Dec 5, 2013
The Pepper Shot Heard ’Round the Web
Posted on Nov 19, 2011
In what could turn out to be a recruiting coup for the Occupy movement, a clip showing a UC Davis campus police officer blithely pepper-spraying a group of seated students is stirring outrage from all corners of the Web.
Like a magician beginning a trick, the officer waves his chemical canister in front of the anxious crowd before releasing the spray. Many of the students try to protect themselves by covering their faces. Some have their mouths forced open by officers who shoot the chemical into their throats. Others stumble away.
The crowd erupts in chants of “Shame on you!” as cops begin removing the sitters. The confrontation finally ends after officers arrest about 10 students and at least one woman is taken away to be treated for chemical burns.
Courts have deemed similar uses of pepper spray to disperse a peaceful crowd “excessive.” One brave UC Davis professor, Nathan Brown, demanded the resignation of Chancellor Linda Katehi following the incident, noting the discrepancy between her stated commitment to student safety and her decision to call in cops to forcefully end the protest:
I will leave it to my colleagues and every reader of this letter to decide what poses a greater threat to “a safe and inviting space for all our students” or “a safe, welcoming environment” at UC Davis: (1) Setting up tents on the quad in solidarity with faculty and students brutalized by police at UC Berkeley? or (2) Sending in riot police to disperse students with batons, pepper-spray, and tear-gas guns, while those students sit peacefully on the ground with their arms linked? Is this what you have in mind when you refer to creating “a safe and inviting space?” Is this what you have in mind when you express commitment to “a safe, welcoming environment?”
No one answered when I tried to contact the officer who sprayed the students, Lt. John Pike. His voice mail inbox was full. I left a message with the UC Davis press office and will update this post if I hear back.
—Alexander Reed Kelly
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