The University of California has been receiving negative attention in the media recently, and this time it’s not for tuition hikes.
Police officers at UC Davis on Friday pepper-sprayed docile student protesters directly in their faces while they sat on the ground linking arms. Videos of the incident have since gone viral. This event, so soon after YouTube buzzed with videos showing officers hitting students with batons at UC Berkeley, makes us question UCPD’s procedures and their harsh methods for handling student protests.
We stand in solidarity with the protesters who have remained nonviolent in the face of such dispassionate displays of excessive force.
UC Davis protesters staged an Occupy protest, remaining despite an order from campus Chancellor Linda Katehi to leave by 3 p.m. Police officers responded with pepper-spray.
It appears that the outcry over the Nov. 9 incident was not enough for officers to realize that if they are not thoughtful about their actions, the campus community will react.
The excessive force on both campuses raises concerns about whether there is an underlying problem with UCPD: Officers are not fully considering the ramifications of their actions. Instead of being malleable to situations and considering whether student protesters truly present an imminent threat, officers appear to be defaulting to so-called proper procedure.
Police must start thinking outside this box. They should realize that by using such forceful tactics, they will only ignite increased anger within the protests they are seeking to manage, as seen in the overwhelming increase in support for Occupy Cal following Nov. 9. Police officers must reassess their roles on a college campus.
Furthermore, statements by police following the UC Davis incident reveal a disconnect. In an article by the Associated Press, UC Davis Police Chief Annette Spicuzza said that, “The students had encircled the officers … They were looking to leave but were unable to get out.” From the videos and reports that we have examined, it appears that Spicuzza’s statement is fundamentally flawed. Footage clearly shows officers, who are not surrounded or trapped by students, pepper-spraying a line of sitting protesters.
The way in which the Occupy Cal encampment was ultimately removed could be a model for police. Rather than confronting protesters at the height of a rally, officers approached the camp in the very early hours of last Thursday morning and were successful in clearing it out without violence.
Administrators can also learn from these incidents that delivering outrageous ultimatums — as Chancellor Katehi did in demanding the encampment be cleared out in the afternoon — may result in police using extreme methods. Officials should take note of UC President Mark Yudof’s statement Sunday, which boldly condemned the events and called on chancellors to join him in an assessment of campus police policies. We are impressed with Yudof’s response and look forward to the results of his effort.
Our university has a lot to learn from these events, and we hope that officials genuinely engage in a review to question their practices. After all, that is the purpose of a university — to provide space for individuals to learn and to question the world in which they live.