Liveblogging the November 18 UC Davis Pepper Spray Incident – Student Activism

20 Nov

http://studentactivism.net/2011/11/19/police-brutality-and-lies-at-uc-davis/

 

Liveblogging the November 18 UC Davis Pepper Spray Incident

November 19, 2011 in Students

Scroll down for updates…

Yesterday afternoon, after UC Davis police dismantled an Occupy encampment on their campus, making several arrests, a group of students sat down.

That’s it. They sat down. They sat down in a wide ring around the officers, backs to the group, and bowed their heads. Some linked arms. Many did not. Officers were positioned behind the students and in front of them, and — as multiple videos show — were able to move past them easily in both directions.

To clear the demonstrators from the sidewalk and the lawn the police pepper-sprayed the line. Just sprayed the entire line of students with a casual sweeping motion. Video shows that within eight seconds of the first use of spray, the line was broken up and no longer even minimally restricted police action, but the spraying continued.

One student witness says that police sprayed the thickest section of the line and that there were gaps in it at other points — that it was always, in other words, a symbolic rather than an actual barrier. This video shows that two officers initially moved in to remove students from the line without violence, but were waved back by a superior so that he could spray them instead.

Students. Sitting down. With bowed heads. On university property. Police freely moving around them, pepper spraying them, facing no resistance whatsoever. Just students. Sitting on the ground.

Here’s how Nathan Brown, a Davis faculty member who was on the scene, describes what happened next:

Police used batons to try to push the students apart. 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. When students covered their eyes with their clothing, police forced open their mouths and pepper-sprayed down their throats. Several of these students were hospitalized. Others are seriously injured. One of them, forty-five minutes after being pepper-sprayed down his throat, was still coughing up blood.

Not all of this account is corroborated by video, but much of it is. Cameras caught police kneeling on students’ backs and spraying them directly in the face. This video shows police roughing up a student who was laying face down on the ground as his friends shout “he’s not resisting!” One journalist reported that a female student was taken from the scene in an ambulance “for treatment of chemical burns,” while another said that eleven students were treated by paramedics at the scene and that two were transported to a local hospital. (That second report also notes that university staff and administrators watching the protest “did not seek medical assistance for those hurt until asked.”)

Annette Spicuzza, the chief of the UC Davis police department, told the local CBS news that officers began spraying, in the station’s paraphrase, “out of concern for their own safety,” a claim that video and photos of the incident demonstrate to be entirely false. She told the Sacramento Bee that officers “officers were forced to use pepper spray when students surrounded them,” that — and this is a direct quote — “there was no way out of that circle.” But video shows this to be a lie as well. Officers were moving freely throughout the incident, and the officer who sprayed first, Lt. John Pike, was standing inside the circle immediately before he began spraying. He stepped over the students, out of the circle, in order to spray them.

UC Davis chancellor Linda Katehi released a statement last night in which she said she “deeply regretted” students’ actions yesterday, actions that “offer[ed] us no option but to ask the police to assist in their removal.” But of course you can’t regret something that someone else did, something you had no control over.

For the actions she did have control over, and will have control over in the future — the violence of her police  — Katehi expressed no regret. She was, she said, “saddened.” She was “saddened to report that during this activity, 10 protestors were arrested and pepper spray was used,” and “saddened by the events that subsequently transpired to facilitate their removal.” No regret. Not even an active voice.

Just sadness at what those awful students made her do.

Update |UC Davis police chief Annette Spicuzza is “very proud” of her officers. “They did a great job.”

Second Update | I mentioned this in the body of the story, but it’s worth underscoring at greater length. This video starts about two and a half minutes before the most widely seen video of the incident. It opens with an officer whose face is never entirely visible (but whose sleeve markings and facial hair identify him as Lt. Pike, the primary sprayer), delivering a warning to a seated student. The student says “Just making sure, just making sure. You’re shooting us for sitting here.” Pike says something more, and the student says “No, that’s fine. That’s fine. You’re shooting us for sitting here.”

Then, at 0:06, Pike pats the student on the back as he walks away.

At 2:10 several officers step up to the line of students from the front. One reaches down to a female student (who, like many in the group, has not linked arms with the others), but as he begins to pull her up another officer says something to him and he retreats. A second officer who is about to pick up a different student is similarly waved off at 2:15. A line of about half a dozen officers then moves back from the line, obviously under orders.

At 2:23 Lt. Pike steps over the line of students, turns to face them, and begins spraying.

Third Update | Lt. Pike has received a salary in excess of $100,000 from the people of California each of the last three years. More than 40% of his 2010 salary came from student fees.

Fourth Update | CNN showed the pepper spray video this morning, with the anchor describing it as depicting a “scuffle” and a “back and forth” between demonstrators and police.

Fifth Update | This video confirms, starting at about 31:30, that it was Lt. Pike who chatted amiably with a student protester and patted him on the back moments before pepper spraying him. It also appears to confirm, at 34:10, that it was Lt. Pike who ordered the group of officers to abandon their attempt to remove students from the walk peacefully. At 35:30 it shows an officer using a baton to separate two protesters, as alleged by Professor Nathan Brown.

Sixth Update | UC Davis officials are continuing to offer flatly false characterizations of yesterday’s violence. University spokeswoman Claudia Morain told a Huffington Post reporter this morning that officers pepper sprayed students “because they needed to get out of there,” and that “the police tried to use the least force that they could.” Again, multiple videos show that police were never constrained from moving around the scene, and that Lt. Pike waved off officers who were attempting to remove students nonviolently just seconds before he began pepper-spraying a non-resisting, non-disruptive line of protesters.

Seventh Update | Not that it’s a surprise, but here’s confirmation, via @saramayeux on Twitter: The use of force at Davis yesterday violated UC’sUniversitywide Police Policies and Administrative Procedures. Excerpts:

“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.”

“Arrestees and suspects shall be treated in a humane manner … they shall not be subject to physical force except as required to subdue violence or ensure detention. No officer shall strike an arrestee or suspect except in self-defense, to prevent an escape, or to prevent injury to another person.

Eighth Update | How did Pike spray the students? Like a gardener spraying insecticide, according to Gawker.

Ninth Update | I haven’t commented on the second half of the most commonly viewed video, in which the students appear to shame the police into retreating, because I haven’t been sure what to make of it. Luckily, Lili Loofbourow has written something amazing on the subject.

Tenth Update | Here’s a federal court ruling from 1997 which appears to indicate not only that yesterday’s pepper spray incident was an violation of the activists’ constitutional rights, but that Lt. Pike would be unable to hide behind “qualified immunity” in any court proceeding, and would thus be subject to suit as an individual.

Eleventh Update | At the beginning of this video a group of demonstrators start up a chant of “From Davis to Greece, Fuck the Police!” Other demonstrators immediately chastise them and get them to stop, saying “Keep it nonviolent! Keep it peaceful!”

Six and a half minutes later, they all get pepper sprayed.

Twelfth Update | Chancellor Katehi has just released a new statement on yesterday’s events. Quote: “The use of pepper spray as shown on the video is chilling to us all and raises many questions about how best to handle situations like this.” She’s creating a faculty/student/staff task force to review the incident. “We must ensure our strategies to gain compliance are fair and reasonable and do not lead to mistreatment.” Also:

“I am asking the office of Administrative and Resource Management and the office of Student Affairs to review our policies in relation to encampments of this nature and consider whether our existing policies reflect the needs of the students at this point in time. If our policies do not allow our students enough flexibility to express themselves, then we need to find a way to improve these policies and make them more effective and appropriate.”

Thirteenth Update | On Twitter, @NewYorkist points out that the lead sentence of Katehi’s statement is a direct, if perhaps unintentional, rebuke to her police chief. Where Katehi said that “yesterday was not a day that would make anyone on our campus proud,” Chief Spicuzza declared yesterday that she was “very proud” of her officers.

Snarky ironies aside, though, there’s not much of substance in Katehi’s new letter. The task force she’s establishing won’t report for 90 days, and won’t have any power then. There’s no indication elsewhere in the statement that Katehi is considering any disciplinary action against Pike or Spicuzza. Her review of encampment policies is intriguing, particularly given the larger climate relating to campus occupations in the state and nation, but it could easily come to nothing.

The statement is clearly intended to buy Katehi some breathing room. Whether it will do that remains unclear.

Fourteenth Update | The Davis Faculty Association, an independent lobbying group and watchdog organization, is calling for Katehi’s immediate resignation.From their website:

The Chancellor’s authorization of the use of police force to suppress the protests by students and community members speaking out on behalf of our university and public higher education generally represents a gross failure of leadership. … We also call for a policy that will end the practice of forcibly removing non-violent student, faculty, staff, and community protestors by police on the UC Davis campus.

Fifteenth Update | I’ll admit that after watching the first several videos I was skeptical of this claim, but a new California Aggie article has a named eyewitness report backing up Nathan Brown’s contention that police sprayed one of the protesters directly in the mouth.

Sixteenth Update | The Council of UC Faculty Associations, the statewide analogue of the group referenced in Update 14, has released a statement on recent police violence at UC and CSU. An excerpt:

We are outraged that the administrations of UC campuses are using police brutality to suppress dissent, free speech and peaceful assembly.

We demand that the Chancellors of the University of California cease using police violence to repress non-violent political protests. We hold them responsible for the violence and believe it can only result in an escalation of outrage that holds the potential for even more violence.

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