The pepper-spray cop loses it

Why did the pepper-spray cop explode on the Occupy protesters? Perhaps he had 99 percent problems of his own

Topics: 2011 Fiction: Behind The Headlines,

The pepper-spray cop loses it (Credit: Salon/AP)
For this original fiction series, we asked writers to imagine what some of 2011's biggest newsmakers were thinking at pivotal moments during the year. We'll publish a new piece every day this week; to read earlier posts in the series, click here.

Today I serve you as I do each day. Do you see this can? It helps protect you. Were villains to enter your dorm room and rip at your clothes, I would be there, stoic and stern-faced, to soothe you of your tears. I kowtow in this cow town each day of my life, my presence a moat around your tiny castle. Without me, the bombs drop and the bad guys win. Without me, your body bobs off the shore of a Norwegian island. Take me. Abuse me. I’m yours to have. I give you myself and my sin like a gift, like a present.

But after the pepper, my loud precious lords, and after a trip to the school infirmary, and after the tweets and the status updates and your viral videos that show my disease, after all this, do these things for me — drop out of school, sell back your books, march to D.C. and change how things are done. Disqualify this country’s red/blue agenda. After I sear your eyes and your lungs and your gums and your cheeks, go tell the powers that be that you view them as largely Siamese, needing badly to share certain organs, and if separated, one if not both would not live, and were thus two things that were actually one thing, conjoined. I am a symptom, but I’m not the problem.

I see your locked arms and bent heads and nice shoes. I see your cashmere scarves turned into bandanas. I see the coltan inside of your phone, mined by dead men toiling east of Kinshasa. I see this grass and I love these trees. I take my boys here to fly kites in the summer. On the tag of your blouse is a child’s callused hands. His name’s Zahir. He’s Bangladeshi. Can you see through me? I think I can you. I did not make this spray. I did not make this gun, or this bulletproof jacket. I’m not DHS and am not DoD. I’m not black ops or the McCain-Levin legislation. But I am a messenger for all of these things, for language slipped in, for witching-hour clauses, my helmet pulled down to hide my own eyes from the eyes watching me watching you.

The can’s trigger is under my gloved fingers now, the pits of my arms dripping sweat on my belly. I have this bad ankle from when I was 16. My football team went all the way to state finals. The world was so big then. Everything was so cheap. I didn’t know where Afghanistan was. I’d not sent a text. I’d not sent an email. My future wife cheered me, waving from her bleacher seat. My dad worked a lathe. My mom waited tables at a diner. His factory’s gone now. The diner is, too, as are both of my parents. My wife was a teacher for 20 years; they pink-slipped her after the subprime fiasco. We’d just bought a split-level. I’m dug in deep. I’m dug in as the cheeks of your ass are on the path of this campus. Would you have me hit you? Drag you away? They say that this spray will wash out with time. They say in the long run that this spray is harmless. Please don’t think poorly of me, but I have to say that I hope it stings. I hope that it leaves a lasting impression. If this is your Kent State and your 1960s, please, please don’t do what the boomers did — cash in and sell out and recall with drawn brow the burning of bras and the burning of flags and the burning of hate and of greed and injustice from a nice leather couch in a safe home in the suburbs, their portfolios growing from investment in the things they despised, their hypocrisy affording you braces and youth soccer leagues and four years spent here, at this very college, the place I police five days a week, before my second job as a self-storage night watchman.

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Please put your heads down. Please keep your eyes closed. Go to a place deep inside, far away. Pretend you’re asleep. Pretend you are dreaming. Make me your false god or your despotic king or at least something more than this armed, armored jester that I now have to be for the whole rest of me, until I die in a home for the old, in debt and insane from prescription painkillers. My ankle is hurting so much in these boots, but I’m still going to do what I have to do. I’ll stand strong for you, be your man of the year, be what you hoped for, and what you were promised.

Charles McLeod is the author of the novel "American Weather."

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