November 21st, 2011
03:47 PM ET

Overheard on CNN.com: Pepper spray, politics spark heated debates

Editor's note: Readers have a lot to say about stories, and we're listening. Overheard on CNN.com is a regular feature that examines interesting comments and thought-provoking conversations posted by the community. We're trying something new today and featuring excerpts from five fascinating conversations taking place in our comments area.

We're hearing from a lot of readers today about an investigation into campus officers' use of pepper spray against protesters at the University of California at Davis. Powerful, meaty discussions ensued about the right to protest and the right to occupy a space for an extended amount of time. People have been talking about these issues for a while, but this incident  ignited the discussion.

1. California campus police on leave after pepper-spraying

Well-argued threads came in from people on both sides of the issue. This particular exchange was emblematic of the debate. On one side, there were many who thought police stepped out of bounds.

Th0ko: "That was definitely not minimum force required to get the job done. (and if pepper spray isnt physical force, then what is it?!) There is something fundamentaly wrong in using force on a peaceful protest. If the only point of police is to maintain law and order, at ANY cost, and they can use more or less any means they deem necessary, they take the role as a tool of oppression. The actions of American police are no different from the action of police in Iran, Syria and what used to be the Soviet Union. They all say 'protesters refused to move, so we just did our job.' Remember how in Iran a few years ago, student protesteres were assaulted by police? How is that different from happened now on these university grounds?"

On the other side of the debate, many commenters said they thought the protesters were overstaying their welcome and it was time for the camps to be forcibly removed.

rettiroen: " 'There is something fundamentaly wrong in using force on a peaceful protest.' But what about unlawful protests? You're not protesting when you set up camp somewhere, you're just taking up space. Plus, I imagine there are dorms for that campus, not like they can't march back out there each day. As for, 'it's public property they can stay as long as they like.' Keyword is 'public.' That means there are other people that have just as much a right to utilize that land as the protesters, either for their protests or rallies, or for other activities. Setting up camp for an extended period of time is essentially claiming ownership, something that none of the protesters have a right to do."

2. Gergen: Have they gone nuts in Washington?

Commentator David Gergen says Congress's failure to reach a debt agreement is "reckless," and our readers are inclined to agree. Thousands of comments poured in from people outraged that their government is having a hard time working things out.

iminim: "Democracy is, by its very nature, a government of compromise.  Absolutists do not work well in this model.  We need to remove anyone from Congress who has signed pledges or voiced intent to be unyielding on economic & political issues.  We can no longer afford to cater to that kind of arrogance.  We, the public, also need to quit screaming 'wishy-washy' when a Congressperson compromises for the good of our nation.  We say we want leadership then bash those who try to work with others and actually lead.  Democracy is a 'wishy-washy' form of government.  For it to be effective we all have to give & take towards an ultimate goal of improving our nation.  We also have to be willing to accept that there are other valid points of view beyond our own."

In response, jnkesrouan referenced a famous quote often attributed to Benjamin Franklin, and another commenter alluded to it:

CuriousEarth: "This is NOT a democracy. This is a republic and if we treated it that way, it would probably still be working. Democracy = two wolves and a sheep voting on what's for dinner. Don't be a sheep."

3. On the college gridiron, grandad lives a dream, offers a lesson

CNN's Eliott C. McLaughlin wrote about a college student playing football. But the student isn't a typical college athlete; he's pursuing his lifelong dream at age 61. We received a lot of positive feedback from readers about this story. Here's a sampling of what readers said:

sysprogram: "Thank you CNN and Eliott McLaughlin. This piece was heart warming, touching, and most importantly Inspiring. It is amazing to hear of this man's journey and reminds all of us that no matter your age, anything is possible. Your article was very well written and hard to put down. Thank you for such an awe inspiring story!"

ravenswaal: "One more thing ... This is a great story for a movie and I cast my vote for Tommy Lee Jones to portray Moore. Anyone else agree?"

midwestmatt: "As I approach 50, this man gives me hope. Not that I'll recapture some long ago dream of athletic prowess but rather that I can start a new chapter, no matter my age. Thank you for your service in Vietnam and for the example you've set for so many young men on your squad. In my book, you're a 'dude' and that's the highest compliment I can pay someone."

4. World's most hated airports

Everyone loves to rag on airports, and the discussion was quite spirited: Loved or hated this one, or did a 40-hour layover in that one. New York's JFK seemed to take a lot of heat, while readers were divided over Atlanta's international airport and others. We can't help but feel these two commenters have valid points:

52ppPassport: "I love them all.  It means vacation."

chemicalbank: "Any airport I am at is Number 1 [worst] for as long as I am there."

5. Giant Mars rover set for Saturday launch

It was great to read the informed exchanges between readers. We have a community that enjoys reading about space and technology on the Light Years blog, and their enthusiasm was palpable.

Mel: "This is exciting stuff. It is a pity that according to the report the instruments won't be able to find life in samples, only if there are the chemicals needed for life, so we will have to wait till a later mission for that to be done. But it is good that the scientists are doing things in a layered sequence and not letting the impatience to know get in the way of meticulous science. Who knows if there were a huge asteroid going to hit earth centuries from now, a base there would be handy to re-establish life back on earth afterwards. (Disregarding the obvious problems of living on low gravity, high radiation and low water planet!)"

What's your take? Join the conversation below and in the latest stories on CNN.com. Or sound off on video via CNN iReport. If you've witnessed an Occupy Wall Street protest, share your perspective on the open story.

Compiled by the CNN.com moderation staff. Some comments edited for length or clarity.

soundoff (42 Responses)
  1. Joey Isotta-Fraschini

    An airport doesn't mean vacation to me.
    It usually means I'm going to work.

    November 21, 2011 at 3:55 pm | Report abuse |
  2. saywhat

    Have a safe journey JI-F.

    it is not just one pepper stray incident that needs to be debated but where we are headed as a country & as a nation.

    November 21, 2011 at 4:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joey Isotta-Fraschini

      Thank you, saywhat. As much as I'm outraged by the uncalled for action by the campus police at Davis U, I agree with you that this country is definately going in the wrong direction. What we need to do is to somehow break the stranglehold that the MIC has on our government. This is the organization that keeps buying off and otherwise corrupting our worthless politicians to vote their way. Thus the the current failure of the "super committee"!!!

      November 21, 2011 at 7:26 pm | Report abuse |
  3. saywhat

    mistakes again folks, its pepper spray not stray. Apologies.

    November 21, 2011 at 4:29 pm | Report abuse |
  4. MuchtodoaboutNOTHING

    Face it > the pampered and the now weakest intellects are always in the headlines: not as victims but as soundbites as they got the most attention for product selling for decades: if not this flavor of whining then yet another: headline reads
    "Palins girls get mud in face at TRUCK rally: two suspects arrested for failure to install MUD FLAPS." Is it Egypt? IF it is then lets start using the correct terms > Egemerica... SEE the FAT pickup truck nation pretend to "victims" in the FATTEST world Corporate domination schemes ever known. Everyday – its pepper spray but let one "product endorsement symbol" get mud on their face and its hell to pay. LOL

    November 21, 2011 at 5:07 pm | Report abuse |
  5. CNN's Nicole Saidi

    @MuchtodoaboutNOTHING Thanks for the comment. If you look at these five stories here, they're a pretty diverse bunch and they're all related to current issues that people are interested in reading about and talking about. I was specifically looking for stories that users themselves were responding to, so these headlines are based on the preferences of your fellow humans.

    November 21, 2011 at 5:47 pm | Report abuse |
  6. BOMBO

    Couldn't open the airport story for some reason, but I nominate SFO – outdated, inefficient, poor signs, rude staff.

    November 21, 2011 at 5:58 pm | Report abuse |
  7. BOMBO

    OK, it opened this time. Agree with NAIA Manila at 5, I might put it even higher. Disagree with Heathrow at 3, for pure entertainment value. I saw a fistfight there once between an old Russian guy and a fat woman from New Jersey. They were pretty evenly matched, and really going at it. Great fun. I think one of them kicked the other's suitcase accidentally, or something, I forget how it started.

    I have a story to share about Cairo International, but if you are aqueamish you should skip it. I was pulling my luggage along, trying to make it to the departure area, and heard a multilingual announcement that I couldn't quite make out. Something about washrooms (?). As I approached the gate, I noticed two things, the SMELL and the fact that there were many dozens of people crowded around outside the gate. I stood and waited like everyone else for about an hour, starting to feel sick. When they made the boarding announcement for my flight, I pushed my way through entering the vast open area that had been flooded by about 2 inches of raw sewage. Apparently there had been some massive plumbing problem. I had to slosh through THAT to get onto the plane, then suffer through the smell that I and my fellow passengers brought on board with us for the next few hours.

    November 21, 2011 at 6:13 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Terry Jones

    I'm so worried about the baggage retrieval system they've got at Heathrow.

    November 21, 2011 at 6:17 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Tyrone

    Anyone that claim to be surprise at the action of a white man with authority in America............Should also be spay

    November 21, 2011 at 6:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bob Barker

      Help control the cop population. Have your white man spayed or neutered. Good bye everyone.

      November 21, 2011 at 6:49 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Tyrone

    AMERICAN POLICE ARE ATTACKING AND MURDERING UNARMED AMERICAN SENIOR CITIZEN
    What idiot would be surprise that a white cop with a gun a taser.....or in the case of studends....SPRAY!!!!!!
    It was one year ago this week that narcotics officers in Atlanta, Georgia broke into the home of 92-year-old Kathryn Johnston.
    They had earlier arrested a man with a long rap sheet on drug charges. That man told the police officers that they'd find a large stash of cocaine in Johnston's home. When police forced their way into Johnston's home, she met them holding a rusty old revolver, fearing she was about to be robbed. The police opened fire, and killed her.
    Shortly after the shooting, the police alleged that they had paid an informant to buy drugs from Ms. Johnston's home. They said she fired at them first, and wounded two officers. And they alleged they found marijuana in her home.
    We now know that these were all lies. In fact, everything about the Kathryn Johnston murder was corrupt. The initial arrest of the ex-con came via trumped-up charges. The police then invented an informant for the search warrant, and lied about overseeing a drug buy from Johnston's home.
    Ms. Johnston didn't actually wound any of the officers. They were wounded by fragments of ricochet from their own storm of bullets. And there was no marijuana. Once they realized their mistake, the officers handcuffed Ms. Johnston and left her to bleed and die on the floor of her own home while they planted marijuana in her basement.
    We now know that it was routine for Atlanta's narcotics officers to lie on drug warrants. We know that judges in the city rather systematically approved those warrants with no scrutiny at all (the judge in the Johnston case literally rubber-stamped the warrant), abrogating their oaths as guardians of the Fourth Amendment.
    Two months before the Johnston raid police officers nearly killed another elderly woman in the same neighborhood after forcing their way into her home in a mistaken raid. A year earlier, they had mistakenly raided the home next door to Johnston's. And just days before, Atlanta police had conducted another forced-entry raid that turned up all of two marijuana cigarettes.
    We now know that once the officers in the Johnston case knew they were in trouble, they pressured one of their actual drug informants to lie for them, and vouch for the fabricated account of the controlled buy.
    That informant–Alex White–refused, and bravely came forward to tell the media what had happened. Had he given in to the pressure put on him by APD narcotics officers, the world would still likely believe Kathryn Johnston was a drug dealer, and her killing was justified.
    In fact, subsequent investigations showed that the corruption at the Atlanta Police Department was so pervasive, Police Chief Richard Pennington eventually had to replace the entire narcotics division.
    Atlanta is still in a state of self-examination since the Kathryn Johnston case. To its credit, the city is considering real reform in the way it conducts its drug policing. Politicians at the municipal, state and federal level may guide that process, as may a lawsuit from Ms. Johnston's family.
    But beyond Atlanta, the beat goes on. All across the country, narcotics units and SWAT teams are still kicking down doors in the middle of the night and still deploying flash grenades and using aggressive, paramilitary tactics–and they're still doing all of this to apprehend people suspected of nonviolent crimes. And they're still making mistakes.
    In February of this year, 16-year-old Daniel Castillo, Jr. was killed in a police raid on his family's home in Texas. Castillo had no criminal record. A SWAT officer broke open the door to the bedroom as Castillo, his sister, and her infant son were sleeping. When Castillo rose from the bed after being awoken to his sister's screams, the SWAT officer shot him in the face.
    In March, police in Spring Lake, Minn., acting on an informant's tip, raided the home of Brad and Nicole Thompson. The couple was forced on the ground at gun point and warned by an officer, "If you move, I'll shoot you in the f___ing head." Police had the wrong house.
    In June, a 72-year-old woman on oxygen was thrown to the ground at gunpoint in a mistaken drug raid near Durnago, Colo. Sharia Law is highly criticize by American Muslim are under attack by Rep. Peter King. But nothing is done to stop and or prevent American police brutality. Or white racist police brutality or to just protect children and senior citizen from being murder by white racist ignorant criminal police officers in America! American police are one in the same with Sharia Law!

    November 21, 2011 at 6:48 pm | Report abuse |
  11. flush limballs

    The police are out of control

    November 21, 2011 at 7:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • BOMBO

      You can say that again, flush limballs. The campus police at Davis U need to be terminated for that outrageous act and that's all there is to it!

      November 21, 2011 at 7:17 pm | Report abuse |
  12. banasy©

    Pardon me, Tyrone, but your racism is showing.

    Let's just cut the crap and say all men should be neutered.

    See how stupid that sounds?

    November 21, 2011 at 7:20 pm | Report abuse |
  13. usapanda

    Thank you for your email regarding the recent incident where UC Davis students were doused with pepper spray by campus police. As I am sure you will understand, I have received innumerable message about this and, although I would like to respond personally to each one, that is simply impossible given the volume. I am, therefore, sending this same response to all, but I want you to know that I am reading all the messages I have received.

    Please know that I share your utter dismay over this shocking incident. In response, I have issued the following statement:

    I am appalled by images of University of California students being doused with pepper spray and jabbed with police batons on our campuses.

    I intend to do everything in my power as President of this university to protect the rights of our students, faculty and staff to engage in non-violent protest.

    Chancellors at the UC Davis and UC Berkeley campuses already have initiated reviews of incidents that occurred on their campuses. I applaud this rapid response and eagerly await the results.

    The University of California, however, is a single university with 10 campuses, and the incidents in recent days cry out for a systemwide response.

    Therefore I will be taking immediate steps to set that response in motion.

    I intend to convene all 10 Chancellors, either in person or by telephone, to engage in a full and unfettered discussion about how to ensure proportional law enforcement response to non-violent protest.

    To that end, I will be asking the Chancellors to forward to me at once all relevant protocols and policies already in place on their individual campuses, as well as those that apply to the engagement of non-campus police agencies through mutual aid agreements.

    Further, I already have taken steps to assemble experts and stake-holders to conduct a thorough, far-reaching and urgent assessment of campus police procedures involving use of force, including post-incident review processes.

    My intention is not to micromanage our campus police forces. The sworn officers who serve on our campuses are professionals dedicated to the protection of the UC community.

    Nor do I wish to micromanage the chancellors. They are the leaders of our campuses and they have my full trust and confidence.

    Nonetheless, the recent incidents make clear the time has come to take strong action to recommit to the ideal of peaceful protest.

    As I have said before, free speech is part of the DNA of this university, and non-violent protest has long been central to our history. It is a value we must protect with vigilance. I implore students who wish to demonstrate to do so in a peaceful and lawful fashion. I expect campus authorities to honor that right.

    UC Davis Chancellor, Linda Katehi, has also issued a statement and I attach for your information a copy of her statement, as well as two media releases regarding the placing of the officers involved and the police chief on administrative leave. She has my full support in this matter and I am confident that she and her administration will work to preserve the health and safety of the campus community, and to conduct a fair review of this unfortunate event. I am sharing your message with her so that she, too, will be aware of your concerns.

    With best wishes, I am,

    Sincerely yours,

    Mark G. Yudof

    President

    November 21, 2011 at 7:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • Eyesontheworld

      Remember Kent State? This is no different. This is encouraged by old police thugs who everyone thinks is wonderful.
      They crack down on people who aren't doing anything wrong. The mentality behind all this is what's wrong here.

      November 21, 2011 at 8:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • flush limballs

      i find it so odd , they never pepper spray people like Jerry Sandusky, or Bernie" Madoff, they seem to know what class to pepper spray or not ..

      November 21, 2011 at 8:13 pm | Report abuse |
  14. flush limballs

    the police day before the pepper spray incident . Protesters talked with police , even offering them food , It was one of these officers who returned the next day .HE is the one who sprayed them.You have to ask yourself what goes on in a mind like that . I feel for his family, This officer is sadistic at the least , and violent I am sure , we will read about him in the news someday, for more serious crimes than this .

    November 21, 2011 at 7:36 pm | Report abuse |
  15. gung hoe

    @tyrone @648 Please dont think that it goes just one way with whites against blacks and Im not doubting what you said,but tyrone them incidents you spoke of I find it hard to believe there wasnt a black man in on them arrest as I do know that when police are sent to a area that the dispatcher will try to send black cops to black areas and whites to white areas.But ty getting back to what you said I personally have had my taillight busted out by black officers !!!

    November 21, 2011 at 7:40 pm | Report abuse |
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