Pepper Spray: Preventative or Excessive?

by Abby Wendle


The Tulsa Police Department has been using pepper spray since the ’90s, but the device made headlines earlier this month after TPD sprayed five Occupy Tulsa protestors in the face. Last week, the protesters announced their plan to take the city of Tulsa to court, claiming the cops used excessive force. The use of pepper spray against peaceful protestors began receiving national attention this week when a video of a cop spraying protestors at University of California, Davis went viral.

In this segment, the Occupy Tulsa protestors tell the story of what happened the night they got sprayed, and TPD delivers their side of the incident. This piece features “Scary Boat Ride” by The Lothars.


Jason Willingham: Have you ever tried to pick up somebody that weighed 200 pounds and was interlocked with another person that weighed 200 pounds next to them, it’s just not possible. Pepper spray is a safe alternative to physical force.

I am Jason Willingham (ph) with the Tulsa Police Department Public Information Office. The Occupy Tulsa group began to set up a camp basically at Centennial Park which is located at 6th and Main in downtown Tulsa.

Protestors: (Chant) …our fight! Who’s fight? Our fight! Ooh-ahh, ooh-ahh…

JW: The City of Tulsa has an ordinance that no person shall be inside a city park after 11 P.M. So, officers went down to the location…

Tulsa Police Department Officer: (Megaphone) Occupants of Centennial Park, this is the Tulsa Police Department.

JW: There was a group of protesters that refused to leave the park…

Tulsa Police Department Officer: (Megaphone) All persons in the park are in violation of City of Tulsa Municipal Ordinance Title 26.

JW: They interlocked their hands with one another, their arms with one another and resisted arrest. At that time pepper spray was used.

Eli: I’m Eli, this is Massar.

Massar: And I’m Massar.

Eli: We were sitting in a circle. I was about four people over from Massar. The officer, he walked up to me and he was standing over my left shoulder and he said, “Will you stand and sign this citation?” I said, “No, sir.” He was like, “Well, if you don’t stand up I’m going to mace you in the face.” I said, “Officer, you are the 99 percent, do what you need to do.” He maced me in the face at pointblank range, I mean the can was like right here and he got me straight in the eyes.

JW: We go by a Use-of-Force Continuum that every department in the country uses. The first use of force is the officer in his uniform. Secondly would be a verbal presence. Third is pepper spray. You know, the worst thing that we can do is start wrestling around on the ground with a 200-pound man, one of our officers gets injured. One of the suspects gets injured, you tear a shoulder, you break an arm or something like that, so when you look at the potential for injury, this was clearly the best way for us to approach it.

Eli: We sat in county jail while handcuffed and the only time that we received any medical attention was with one of our members three hours after the fact because he was having breathing difficulties, even though he’d been telling the Tulsa Police Department since he had been arrested and was sitting in the van three hours before [then] he was having breathing difficulties. It took them three hours to get him a nurse.

JW: Pepper spray is the oils from cayenne peppers. It is a very, I mean, your eyes lock shut, your sinuses open up, you feel like you can’t breathe; it’s not pleasant. One time I car in my car and reached the seatbelt over and somehow it got into the trigger of the pepper spray can and sprayed inside the car. All of our officers are sprayed in the academy. Anybody that’s been doing the job for very long at all has probably been sprayed accidentally in the field, so we’ve all done it. We’ve all been there and we all know what it feels like.

Eli: We do still understand that they were doing their job. We wouldn’t want them to lose their jobs over this because we know that they are still people, they’re part of the 99 percent, they’re trying to support their families and our hearts go out to them.

Protestors: (Chant)…the people, will never be defeated. United, the people, will never be defeated. United, the people will never be defeated. United, the people will never be defeated…