Elizabeth Nichols, the 20-year-old woman who was pepper sprayed by police after arguing with an officer who had pressed a baton against her throat, has spoken out about the incident -- which was accidentally captured by a photojournalist and is quickly becoming one of the most iconic images of the Occupy Wall Street protest movement.
Nichols is originally from Mountain Home, Ark., and her parents -- both disabled -- are surviving on her father's Social Security checks. Nichols told the Oregonian that abruptly being doused with pepper spray caused her to briefly question whether the rewards for protesting are worth the risks.
Pepper spray is not worth it, Nichols told the Oregonian. I was really surprised about that. There was no warning at all about pepper spray.
It felt like my face, my ears, my hands, were on fire, she continued.
When a reporter asked Nichols if this has been worth it, the young woman responded, Like I said, not the pepper spray. The rest of it, yes, it's all worth it, but the pepper spray...I'd rather be tased.
Nichols' mouth remained open while she was being pepper sprayed, and the ingestion of the pepper spray made her feel sick. She told the Oregonian the police officers advised to her keep her mouth closed the next time she was pepper sprayed.
Nichols' frustration with the pepper spraying incident stems from her belief that she did not willfully break the law in any way. She was among a group of protesters who were ordered to remain on a sidewalk in front of a Chase bank they had been previously occupying. According to a report in the Oregonian, Nichols remained on the sidewalk and locked arms with another protestor. They had nowhere to go as people in back pushed and the riot police in front shoved back... Nichols said a policewoman jabbed her in the ribs with a baton and pressed it against her throat.
Nichols shouted at the officer, claiming mistreatment, and another officer hit her in the face with pepper spray.
Randy L. Rasmussen, a photojournalist for the Oregonian who was documenting the day of protests, did not realize until much later that he had captured a photo of Nichols that is quickly becoming a symbol of the Occupy Wall Street protests, where accusations of police brutality have become commonplace in nearly every Occupy camp.
Rasmussen captured the photo during a particularly hectic time at the protest, just before his camera battery died. He told the Oregonian he was shooting pretty much anything that moved.
Because Rasmussen heard people screaming about pepper spray after his battery died, he was surprised later to discover he had captured the powerful scene.
Nichols has pleaded not guilty to three counts of interfering with a police officer.