In this image made from video, a police officer uses pepper spray as he walks down a line of Occupy demonstrators sitting on the ground at the University of California, Davis on Friday, Nov. 18, 2011. (AP Photo/Thomas K. Fowler)
In the most comprehensive official report on police tactics towards campus anti-tuition hike protests since the Occupy movement broke out last year, a University of California investigation concludes, “The pepper spraying incident that took place on November 18, 2011, should and could have been prevented.”
The police action was code-named Operation Eco-Friendly. The report delves deeply into the irrationality of administrative conduct, which resulted in the pepper spraying of UC Davis students on that day, and also paints one of the first portraits of the good-natured nonviolent idealism among the new wave of student protestors.
The report was issued in the name of Dr. Cruz Reynoso of the Davis campus, a former member of the California Supreme Court who lost his position during the anti-crime, anti-government hysteria that swept California in 1986, a precursor of the Neo-Con and Tea Party counter-movements. The 190-page review was shaped by Dean Chris Edley of UC Berkeley’s Law School.
At a time of growing student concern about the militarization of university campuses in the face of rising tuition and declining employment opportunities, the Reynoso report offers a chance to rethink the worsening crisis of higher education and emphasizes positive nonviolent alternatives to batons, pepper spray and incarceration.
The continuing impulse toward campus militarization, however, is contained in a proposal by the security consulting firm Kroll Inc., led by William Bratton, for a centralized system-wide police chief. Under current policing regulations, students who nonviolently link arms are defined as “actively resisting” and subject to arrest, coercive removal, and pepper-spraying.
The Reynoso report concurs with the student and faculty protestors’ assertion that there was no legal basis for taking down tents and hauling students away. Ironically, the UCD officer most visibly involved in the student pepper spraying, John Pike, repeatedly asked whether the procedure was legal. According to Kroll, “Members of the Leadership Team referred to a UC Davis policy against overnight camping on University property in emails, but no legal basis for campus police removing tents was stated.” Camping is prohibited by an administrative rule, making enforcement by the police “legally suspect.” California law makes it a misdemeanor to “lodge” in any “structure” without the permission of the owner, but the reports concludes that “it is not clear that the arrestees were, in fact, connected to any of the tents or had in fact ‘lodged’ on University property.” At present, the Yolo County district attorney has declined to charge any of the arrested students.
As an example of the hysteria which led to the police assault, UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi offered this “reasoning”: “We were worried at the time about [nonaffiliates] because the issues from Oakland were in the news and the use of drugs and sex and other things, and you know here we have very young students…”
The administration and police saw everything through the prism of previous and more radical confrontations in Oakland and Berkeley, and were obsessed with an unfounded belief that Davis students were led by “outsiders.” The reports found no evidence of outside agitators, though it noted that local clergy were present as observers and one of the arrested students was a 2009 UC Davis graduate.