Painful though it is to admit, it appears that MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell got something right the other day. Reporting on a confrontation between NYPD officers and members of the Occupy Wall Street movement, O’Donnell played video showing Deputy Inspector Anthony Bologna using pepper spray on a group of female protesters who, as far as is discernible on the tape, did not provoke it. After spraying the protesters, Bologna can be seen in the video reholstering his spray canister and moving off behind a line of other uniformed cops, some of whom appeared almost as shocked by the incident as the women who were sprayed.
There may yet emerge facts that support Bologna’s use of pepper spray, and indeed investigations have been initiated within the NYPD and at the Manhattan district attorney’s office, but it seems to me that Deputy Inspector Bologna will have a hard time explaining his actions.
The incident reminds me of an axiom among street cops: Leave the police work to the police officers. Deputy Inspector Bologna presumably spends the bulk of his time tucked safely behind a desk somewhere, a place he probably should have stayed rather than venturing out and mixing it up with the protesters. The scene was confused but not beyond the control of the rank-and-file cops who were monitoring the march. Bologna’s actions only served to escalate the tension rather than resolve it.
I’ve watched lots of video taken at the protests, and from what I’ve seen it’s apparent that the NYPD has acted with admirable restraint in the face of many deliberate provocations. It’s a shame that their image should be tarnished by the actions of a man who should have done what any responsible senior police officer is expected to do: Maintain detached overall control of the incident and not let emotions dictate his actions. Even if it is somehow demonstrated that the protesters had a hosing-down with pepper spray coming, it should not have been Bologna who delivered it.