You’ve probably heard that protestors at Occupy UC Davis were pepper-sprayed by police during a non-violent protest. (It’s very likely that you have heard but it hasn’t registered, as there have been many similar events nationwide and it’s hard to keep track.)

After the incident, UC Davis police chief, Annette Spicuzza, had this to say:

“There was no way out of that circle. They were cutting the officers off from their support. It’s a very volatile situation.”

Imagine in your mind the kind of “volatile situation” to which this description might apply. Now here’s the picture:

Having never been pepper-sprayed, I have no idea what it’s like, although it doesn’t seem pleasant. But these protestors can take some solace in the idea that this kind of display will bring more support to their movement than a million chanted slogans. The police were obviously badly trained, but the ultimate responsibility lies with UC Davis Chancellor Linda Kaheti, who ordered them in. It’s a horrifying demonstration of what happens when authority is unchecked and out of touch. I’m not sure where the propensity of local authorities to call in police dressed like Storm Troopers started, but it has to end. This isn’t what our country is supposed to be about.

Here’s the video:

Update: On the question of since when are all protests met with police in riot gear freely dispensing pepper spray, Alexis Madrigal has researched the answer, which is: since the 1999 WTO/anti-globalization protests. Apparently police training is not flexible enough to accommodate the fact that different situations call for different responses.

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71 Responses to Brutality

  1. Brian says:

    Of course, the police were OUTSIDE of the circle, and at the very beginning of the video you can clearly see the officer who sprays the protesters step OVER the protesters from inside the circle to out, without any difficulty or resistance from the protesters.

    Spicuzza’s excuse stinks.

  2. Jim says:

    Perhaps John Conway would care to comment, seeing as he’s a professor there?

  3. Alan says:

    The entire point of the demonstration was to be pepper sprayed, or to provoke some other kind of newsworthy attack. They succeeded, and gained much publicity. In situations where there was no pepper spraying or active opposition to the demonstrators, their violence escalated, until there was no choice by the authorities but to act.
    I have no sympathy for the demonstrators. Their actions in general have been like the incoherent whining of spoiled brats. Without a clear purpose and a leadership that understands how to effect political change, all they have accomplished so far is to inconvenience people who are trying to go about their lives.

  4. Matt H. says:

    If they were protesting SOPA, at least they were doing something worthwhile.

  5. Whoops, earlier link didn’t show up before I posted this.

  6. Jennifer says:

    Excellent, thanks for posting, Sean. My fellow grad student in the physics department who was there, as well as all eyewitnesses, say that all protestors were peaceful. Our methodology is nonviolent action, as in the video, sitting still and quietly to protest. I’ve just come back from Chancellor Katehi’s newsconference, there were a few hundred of us there I think, again quiet, seated, nonviolent, expressing our concern over yesterday’s events in the best way we know how. To her credit this time, she did not call in the police on us. She stayed inside the campus building for about 3 hours, from 4-7 p.m., and finally emerged to all of us seated and quietly watching her walk to her car.

    I still cannot believe she called in police yesterday and allowed them to pepper spray seated students.

    The only thing that made me angry about tonight’s action was a blonde woman who accompanied the chancellor in her “walk of shame” as we called it. The blonde woman spoke to all of us after the chancellor had gotten in her car. She said “this campus is broken!” and then spoke of time to heal.

    I feel like our campus is the opposite of broken. It works. We are holding to our ideals, no one got violent with police when they got violent with us. And today, as soon as someone saw her go into the building, there were texts and tweets and facebook messages and we all gathered there. They turned the lights off in the building at one point, perhaps hoping we would go away? But we didn’t. I just feel that she made a mistake in calling the police on students, and we are expressing our disgust with that action with solidarity and dignity. I’d say the campus is working almost perfectly. The administration has made mistakes, but they are not the campus.

  7. Jack says:

    In a civilized society passive protestors should not be sprayed in the face with chemical irritant for practicing their constitutional rights. You may not agree with their message, but you should agree that they have to the right to say it. In the Davis case the protestors had been camped out for exactly 1 night before the police arrived. This is not a case where a sustained encampment degenerated into filth or otherwise dangerous or unsafe conditions.

    The incoherence of the occupy movement comes from the variety of people participating, though there is a common theme threaded throughout the incoherence, that of a rising inequality due to crony capitalism practiced by the finance industry combined with the complacency of the government. A quote I recently read tells the story “If only they enforced bank regulations like they do park rules, we wouldn’t be in this mess.” If you really don’t get it watch 60 minutes, read nakedcapitalism, and watch Inside Job.

    On the sustained protests in Tahir Square Obama said “I want to be very clear in calling upon the Egyptian authorities to refrain from any violence against peaceful protesters. The people of Egypt have rights that are universal. That includes the right to peaceful assembly and association, the right to free speech, and the ability to determine their own destiny. These are human rights. And the United States will stand up for them everywhere.” The sentiment in this speech seems to have been lost on our own police forces and city governments.

  8. Phil says:

    Don’t worry, everyone, Sean can be trusted. He’s definitely NOT part of the 1%. He’s in physics.

  9. Tony says:

    What truly worries me, is that when non-violent protesters are peppers sprayed, eventually they will turn to violence. This will get out of hand, and when it is over no one is going to be left innocent.

  10. B says:

    This was idiotic and dangerous behavior on the part of the officers. If indeed they did feel trapped, indiscriminate violence against seated protesters only risks escalation and violence against the officers. This could have sparked a mob. To their credit the protesters didn’t attack. Although at that point the officer deserved it.

    Ultimately blame does fall on the Chancellor. Either she tacitly supports this violence, which is borderline criminal. Or she’s too incompetent to field a police force that can safely disperse a crowd.

    College-aged adults have been staging unsafe and immature protests for decades. Those kids are obnoxious and intentionally inconveniencing the campus community by blocking a sidewalk. But that’s predictable behavior by dumb kids. And it’s the Chancellor’s job to see that the campus is safe regardless of the idiocy of its student body.

  11. Jim Harrison says:

    UC chancellors are moving in on making half a million a year. It’s hardly a wonder that they are hostile to the 99%.

    Seriously, what possible excuse can there be for making millionaires out of a bunch of bureaucrat paper pushers at a time when every year sees another increase in the cost of tuition?

    Kaheti needs to be driven out for her greed as well as her propensity for sponsoring the torture of students.

  12. John Conway says:

    The faculty, I can tell you, are PISSED.

    Katehi (our chancellor) should resign immediately. This cannot stand.

  13. Carl Brannen says:

    For the general public, the view on these sorts of things is that unlawful riots are an indication that the police are unable to enforce the lawful orders of authority. The obvious solution is to make authority stronger. This is why riots generally influence US voters to swing towards the right. Let me try and explain how this happens.

    Middle-class America tells its children to obey the police. “If the police tell you to leave, you should leave. If you refuse to leave then the police will arrest you and put you on trial. The police do not pepper spray you by mistake or because they’re badly trained. They’re making your experience unpleasant so you don’t do it again. If this isn’t enough to teach you then the police have stronger techniques available.”

    It’s possible to live in the US and be unaware of the political inclinations of the majority of the population. One does this by living in tiny enclaves of like-minded people. To open up your eyes, try googling waterboarding+poll+rasmussen to see how the US public thinks.

  14. Andrew says:

    I have been pepper sprayed and I can confirm for you that it is extremely unpleasant. Your eyes begin to tear up uncontrollably and you start coughing, but it’s a really messy cough. I don’t know if it irritates your salivary glands but it seems like your mouth just fills up with saliva and combined with the coughing it turns into a giant mess.

    It is truly awful, and those kids of the video looks amazingly composed as it happens.

  15. Jim says:

    Thank You for posting this, Sean.

    Open Letter calling for Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi to resign
    Nathan Brown
    Assistant Professor
    Department of English
    Program in Critical Theory
    University of California at Davis

  16. Jennifer says:

    John, happy to see your comment, I saw another physics professor at today’s gathering, I was sure the faculty was with the students.

    Anyone who would like to sign the petition for our chancellor to resign for calling in the police, here it is:

  17. Bob says:

    Police thugs have been increasing their violence against peaceful, unarmed protesters exercising their First Amendment rights. The same day as this incident, the NYPD violated a court order allowing protesters back into the park. When a 5′ tall woman showed them the court order, a cop responded by punching her in the face. (It’s on YouTube.) Maybe it made him feel like a he-man, I don’t know. I do know there’s little chance he will ever be held accountable for his crime. Cops rarely are.

    It doesn’t matter if one agrees with the content of a protest or not; the Constitution is there for everyone, not just for one point of view. In fact, the more controversial the POV, the more it needs protecting. Popular speech doesn’t need protection.

    What’s great about this video is how the students ejected the police thugs — who had their fingers on the triggers of their automatic weapons, as they’re trained to do — without putting a finger on them.

  18. Democracy now! says:

    A non-democratic system can only be supported by non-democratic methods. That’s way chancellors order such a stupid things

  19. Pieter Kok says:

    It seems to me that it’s not only Kaheti that should resign, but the police chief as well. He (or she) is ultimately responsible for the actions of police officers. In addition, there probably should be criminal charges leveled against the officers that did the spraying.

    I’m not holding my breath, though. Kaheti’s position is probably untenable, but I doubt the police will learn anything from this for the simple reason that the majority of the general public doesn’t care unless it’s all over the news for a sustained period of time.

  20. anoNY says:

    “Having never been pepper-sprayed, I have no idea what it’s like”

    If it’s anything like CS gas, if you are in the cloud long enough you just want to die. I got hit with that stuff many times in basic training, you just hit the ground and hope for death…

  21. Nick says:

    Obviously Linda P.B. Katehi has to take some blame, but if she told the police to jump off a cliff, would they? (ok ok, its America, they probably would) What kind of police are they to be taking orders from her? She’s just the head of a school! Do the police not operate autonomously, and make their own decisions, or do they like being pawns. They look like overweight, incompetent buffoons hiding behind their guns, it would be laughable if it wasn’t so sickening.
    What happens next? As if my respect for America wasn’t at a rock bottom level already, those Police need to be brought to justice, or are the Police above the law in America.

    America! Get your act together, you are badly affecting the rest of the world economically and socially. It’s unbelievable how many people you have, who believe in imaginary sky gods and talking snakes in positions of power. The lack of education and knowledge from the top down is really scary, just look at your Republican nominees.

    Lots of things need to change in the US and around the world, be a country with a conscience, empathy and restraint – not greed, hate and ignorance – and only then will things improve. Good Luck.

  22. blue morpho says:

    Hey Alan,

    The purpose of a demonstration is to demonstrate. It is not to be beaten or pepper sprayed otherwise there would be very few volunteers willing to demonstrate, believe me.
    Now from what I understand the USA is a democracy and in democracies citizens are allowed to say what they think and pacifically disagree with any policy or occurrence, it is a right. This looks like repression in a third world country… I know it well: I was born in one and presently living in one.
    You should be shocked, outraged and a little scared instead friend…

  23. Matt says:

    @Alan, commenter #4:

    ” In situations where there was no pepper spraying or active opposition to the demonstrators, their violence escalated, until there was no choice by the authorities but to act.”

    In what alternative reality are you living?? Please educate me. During which campus protest have demonstrators escalated to the point of violence?