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The pepper spraying started after people protested the arrest of a 14-year old for carrying an “open container (police believed to contain alcohol)”, which supposedly involved throwing the boy to the ground and handcuffing him. An update for the linked report states this:
>>”The Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Police said in a statement issued Sunday evening that the teen was “intoxicated to the point where he was unable to care for himself.” The transit authority said a crowd started to surround the police car in which the teen was held. When the crowd prevented the car from leaving the area, “a Transit Police officer used a general burst of pepper spray in an attempt to push back the crowd, to no avail,” the statement said.”<<

So, if the boy couldn’t care for himself, than the intervention of police is supposed to be that they take care of him. Why do they not do that? Because police are trained to deploy certain routines mindlessly (see: https://alexstingl.wordpress.com/2015/01/07/mindfulness-race-resistance-and-the-police-in-the-american-culture-of-fear/). The same mindless routines happen in the act of random pepper spraying. Even though the officers know on a conscious level that random spraying at a crowd does not have the desired effect of dispersing the crowd (not to mention that in a situation that would require de-escalation, not actions that escalate the situation) mindlessness takes over. Police officers being effectively militarized in the past decade in various ways, mostly white men (thus perceive themselves as being “outnumbered” at protests), in a country where both structural and ubiquitous are also in the mix (I am thinking of something similar, but somewhat more tact than overt, to Hannah Arend’t distinction between “anti-semitism [as policies]” and “hatred of jews” [private]).

In many ways, police in these situation act like a leaderless dog pack, mindlessly executing action routines that are inappropriate to the situation.

(http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/cops-pepper-spray-black-lives-matter-protestors-in-cleveland-reports_55b55998e4b0a13f9d18e364?)

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