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Pepper Spray Cop (also known as “Casually Pepper Spray Everything Cop”) is a photoshop meme based on a photograph of a police officer offhandedly pepper spraying a group of Occupy protesters at the University of California Davis in November 2011.
UC Davis Occupy Protest
On November 18th, 2011, a group of students at the University of California Davis gathered on campus for an Occupy protest, during which they formed a human chain by linking their arms together. When they refused to comply with the police request to leave, UC Davis Police officer Lieutenant John Pike and another officer walked across the the group, administering orange pepper spray straight down the line of unmoving students.
A photo of Lieutenant John Pike pepper spraying seated students at the UC Davis protest was taken by Louise Macabitas and posted to Reddit on November 19th, 2011.
Two photoshopped versions of Macabitas’ photo surfaced on Reddit on November 20th. The first image featured Strutting Leo photoshopped over Lt. Pike. The second removed Lt. Pike, placing him in the 1819 painting Declaration of Independence by John Trumbull. The same afternoon, Lt. Pike was placed in Georges Seurat’s A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte (1884) by Tumblr blog It Makes No Sense where it received over 2400 notes in a day.
Compounded by previous episodes involving the police use of pepper spray against Occupy protesters, the story of the incident itself was quickly picked up by nearly all major U.S. news media outlets, reaching its peak on November 22nd in terms of Google News volume.
Compilations of the images began appearing on Facebook community Occupy Lulz and BoingBoing on November 20th. The next day, additional compilations were posted on Washington Post, ABC News, the Metro, Gawker, and Buzzfeed. Four separate single topic Tumblrs were also created that day. Redditor andresmh created an interactive Pepper Spray Cop where users can take the exploitable cop and shoot pepper spray throughout the Trumbull painting.
On November 19th, Anonymous hacktivists in support of the Occupy Movement released contact information, home address and salary records of the UC Davis police officer Lt. John Pike, which was quickly picked up by a number of Anonymous-affiliate outlets on Twitter and Tumblr. As a result of the controversy, Pike has reportedly received more than 10,000 text messages and 17,000 emails critiquing his actions.
In March 2012, a judge ordered that the names of the other officers involved not be released to the public, which led to a legal battle between California newspapers The Sacramento Bee and the New York Times. The newspapers won the case that June and a judge ordered the University of California to release their names.
Throughout the week, hundreds of photoshopped images were shared online, many of them placing Lieutenant Pike into various historical events and milestones in civil rights, ranging from the signing of the U.S. constitution to Picasso’s famous anti-war painting Guernica.
Fox News Commentary
On November 21st, 2011, Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly appeared on political commentator Bill O’Reilly’s talk show The O’Reilly Factor to discuss the UC Davis pepper spray incident. In discussing the effects of pepper spray, Kelly described pepper spray as a food product:
Bill O’Reilly: “First of all, pepper spray -- that just burns your eyes, right?”
Megyn Kelly: “It’s like a derivative of actual pepper. It’s a food product, essentially.”
Bill O’Reilly went on to defend the officer saying, “I don’t think we have the right to Monday-morning quarterback the police. Particularly at a place like UC Davis, which is a fairly liberal campus.”
A YouTube upload was subsequently posted to Gawker the same day. On November 22nd, the video was posted to BuzzFeed, The Daily What and The Examiner, while a Change.org petition for Kelly to “drink a full dose of pepper spray on national televsion” was launched by Slacktory editor Nick Douglas. The same day, an advice animal image macro series featuring Megyn Kelly and the phrasal template X, Essentially appeared on Reddit, captioned with dismissive statements downplaying the effects of various human rights abuse, including use of chemical weapons, war crimes and torture tactics.
Customer Reviews on Amazon
On November 21st, 2011, Amazon reviewers and users began posting spoof reviews for the specific brand of peper spray canister that was purportedly used by Lt. John Pike. The customer review parodies were first prompted by online petition community Change.org via Twitter. Amazon reviewer D-bag of Liberty wrote:
“Whenever I need to breezily inflict discipline on unruly citizens, I know I can trust Defense Technology 56895 MK-9 Stream, 1.3% Red Band/1.3% Blue Band Pepper Spray to get the job done! The power of reason is no match for Defense Technology’s superior repression power.”
Additionally, reviewers uploaded Pepper Spray Cop photos as customer images of the product.
Meanwhile, a fake Pepper Spraying Cop Twitter account, @PepperSprayCop, was launched to provide satirical commentaries on the development of the photoshop meme. After it launched on November 21st, the account gained over 130 followers in the first three days. Though it has not been updated since April 2012, the account has acquired 1960 followers as of August 2012.
Songs & Videos
On November 21st, YouTube musician Andrew Lusk uploaded a pop punk rock tribute song titled “Pepper Spray Cop’s Lament,” (shown below, left) which was played during a CNN report. The following day, a Downfall parody of Hitler reacting to the viral rise of Pepper Spray Cop meme was uploaded by YouTuber Sarahharbin (shown below, right).
Over the next week, YouTube musician Jimmy Wong posted an acoustic tribute to Lt. John Pike titled Dear John (The Pepper Spray Song) and Harry Shearer, the voice actor behind Mr. Burns from The Simpsons, released a song titled “Ballad of Pepper Spray Cop” via Soundcloud.
The UC Davis police chief Annette Spicuzza later told the Sacramento Bee that the officers decided to pepper spray the students because they were obstructing the path:
“There was no way out of that circle. They were cutting the officers off from their support. It’s a very volatile situation.”
However, over a dozen videos of the incident from different angles were uploaded to YouTube within the first 24 hours of the incident, showing the officers clearly walking around the area. As these photos and videos continued to circulate online, police Chief Spicuzza placed two unnamed officers on paid leave the following Sunday.
On November 21st, University of California President Mark Yudof placed Chief Spicuzza on leave as well. The school officials also announced that the charges against 10 students have been dropped and it will compensate for the medical expenses of students who were pepper sprayed at the protest. In February 2012, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) assisted 19 students and alumni file a lawsuit against several UC Davis administrators, including Chancellor Linda Katehi, for violating their right to free speech, but there have been no updates on the case.
After an investigation into the incident, Chief Spicuzza announced that she was stepping down from her position as police chief and retiring on April 18th, 2012. Her resignation may have been in response to a independent task force report released on April 11th that blamed the incident on poor communication and decision making from all levels of the school administration, from the policemen themselves to those in command. On July 31st, 2012, the Sacramento Bee reported that Lt. John Pike is no longer employed by U.C. Davis, not confirming whether he was let go or left the position on his own accord.
The news of Lt. Pike’s employment status change was submitted to Reddit the next day, where it received 8681 upvotes and 2572 points, reaching the front page. Major news outlets also covered the story including the Huffington Post, San Francisco Weekly, NPR, CNN and the Los Angeles Times.
Search for “pepper spray cop” began in September 2011, coinciding with Occupy protests:
It Makes No Sense – The Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande UC Berkeley…
Washington Post – Pepper-spray cop works his way through art history
Wall Street Journal – Pepper Spraying at UC Davis Leads to Police Suspensions
The New York Times | The Lede – U.C. Davis Calls for Investigation After Pepper Spraying
Huffington Post – UC Davis Pepper Spray Incident Prompts Suspension Of Officers
Amazon – customer reviews for Defense Technology 56895 MK-9 Stream, 1.3% Red Band/1.3% Blue Band Pepper Spray
Amazon – customer images for Defense Technology 56895 MK-9 Stream, 1.3% Red Band/1.3% Blue Band Pepper Spray
Los Angeles Times – Officer who pepper-sprayed UC Davis students leaves job