• Thu, Oct 20 2011

Is Police Brutality Really Worse When It Happens To Women?

We’ve been hearing a lot these past few days about Anthony Bologna, the NYPD officer who was disciplined with the loss of ten paid vacation days this past Tuesday over his improper use of pepper spray on some penned-in women at the ongoing Occupy Wall Street protest. You’ve probably seen the video already, but I’ve included it here anyway.

A lot of people are upset that this is all that happened to him, as well as being upset that cops in general have done, and continue to do, much worse things without any punishment at all. I’m pretty sure Officer Bologna was only disciplined in this instance because of the widely circulated Youtube video, which has been used to drum up sympathy for the protestors and show just how piggishly many of the cops are behaving towards what is essentially a peaceful protest.

This is all well and good, but there’s a key part of the rhetoric that bothers me. A lot of the coverage of police brutality at Occupy Wall Street has focused on the fact that the cops have been going after “defenseless women,” as if going after peaceful, unarmed women is worse than going after peaceful, unarmed men or genderqueer people. Would the public’s reaction have been the same if the cops had pepper sprayed a group of male protestors? What about black male protestors? We’ve all seen what happens when a cop decides he feels threatened by a young black man, and I think this is probably part of the reason there aren’t an overwhelming number of young black men down there. It’s hard to do an interview with The Village Voice if you’re dead.

Of course the cops shouldn’t brutalize women. But they also shouldn’t brutalize anyone, and I think that message gets somewhat lost when people focus on the gender of the victims. On the flipside, just because someone is a woman, doesn’t mean she’s defenseless. I know of several bad ass radical chicks who’ve fought with the cops just as fiercely as any man, and I think they would probably object to having their gender used to gain sympathy for the movement, should something untoward happen to them. Maybe some of them have even met the officially sanctioned requirements to deploy that awful spray. Not all female protestors are opposed to violence.

One strength of the movement, in my opinion, is its ability to tie many human struggles together and break out of that “special interest group” Balkanization that has long been a part of progressive life in this country. It might be harder to convince the powers that be that we all deserve rights all at once, but then again, there are more of us to reckon with. I’m not saying intersectionality is always easy, but at base, I care about the interests of those whose problems I will never have to deal with due to privilege, and in return, they care about mine. Let’s try to keep it that way.

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