A homeless, teenage Occupy Seattle protester claims that, during a recent demonstration, police officers kicked her in the stomach and pepper-sprayed her. She was pregnant at the time, and miscarried several days later. Was there a cause/effect relationship?
Nineteen-year-old Jennifer Fox had her encounter with police during Occupy Seattle's November 15 protest—the same demonstration where 84-year-old Dorli Rainey was pepper-sprayed in the face and unwittingly became an icon of the Occupy movement. Fox was also photographed that night, being carried in a man's arms and with an anguished look on her face. The video above, shot by YouTuber IowaBoyDave, shows her immediately post-pepper spraying.
On November 21, blogger Ian Awesome posted an update on Fox and revealed that she had miscarried. Dominic Holden, a writer for the Seattle alt-weekly The Stranger, discovered Awesome's post and tracked down Fox at Occupy Seattle's encampment at Seattle Central Community College to interview. Fox told Holden that, as tensions flared, she tried to notify police that she was pregnant. As she tells it, her efforts didn't work:
At that point, Fox continues, a Seattle police officer lifted his foot and it hit her in the stomach, and another officer pushed his bicycle into the crowd, again hitting Fox in the stomach. "Right before I turned, both cops lifted their pepper spray and sprayed me. My eyes puffed up and my eyes swelled shut," she says.
Eventually Fox was taken to a hospital, where doctors found no issues with her baby. Several days later, however, she started feeling sick and went back to the hospital. "They diagnosed that I was having a miscarriage," she told Holden. "They said the damage was from the kick and that the pepper spray got to it [the fetus], too." Holden asked her for medical records; she told him she would get copies. He'll update his story as he collects more evidence, he writes.
Without more information, it's hasty and wrongheaded to conclude that Fox's treatment by police directly caused her miscarriage. The Mayo Clinic lists several common reasons why women miscarry, from hormonal problems to infections. However, it is possible that a cause/effect relationship exists. People have been indicted for homicide for kicking pregnant women in the stomach. The stress of having been pepper sprayed might also have played a part, as stress can sometimes cause miscarriages.
Some readers of Holden's post have condemned Fox for participating in an Occupy protest while pregnant. "It was totally irresposible of this woman to put her unborn baby at risk in this way," said commenter "Amanda." Another commenter going by the not-at-all self-righteous name "In your heart you know he's right" wonders, "Why don't we charge her instead for putting her baby in danger," then calls her a "[d]umb bitch." Whoa whoa whoa! Fox wasn't committing a crime here—she was attending a protest. Until that November 15 showdown, Occupy Seattle protests had received more support from the city compared to its counterparts in NYC, Oakland, and elsewhere. On November 16, Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn even apologized for the previous night's pepper-spraying. Fox simply might not have expected that the protest atmosphere would become violent.
Several commenters also imply that being pregnant mean that a woman must forfeit her right to participate in demonstrations, because modern-day protests in America generally involve some violence (pushy crowds, clashing between police and protesters, and deployment of tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets, and/or batons). This raises two questions. The first: How is attending a protest any more dangerous than riding in a car, following Newt Gingrich's advice and taking a bath (those floors can be slippery!), or doing any number of other daily-life things? Danger is everywhere; should pregnant women sit on their couches under protective glass until they deliver their babies? Obviously no.
The second question: What is the benefit of expecting that all political demonstrations must be violent affairs? Political demonstrations have become riot-gear pepper-spray festivals largely because of the militarization of urban policing, but this militarizing trend hasn't occurred in a vacuum. Up to now, people have tolerated it. Now that every day brings a new video of some protester getting pepper-sprayed, beaten, or tear-gas canistered in the head, both law enforcement officials and city officials, not to mention the public at large, have begun to raise questions about what political protesting in America has become—and what those scenes of baton beatings and pepper-spraying say about the status of free speech. Accepting pepper spraying as "just the way it is" isn't only unnecessary—it's also no more correct than assuming that protests will come off with everyone hugging and trading brownie recipes. Somewhere between pepper-spray and patchouli is a middle ground, and that ground should be safe for pregnant women to sit upon without risk.