Don’t Pepper Spray Me

Fueled by an Occupy Davis rally Tuesday, Nov. 15 that drew approximately 2,000 protesters, students at UC Davis shifted their focus to occupying campus buildings. After being foisted out of their one-night stint in Mrak Hall, UCD protesters regrouped Thursday night, setting up camp in the Quad in protest of the 81 percent four-year fee hike. The news of what happened next has been splashed across front pages, covered by national news outlets, editorialized on our Facebook newsfeeds, retweeted, reblogged and viewed on YouTube millions of times.

A written statement was issued to the protesters calling for the dismantling of the encampment due to health and safety violations.  They were further warned that forced removal would be imminent in the event that they did not consent. In an act of classic civil disobedience, protesters did not heed the warning. In response, Chancellor Linda P. B. Katehi ordered for police action.

Nearly 200 students gathered in the “Quad” watched as a line of seated protesters were doused in plumes of pepper spray. The action by the UCD Police Department was justified by saying that they were surrounded by the students and unable to leave the scene. Notice how the pepper spray was not utilized on the encircling students, but on those seated in the center instead.

Surrounded by cameras, live-tweeters and journalists, Lt. John Pike gave no warning before administering the condemnable crowd-dispersing tactic. This is a terrifying thing — even with instantly spreading news and clear photographic and video evidence, the police do not fear being held accountable for their actions. Even in peaceful protest, students have no power when police have no concern for consequences. Though Katehi said she didn’t mean to discourage the students’ rights to rally — just their unlawful camping — the degree of reaction delivered another message: Student protesters will not be tolerated.

We acknowledge that police have the duty to protect and serve and that their job in potentially riotous situations is to maintain their bodily safety as well as the safety of others. However, the UCD protesters were not unruly and judging by their chants of “You can go peacefully!” they weren’t intentionally trapping officers.

The only threat of physical harm came not from disorderly protesters, but from an officer with an unnecessary canister of pepper spray. And to further the argument in favor of UCD’s decidedly peaceful tactics, following Katehi’s press conference on Saturday, approximately 700 students participated in a chilling moment of silence as the chancellor was escorted to her car.

The heart of this situation is not police brutality. This incident boils down to Chancellor Katehi. Perhaps she thought she was just doing her job to protect the “health and safety” of the campus. However, she was effectively unleashing the hand of law enforcement on the very students she is supposed to be serving.

UCD students were not deterred; they were only ignited by a new cause: the right to peacefully protest. In light of brutal police action and camp evictions at UC Berkeley, UCLA and CSU Long Beach, the widespread, iconic photographs and YouTube videos stand as a clear portrait of student movements. UCD protesters have become martyrs of a dying cause that has been violently reignited and the whole country is watching.

The New University stands in solidarity with the UC Davis protesters and commends them for their poise in the face of brutal adversity. Student activists should take note of their peaceful protest, ethos stirring moment of silence and continuing dedication to fighting for the resignation of Chancellor Katehi.

We also thank UC President Mark Yudof for his statements in response to the actions of the UC Davis police and his intentions to “protect the rights of our students, faculty and staff to engage in non-violent protest.” The fact that students are expressing concern over the compromising of their rights and abilities to participate in non-violent protest is unsettling — especially when it is officials of the UC system utilizing UC police compromising students’ rights.

UCI students who are interested in lending their voice are encouraged to attend the “UCPD: Stop Beating Students” rally on Tuesday, Nov. 22 at the flagpoles and sign the Change.org petition calling for Katehi’s resignation. To keep updated with news surrounding this event, we urge you to turn to The Aggie, UC Davis’ official campus newspaper.

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