During a non-violent ‘Occupy’ demonstration at UC Davis on Friday afternoon, Chancellor Linda Katehi called in a retinue of riot police to disperse student activists, resulting in 10 arrests and two hospitalizations.
Katehi ordered the demonstrators’ tents be removed earlier in the day, as they were in violation of a university policy which she said protects student health and safety; however, all tents were reportedly dismantled before UC Davis police Lt. John Pike began using military grade pepper spray — multiple times at close range — against a group of students seated with linked arms. Arrested students were cited with misdemeanor charges of unlawful assembly and failure to disperse. Meanwhile, the two officers who used pepper spray have since been placed on paid administrative leave.
As of press time, university administration has reported no instances of violence by protesters.
During a press conference held Saturday in response to the events, Katehi said the intent of utilizing the police force was to maintain an atmosphere in which students feel protected.
“As we are looking at providing an environment appropriate for our students, and an environment that really allows them to express their concerns and to practice their freedoms, I would say we are always concerned about their safety,” Katehi said.
According to the UC Davis police department’s website, “A key component of this safe learning environment is an atmosphere free of violence, coercion, and fear.”
In an open letter to Katehi released Friday, UC Davis English professor Nathan Brown said the methods employed by were startlingly brutal.
“Those they could separate, they arrested, kneeling on their bodies and pushing their heads into the ground. Those they could not separate, they pepper-sprayed directly in the face, holding these students as they did so,” Brown said. “When students covered their eyes with their clothing, police forced open their mouths and pepper-sprayed down their throats. … One of them, forty-five minutes after being pepper-sprayed down his throat, was still coughing up blood.”
Although the Davis Faculty Association called for her resignation, Katehi said she has no plans to step down.
“I do not think that I have violated the policies of the institution,” Katehi said. “As a matter of fact, I have personally worked very hard to make this campus a safe campus for all.”
Katehi announced that she will organize a task force consisting of students, faculty and staff to investigate the events, but has yet to reach out to those who were injured amidst the arrests.
Approximately 700 students silently lined Katehi’s exit from the conference, which occurred approximately two hours and 20 minutes after the press conference ended.
Brown, who helped organize the protest, said the chancellor’s response violated the charge of her job.
“There must be space for students to assert their right to decide on the form of their protest, their dissent, and their civil disobedience — including the simple act of setting up tents in solidarity with other students who have done so … especially when the object of protest and dissent is police brutality itself,” Brown said in the letter. “You may not order police to forcefully disperse student protesters peacefully protesting police brutality. You may not do so. It is not an option available to you as the Chancellor of a UC campus.”
According to UC Police Policies and Administrative Procedures, “arrestees and suspects shall be treated in a humane manner as provided by law. They shall not be subject to physical force except as required to subdue violence or ensure detention” and “chemical agents are weapons used to minimize the potential for injury to officers, offenders, or other persons. They should only be used in situations where such force reasonably appears justified and necessary.”
However, UC Davis third-year political science major Adam Castle said given the students’ resistance to arrest, the police response was not out-of-line.
“I think that it wasn’t the worst that could have happened and engaging in civil disobedience like this one expects it to happen,” Castle said. “I don’t have much sympathy once you get sprayed because you should have expected that.”
In a statement released yesterday, UC President Mark G. Yudof said he is shocked by recent actions taken by university police forces across campuses during 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,” Yudof said in the press release. “I implore students who wish to demonstrate to do so in a peaceful and lawful fashion. I expect campus authorities to honor that right.”
Additionally, Yudof said he will hold a meeting with all UC chancellors to discuss system-wide policies on coordinating police response to non-violent protests.
University Editor’s note: Lt. Pike earns $110,000 a year. Brown earns $64,000.