Massachusetts Daily Collegian

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A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Police crass and callous at UC – Davis

Courtesy of Business Insider

Perhaps many of you have been witness to viral videos displaying illicit police force against peaceful student protesters at the University of California-Davis. If you haven’t, this is definitely a clip worth watching and one that reminds us that our safety and our free speech as students and as citizens may be compromised when our values come into conflict with powerful institutions.

The clip begins by displaying a crowd of students gathered around a line of peaceful protesters, arms linked and heads bowed in a display of solidarity with the Occupy movement. An officer cuts into the scene withdrawing a can of pepper spray, quickly accompanied by shrieking and chanting from an oppositional crowd. Officers attempt to settle the scene by pulling students apart, handcuffing several and dragging them off the premises, as Occupy supporters stand in awe. Chaos erupts, and the screaming persists as students demand to know why police are taking this irrational action. All the while, police remain calm and emotionless. As a viewer, the pepper spray becomes less troubling than the calm and callous approach the officer takes in spraying down the peaceful protesters.

Since the incident occurred last Friday, the video has reached millions of viewers across the Web. While negative response has been widespread, the UC Davis police force and Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi appear to be treating this incident with negligence. This attitude has been met with hostility from students, faculty and viewers across the country – and rightfully so.

With a history of student activism in state of California, one would think the UC Davis administration and police forces would be more apt for handling peaceful protesters, yet this past week’s crass display that was caught on camera challenges this expectation. The UC Davis police and the chancellor’s reaction to this display prove quite inappropriate, justifying the police harassment and treating this serious matter with a mild demeanor.

Two officers have been suspended on administrative leave, and Katehi has addressed this issue as “sad” and “chilling,” calling for a 30-day investigation of the incident – yet for many, myself included, this doesn’t seem to be enough. In a news conference, Katehi defended her role as chancellor and announced her intent to keep her position despite faculty and student opposition. The university’s faculty association referred to her action as a “gross failure of leadership,” calling for her resignation.

While Katehi attempts to justify her role as chancellor despite her failure to protect the students she represents, Charles J. Kelly – a former police lieutenant who reportedly wrote the force guidelines adhered to by UC Davis police – justifies the display as “standard police procedure” to be used as a “compliance tool” for protesters who do not resist, according to reports. UC Davis police Chief Annette Spicuzza has a similar response, justifying the police action as a self-defense tool, making it appear as though officers were in danger of the encroaching students.

Justification of these tactics by campus police forces and Katehi’s description of UC Davis as a safe campus for all, prove quite problematic and contradictory to the images caught on tape. When students who are attending a university and peacefully employing their first amendment rights are harassed in this manner, things are clearly awry.

In reaction to administrative and police responses to this incident, students fostered another protest caught on film – they gathered in long and silent lines beside the sidewalk as Katehi returned to her SUV after a news conference regarding the UC Davis Occupy protest. The image is truly haunting display – peaceful, silent and exemplary of students’ disdain for the handling of the prior matter.

These incidents bring into question the nature and relationship between students, protests and administrative forces. A university is a space harboring of protests by its very nature – it is a space for which to consume knowledge and challenge the status quo; to engage in constructive criticism of the institutions around us. By limiting students’ ability to protest, the administration and police force is limiting a student’s role as a student, and as a citizen of the United States. If we cannot protest peacefully, what are we meant to do? Are we meant to not protest at all, or take up arms in favor of violence? Neither appears to be a good conclusion. Students and faculty have pinpointed a better one – Katehi’s resignation and increased accountability of campus police power.

Kimberly Ovitz is a Collegian columnist. She can be reached at [email protected].

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  • M

    MALT Lymphoma SymptomsDec 5, 2011 at 6:22 am

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  • D

    David Hunt '90Nov 21, 2011 at 1:38 pm

    The Leftists are revolting!

    We know.

  • H

    HdeeNov 21, 2011 at 2:46 am

    Why students are protesting.

    1. Tax hikes every year since 2005, sometimes each quarter in the same of 3 months
    2. Tuition goes up, education goes down. Units maxed previously at 24 (5-6 classes), now it’s 16 units (4 class, humanities or 3 science classes each quarter..)
    3. professors are let go, resources are down and UC Regents ( analogous to US congress have salaries increased)

    Yeah, it started out as OWStreet, but UC students have been protesting for years. Please read the literature before thinking CAL are just hippies. Not everyone is like that.

    Imagine if YOU were taxed every 3 months.

  • S

    stewart tennysonNov 20, 2011 at 11:13 pm

    I’ve tried twice to contact the UC Davis police department and both the mails have been bounced back.

    Looks like the campus police are in lock-down mode waiting for someone to fall on their sword.

    Let’s see how many of the sc*mbags will go…