Pepper-spraying cop gets Photoshop justice: Xeni's Guardian op-ed on meme-ing of UC Davis police brutality


The nice people at the Guardian invited me to write an op-ed about the meme-ification of Lt. John Pike's unforgettable act of brutality against UC Davis students last Friday.

Photoshop out the students from that picture with your mind. Forget about Pike's uniform, let's say he's just wearing street clothes. Now, instead of a policeman spraying a less-lethal chemical weapon down the throats of peacefully seated 20-year-olds, you might be able to interpret this tableau as a figure sauntering through a garden, spraying weeds. Or maybe he's your paunchy, moustached uncle, nonchalantly dousing bugs in the basement with insecticide.

One way the internet deals with that kind of upsetting dissonance is to mock it. And that's what the internet has done with Pike. The "casually pepper-spraying cop" is now a meme, a kind of folk art or shared visual joke that is open to sharing and reinterpretation by anyone. This particular meme has spread with unusual velocity – in part, I imagine, because the subject matter is just as weird as it is upsetting.

Even Kamran Loghman, one of the men who developed pepper spray as a weapon with the FBI in the 1980s, had a hard time reconciling it. "I have never seen such an inappropriate and improper use of chemical agents," Loghman told the New York Times. And Loghman might add "insouciant" to that list of adjectives. I mean, look at the guy. He's not braced for imminent attack by a foe; he does not move with tension as if navigating a hostile environment. He's administering punishment, and his face says: "Meh."

"The pepper-spraying cop gets Photoshop justice" (Guardian)

GRATUITOUS BONUS PLUG: Illustrator Lalo Alcaraz, who is responsible for the 'shoop above, is releasing his 2012 Cartoon Doomsday Calendar, available by mailorder at

Photo:Brian Nguyen/The Aggie.


  1. “I have never made but one prayer to god, a very short one: O lord make my enemies ridiculous. And god granted it”


  2. Seriously, what is the point of supposedly non-lethal weapons for military and law enforcement use if it just transforms suppression into blithely casual acts of aggression? Its almost worse than arming these guys with real guns because the very casual nature of the “non-lethal” weapon almost guarantees that its going to be abused with far greater frequency…

    1. What’s the point? Terror, that’s what. Obey the fat man in black, or you will be blinded or killed. Be afraid to voice dissent. Be afraid to go anywhere near a protest.

      Be afraid.

      It’s terrorism, domestic, one each.

      1. You probably won’t be killed as long as you’re in a crowd with smart phones. (Don’t go anywhere without friends with smart phones and a connection.)

        Cops like Tony Baloney, Lt. John Pike and countless others are basically cowards.

        Just say: “We moving on officer. And you’re on my friends’ camera phones. Eat hearty…”

      2. Good one, but when speaking of the police force as a whole, there’s also a point or two made by Stanley Milgram on the matter.  Many of these cops, when prompted to fire rubber bullets at protestors, are scared crapless NOT to do it.
        Within the department, the stigma and punishment for not obeying orders may be worse than when they carry out orders with too much zeal and end up brutalizing the citizenry.
        The culture is putrid due to a massive flaw in the human psyche.

  3. I almost snorted my lunch out of my nose when I that tapatio mashup.

    This is such an awful incident, but as far as nonviolence on the ‘tubes go I think it is one hell of a protest.  We are all laughing because we know this should never, ever have happened.

    Thanks BB for covering this.

  4. “Or maybe he’s your paunchy, moustached uncle, nonchalantly dousing bugs in the basement with insecticide.” 

    That’s the really disturbing part for me; this asshole is doing it so casually, as if to say, “Aren’t civilians irritating?  You spray them and spray them and they just keep coming back…  What can you do?”

    I think a pepper-spray enema might “open his eyes” to the evil of his act…

    1. “a pepper-spray enema” would only be efective if it was web cast and ‘Net accesible.

      I bet the majority of viewers would be other cops.

      It would’t open his eyes at all.

      He probably already blames the student body for having careers and lies ahead of them while the highest he can ever aspire to is his 15 minutes of infamy as a bully.

    1. The worst thing that could possibly happen in this case is for people to forget, and for the officer to hence get off with a slap on the wrist.  If a meme is what it takes to keep this affair in the public consciousness, so be it.

      1. The pattern thus far is that the public forgets one incident when another even worse one occurs. Tony Baloney looks like a pretty reasonable fellow next to Officer Pike.

        1. Tony Baloney is the same type of bully as Lt. John Pike. 

          They’re both delighted that their departments issue non-lethal arms.

          This way they can do whatever they feel like and nobody gets killed.

          If they had to take out a .38 caliber and shoot a kid in the face for just using his first amendment right, that wouldn’t sit too well with the media and all the other kids out there with phones smarter than them.

          As it is, they gets a pass on being ignorant sociopaths. 

  5. I’d love to see somebody resourceful ensure that John Pike loses his job, his long-term employability, his home, his family, and his credit rating. That would help him to see both sides.

    1. I’m sure that the CompSci department of UC Davis has a student body with friends who got pepper sprayed and that they are already setting up chron jobs to, at some point in the future, take away his home, his job, his car, his driver’s licence, his 401k, his carry permit (no taking the easy way out,) and to have his name put on a No Fly list.

      Basically, the man has totally [expletive deleted] himself.

  6. Use of force for suppression/oppression is such a slippery slope toward brutality; how can you establish a norm to limit what is ‘justifiable’ brutality? It’s corralling the unimaginable against the inevitable, and we as a species suck at this. The atomic bomb was originally intended for use as a front-line assault to incapacitate a city before ground troops were deployed. The underlying casual brutality of this mindset is one of the horrors of these times, but it’s nothing new. 

  7. Going off on a tangent somewhat – why are so many American cops so fat? Isn’t being fit enough to chase after perps part of the job description any more?

    1. The cops, rent-a-cops, mercenaries and cop-wannabes are eating what the USDA grows, what the FDA prepares, and they’re committing suicide one fork full at a time.

      Its better than paying them a pension…

      Well not for the cops, rent-a-cops, mercenaries and cop-wannabes, but the problem goes away after the heart attack, stroke, diabetic coma.

      Its all got to do with the bottom line… 

      A FAT cop is a dying cop and you don’t have to do a thing.

    1. Can we please cover something other than SGT. Pepper spray. so sick of seeing it in my RSS feeds.

      As terrible as it must be to have your eyes assaulted like that, maybe you should just be thankful that you can see at all.

      1. The good news: the ice cream is free.
        The bad news: the flavor of the week is Hot’n’Spicy Cop.

  8. I hate to rain on everyone’s parade, but don’t folks see that “the internet” ‘s way of dealing with issues is actually counter-productive? It’s like Dilbert- all the cubicle drones get to blow off steam every day with their joke-a-day, and then they go back to work. Those in power have no problem with satire and ridicule so long as it’s not suggesting change, merely providing a temporary coping method.

    While the internet can be used to assemble people (O.W.S.) it is also used, sadly, to perpetuate the sedentary, passive nature of modern western culture. Sticks and stones, folks…

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