawtucket officials are beginning the process of hand-wringing over the debacle.  An “inquiry” will be launched, and the government officials involved will be “transparent” in that process.  There is a good possibility we might even hear of an apology from the mayor’s office.  Someone might even admit they made a “mistake” if this matter escalates further.

None of this is going to change the fact that children arrested in this incident will have to face juvenile delinquency charges for every arrest made. There could be fines, probation and court costs extracted as the Pawtucket Police Department’s pound of flesh for those kids who wouldn’t comply with law enforcement demands to just “go away.” Many of the children involved in the protests will more than likely be told to just admit they were guilty to get let off with a stern warning in a juvenile court delinquency proceeding.

The ACLU’s statement sums the problems up nicely for the entire series of unfortunate events on Thursday and Friday:

“While we understand that the facts revolving around the initial incident and the resulting protests are still being sorted out, we are very concerned that the presence of law enforcement at the school may have exacerbated rather than ameliorated a behavioral issue that could otherwise have been handled in other ways.”

“We are also deeply troubled by the possibility that peaceful protesters may have been pepper sprayed or otherwise had their rights impinged due to the overly broad reaction of the Pawtucket Police to behavior of a few individuals.”

Yes, it is deeply troubling when law enforcement exacerbates the problems that occur on a daily basis at a high school. It’s deeply troubling when we know that these are police with the power to take lives and they view every child walking to home room as a potential threat to their safety.  It’s even more troubling when cops view children wanting their voices to be heard as threats and decide to deploy their “less-lethal” arsenal to silence those who wish to call out their actions.

Fortunately, Pawtucket knows how to calm situations like student protests down very effectively.

Tolman High School began the day on Friday without any incidents, according to the police.

“Quieter than usual” is how the day began, said Sgt. Paul Brandley.

He attributed the calm partly to the presence of the entire shift of officers as well as some held over from the previous shift.

More cops to throw kids around always soothes trouble. Especially in Pawtucket.

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