Several weeks ago when I first heard that John Pike would be receiving a $38,000 workers’ compensation settlement, I found myself seized with both indignation and amusement. Indignation because the amount seems outrageous; amusement because, knowing Pike’s line of work of work, I am hardly surprised that he is being rewarded for an action for which he should be reprimanded.
Perhaps some of you recall when two years ago this month, Mr. Pike — then Lieutenant Pike of the UC Police Department — achieved international notoriety when he pepper-sprayed a handful of peaceful student protesters at the UC Davis campus. As footage of the incident went viral, it became evident that many members of the UC community found this act of aggression against non-violent protesters rather disgusting.
In the immediate aftermath of the event, Pike received an eight-month paid suspension from the UCPD, and eventually ceased his work for the university in July of 2012. However, he never faced assault charges or other similar consequences for his actions. Following a lawsuit filed against UC Davis, the students involved in the incident were collectively awarded $1 million, with $30,000 being distributed to each individual.
So how is it, then, that John Pike has now received a larger settlement from the university than any of the students he abused? In filing his claim for workers’ compensation, Pike insisted that he had suffered psychological trauma due to his involvement in the pepper-spray incident, specifically because of threats he received from irate members of the public in the months following. This, of course, occurred while Pike was suspended from the UCPD but still receiving his same salary — an amount in excess of $115,000 a year.
As outrageous as Lt. Pike’s actions were, one would think that if he were not disciplined, he at least would not be rewarded — and there is something rather baffling about the idea of an aggressor claiming that he suffered psychological trauma more worthy of compensation than the victims of his actions. At the same time, I cannot say that I am truly surprised at the outcome either, since it seems that we as a society have become somewhat anesthetized to pervasive police presence and aggression.
Of course, there is the possibility that I am simply oversensitive to such issues, as it was only a handful of months after the UC Davis incident that I myself was pepper-sprayed in the face by a campus police officer at a student protest. I was, however, merely collateral damage, as the intended target and object of the officer’s condemnation was standing several feet in front me. Naturally, this fact did nothing to lessen the effect of the chemical and I feel that I was justified in my rudeness to the officer when he approached me with an offer of medical assistance.
Though not occurring at a UC campus, the protest which I attended was held by students with similar motivations to that of those at Davis — most prominently, in opposition to drastic changes in tuition policy. Indeed, rising tuition has been a near ubiquitous problem for American universities since the beginning of the recession, as schools have been forced to search for ways to close the deficit gap in funding.
While Lt. Pike’s actions on the Davis campus are certainly worthy of condemnation (a charge I would level against any armed individual harming an unarmed, passive victim), the damage rendered has been increased by the large amount of money which the university has been compelled to pay out as a result; first to the students harmed, and then also to their aggressor — all during a period of financial famine within the UC.
In addition to any physical or monetary damage resulting from the incident, there is also the harm that has been rendered to the reputation of the university. I would like to think that after all this cost, some sort of lesson has been learned, but that does not seem to be the case. Certainly, police violence against student protestors is not a new problem. And, like many problems which society has become accustomed to, we perhaps tolerate it more than we should. However, there is a discernible difference between tolerating an action and allowing it to be rewarded. If an individual who is tasked with protecting the student population receives $38,000 for doing exactly the opposite of that, how can we reasonably expect such behavior to cease?
Jonathan Rogers can tell you from experience, pepper spray can make even the nicest of people act quite rude.