November 14, 1997

News From Humboldt County

Against stupidity the gods themselves fight in vain

F.C.F. Schiller, 1801

If some scholar decided to write the Annals of Human Stupidity, it would occupy a whole bookshelf, or many CD-ROM disks. If he further decided to classify those events ranging from the most stupid to the least stupid, near the top of the list would be something that all of us who watch the TV news actually saw happen, because it was recorded on video tape.

What was video taped? On October 16, 1997, deputies were putting pepper spray in the eyes of some young people who had linked themselves together in the office of Congressman Frank Riggs in protest against some deal that the government made, or didn't make, with Pacific Lumber.

First prize should go to the idiot who thought up the pepper spray idea and second prize to the ones who agreed to do it. Third prize should be awarded to the person who decided that the process should be video taped.

What does pepper spray in the eyes feel like? I know what it feels like because I have experienced it. One day I was cutting up some hot chili peppers. No one had told me to wear rubber gloves and not to touch anything. My eye itched, so I rubbed it. I screamed in pain and tried to simultaneously wash my hands and flush my eyes with water. When my copious tears finally washed the stuff out of my eyes, I resolved never to go near a chili pepper again. Don't take my word for it, try it yourself. But don't blame me for your stupidity if you do.

Torture is as ancient as man, but for the first time in history, someone has deliberately recorded his own deeds for posterity on video. Whoever it was who ordered this deserves the place of honor in the Stupidity Hall of Fame.

I am not using the sheriff's name because I do not believe that someone should be permanently stigmatized for one blunder, no matter how idiotic. Besides, the only person who will be permanently injured by the incident is the sheriff himself. The young people will all recover. Hopefully, they will have learned a valuable lesson, which is: Never put yourself in the power of an armed idiot. The next time it might cost you your life. However, thanks to the sheriff, they were successful in getting on national television; which was exactly what they wanted to do.

Those police have done a service for every enemy of our country. I assume that the video is now being broadcast in China, Cuba, Iran, Lybia and Iraq. I can hear the commentator now, saying "This is how the United States treats its young dissidents." It will become our very own Tienanmin Square.

That incident has also made every intelligent, humane and decent cop shudder at the black eye that his profession got from it. Sure, everyone knows about the cops who would use a piece of rubber hose on vagrants, but we all figured that it was a thing of the past and only occurred in Mississippi. Certainly not in California.

How would an intelligent law enforcement officer have handled the protesters? My guess is that he would have stationed one deputy in the room. No one else would be admitted. At periodic intervals, a hot hamburger or steaming pizza slice would be delivered to the officer, which he would devour slowly and with obvious relish. You and I know that it would be torture to a teen-ager, but no one could sue the cops, since all that the dissidents would have to do is leave the office and buy one of their own. Besides, you would have difficulty convincing a jury of older adults that it was "cruel and unusual punishment." The Supreme Court wouldn't touch the case.

Some people are proposing to outlaw pepper spray. I would much prefer to see fools kept out of law enforcement. Unfortunately, the only way that you find out that someone is a fool is when he does something foolish.

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