Police Attack Protesters at UC Davis

Police Attack Protesters at UC Davis

An account of police brutality against peaceful Occupy Colleges protesters in Davis, California.


This account was originally published by the invaluable blog Studentactivism.net, and is reprinted here with permission. The post is being continually updated so check back regularly for more info. Follow @studentactivism on Twitter to keep up with the blog’s Occupy Wall Street coverage and check back.

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, ten protesters 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.

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Katrina vanden Heuvel
Editorial Director and Publisher, The Nation

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