A lot of folks have been talking about pepper spray and how it was deployed by the NYPD against some of the Wall Street protesters this weekend. Down here in Philadelphia, I was a little alarmed to see this story today:
HOMICIDE detectives are investigating how a 48-year-old man died in SEPTA police custody after officers sprayed him with pepper spray Friday night.
A sergeant in the Homicide Unit said SEPTA police responded to a call of a theft at the Wayne Junction rail yard, on Windrim Avenue near 18th Street in Logan, where they spotted Willie McCray, who had allegedly trespassed onto the property.
Police said McCray ran from the officers and hid in bushes nearby, then grabbed an officer when he was approached. A second officer then sprayed him, police said.
Officers apprehended McCray and took him to Albert Einstein Medical Center to be cleaned up and treated for the spray, but found that he was in "obvious distress" when they arrived.
He was taken into the hospital and pronounced dead at 9:06 p.m., police said.
Here's the thing: 1) As the story notes, a fatal spraying of pepper spray is rare, but it can happen when the person on the receiving end has a medical condition such as asthma and 2) I certainly think there are cases when it would be appropriate for police to use pepper spray in self-defense (as the cops allege happened here) or in a bona fide crowd control crisis...it's certainly a much better alternative to the use of lethal force.
On the other hand, reading this article made me even more furious about the reckless and undefendable actions of the NYPD police deputy inspector Anthony Bologna who so casually walked up to these two non-resisting women and pepper-sprayed them for no discenable reason. In addition to the pain and distress he did cause, if one of the women had been an asthma sufferer he might have killed her...for what?
Whatever happens in lower Manhattan in the days ahead, Inspector Bologna needs to get fired.