It may not have been simply the fact that UC Davis Police Lt. John Pike spewed fiery pepper spray directly into the faces of passive Occupy Wall Street protesters sitting on the ground of the California campus. It was also the nonchalance with which Lt. Pike carried out his duties, more as if he were painting a fence than spraying a horrible painful chemical into the eyes, nostrils, and mouths of people who were there only to make others think about whom the nation’s economic system benefits most.
It was the concept that someone could inflict pain so casually that has now made Lt. Pike an icon of unthinking torture on the Internet. There is a Twitter account named the Pepper Spraying Cop. (“I thought it was Silly String. Swear to God.”) Techy satirists armed with copy-and-paste have plastered the Internet with scores of images recasting Pike — not simply as one cop who sees pepper spray as the easy, pre-packaged, and disposable solution for all situations — but as an emblem of all those who have power and who prefer to casually exercise that power than to take the time to consider what is the right thing to do.
Oh, Lt. Pike was put on leave. But he needn’t worry. His image will remain forever on the Internet. Here are some the images future generations of the peaceful policed by pepper spray can turn to for reassurance that casual punishment can be met by deliberate scorn.