The level of force local law enforcement agencies are using to target Occupy protestors is nothing short of extraordinary.

When the NYPD raided Zuccotti Park this week, officers used pepper spray rather indiscriminately, affecting, among others, a pregnant woman and an 84-year-old woman who were in the crowd. But while the descriptions of the raid are chilling, the video of this police intervention at UC Davis yesterday is even more astonishing.

I don’t know the events that led up to this confrontation; I would assume the police asked these protestors to leave and they refused. But when law enforcement officials use a weapon, they need to have a good reason for doing so. In this case, the protestors were … just sitting there.

And the response to these protestors was to spray them, in the face, with large quantities of pepper spray. As ABL put it, the officer “approached a group of students sitting in a line peacefully on the ground, walked up and down the line and pepper-sprayed them directly in the face — as one would spray pesticide on weeds.”

What’s more, note that the officer was well aware of the cameras recording his actions. In New York, Mayor Bloomberg waited until it was dark and did his best to keep the media away, so there’s far less footage of what transpired, but in this case, the UC Davis officer knew the world would be able to see his response, and felt confident enough in his decision to do it anyway.

If someone is able to explain why this isn’t police brutality, I’d love to hear it.

In case this isn’t obvious, pepper spray is some awfully nasty stuff. It’s not just a minor nuisance for those who come in contact with it; this stuff hurts and makes it difficult to breathe.

I can fully appreciate why police officers may need to use non-lethal weapons in specific circumstances. If, for example, there’d been a riot at UC Davis, and the police was trying to get a violent situation under control, pepper spray may be fully justified.

But these protestors were just sitting there. The violence was being done by the police themselves. If officers felt it necessary to remove these protestors, the police are trained in plenty of techniques to drag people away without the use of weapons.

There’s simply no defense for what happened.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.