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Outcry After Calif. Police Pepper Spray Students

As video spread of an officer in riot gear blasting pepper spray into the faces of seated protesters at a northern California university, outrage came quickly — followed almost as quickly by defense from police and calls for the chancellor's resignation.

This image was taken from a YouTube video that appeared to show campus police using pepper spray against seated student protesters at close range, on Nov. 18, 2011.
Enlarge this image

Above: This image was taken from a YouTube video that appeared to show campus police using pepper spray against seated student protesters at close range, on Nov. 18, 2011.

University of California Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi said in a statement Saturday she was forming a task force to investigate the police action and the video images she said were "chilling."

However, a law enforcement official who watched the clip called the use of force "fairly standard police procedure."

In the video, an officer dispassionately pepper-sprays a line of several sitting protesters who flinch and cover their faces but remain passive with their arms interlocked as onlookers shriek and scream out for the officer to stop.

As the images were circulated widely on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter on Saturday, the university's faculty association called on Katehi to resign, saying in a letter there had been a "gross failure of leadership."

At a news conference, Katehi said what the video shows is, "sad and really very inappropriate" but defended her leadership and said she had no plans to resign.

"I do not think that I have violated the policies of the institution," she said. "I have worked personally very hard to make this campus a safe campus for all."

Katehi remained in a media room for more than two hours after the news conference, eventually walking to an SUV past a group of students nearly three blocks long who, in a coordinated effort, remained completely silent. The Sacramento Bee said.

Video

UC Students Silent As Davis Chancellor Katehi Walks To Her Car

The protest was held in support of the overall Occupy Wall Street movement and in solidarity with protesters at the University of California, Berkeley who were jabbed by police with batons on Nov. 9.

Charles J. Kelly, a former Baltimore Police Department lieutenant who wrote the department's use of force guidelines, said pepper spray is a "compliance tool" that can be used on subjects who do not resist, and is preferable to simply lifting protesters.

"When you start picking up human bodies, you risk hurting them," Kelly said. "Bodies don't have handles on them."

After reviewing the video, Kelly said he observed at least two cases of "active resistance" from protesters. In one instance, a woman pulls her arm back from an officer. In the second instance, a protester curls into a ball. Each of those actions could have warranted more force, including baton strikes and pressure-point techniques.

"What I'm looking at is fairly standard police procedure," Kelly said.

Images of police actions have served to galvanize support during the Occupy Wall Street movement, from the clash between protesters and police in Oakland last month that left an Iraq War veteran with serious injuries to more recent skirmishes in New York City, San Diego, Denver and Portland, Ore.

Some of the most notorious instances went viral online, including the use of pepper spray on an 84-year-old activist in Seattle and a group of women in New York. Seattle's mayor apologized to the activist, and the New York Police Department official shown using pepper spray on the group of women lost 10 vacation days after an internal review.

In the video of the UC Davis protest, the officer, a member of the university police force, displays a bottle before spraying its contents on the seated protesters in a sweeping motion while walking back and forth. Most of the protesters have their heads down, but several were hit directly in the face.

Some members of a crowd gathered at the scene scream and cry out. The crowd then chants, "Shame on You," as the protesters on the ground are led away. The officers retreat minutes later with helmets on and batons drawn.

Ten people were arrested.

Nine students hit by pepper spray were treated at the scene, two were taken to hospitals and later released, university officials said.

They declined to release the officer's name.

UC Davis Police Chief Annette Spicuzza said the decision to use pepper spray was made at the scene.

"The students had encircled the officers," she said Saturday. "They needed to exit. They were looking to leave but were unable to get out."

Many Twitter and Facebook comments supported the students and criticized the response.

"Stomach churning video of police using pepper spray on seated anti-Wall Street protesters in Davis, Calif.," actress Mia Farrow wrote in a retweet of the video.

Elsewhere in California, police arrested six Occupy San Francisco protesters early Sunday and dismantled a tent encampment in front of the Federal Reserve Bank.

Officer Albie Esparza says police and city crews took down about 12 tents. The six were arrested on charges of interfering with officers.

The raid came several hours after police and public works crews removed dozens of tents from the nearby Occupy camp at Justin Herman Plaza.

Earlier, several hundred protesters in Oakland tore down a chain-link fence surrounding a city-owned vacant lot and set up a new encampment five days after their main camp near City Hall was torn down.

"They obviously don't want us at the plaza downtown. We might as well make this space useful," Chris Skantz, 23, told the San Francisco Chronicle.

The Occupy Oakland protesters breached the fence and poured into the lot next to the Fox Theater on Telegraph Avenue, police said in a statement.

The protesters passed a line of police surrounding the lot without a struggle, used wire cutters to take down the fence and pulled down "no trespassing" signs the Chronicle reported.

Police spokeswoman Johnna Watson said surrounding streets had been closed and officers were protecting surrounding buildings

Watson said there had been no arrests or citations, but the city's position remains that no camping will be allowed and protesters can't stay overnight.

KQED in San Francisco interviewed the Chancellor on Monday, and spoke to students for more reaction to the events. Here is the audio:

KQED: Interview with Chancellor Katehi and Student Reaction

Comments

Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | November 21, 2011 at 11 a.m. ― 3 years, 1 month ago

Any person who:

(1) values freedom

(2) is concerned about abuse of power

(3) is humane and moral

will condemn this horrific action taken by the police.

I'm sorry, but anyone who thinks that what this policeman did is OK is morally corrupt. Watching this video I felt physically ill watching PEACEFUL protesters not doing anything wrong being sprayed at close range by a CRIMINAL who acted as if he was simply watering his garden.

This person needs to be FIRED and CRIMINALLY PROSECUTED!!

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Avatar for user 'benz72'

benz72 | November 21, 2011 at 12:09 p.m. ― 3 years, 1 month ago

Neither of the two videos I could find had audio, but they both show the officer displaying the spray to the protesters prior to the spraying. I don't find it much of a stretch to believe that they were warned they would be sprayed if they refused to move.

All in all it seems like a big to-do about not much. No injuries, sidewalk got cleared. If one wishes to avoid such treatment, perhaps one should vacate a sidewalk when an authority directs one to do so.

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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | November 21, 2011 at 3:54 p.m. ― 3 years, 1 month ago

@benz72, it's disturbing that you make conclusions that someone spraying that much pepper spray on non-violent, sitting-still individuals is justified based on something you didn't even see in the video but "presume" happened.

*"I don't find it much of a stretch ......"*

It also doesn't seem like much of a "stretch" that the police over-reacted based on what is seen on the tape.

Perhaps you are one of those "cops are always right" folks who think anyone who accuses a law enforcement officer or official is always in the wrong. (Just read the recent headlines, SDPD officer found guilty of demanding sexual favors from DUI suspects. Yeah, cops are never wrong, are they?)

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Avatar for user 'benz72'

benz72 | November 21, 2011 at 4:42 p.m. ― 3 years, 1 month ago

Not at all, I find it difficult to think of a group that is always right.

Police charged with clearing the sidewalk did so without injuring the protestors. Do you really suppose that they walked up and pepper sprayed them without telling them to leave first or warning them that they would be sprayed? If that is the case then I agree that they handled the situation incorrectly but this wasn't a sneak attack, this was compliance enforcement. Protest in good order, don't block the sidewalk, disperse when you are required to... or sit and get sprayed with peppers.

Even within the video, none of the protestors were smart enough to leave after he started spraying, which indicates either startling ignorance of proximate events or a desire to stay and get sprayed. I'll put my money on those college students being smart enough to know that pepper spray will cause pain but not injure and that they were willing to take a spray in the face to make a point. OK, so they did. When they still wouldn't disperse the police had to physically remove them. Would you suggest they skip the remote solution and move straight in for the riskier move of dragging them out? They did what they were supposed to do, which is more than we can say for the protestors.

Just out of curiosity, how much pepper spray do you think would be OK? It seems pretty obvious from the lack of effect that this wasn't the most potent compound available. Maybe a large dose is required.

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Avatar for user 'Satariel'

Satariel | November 22, 2011 at 1:31 p.m. ― 3 years ago

benz72 echos my exact thoughts. If they did not want to be sprayed, they should have stood up stopped blocking the sidewalk. They were warned, they volunteered to be sprayed to make a point. What point they were trying to make is debatable, they probably don't even know, but they knew they would get sprayed if they did not move and they chose not to move.

Protests are no longer "peaceful" when you break laws and disobey the police, even if you do it quietly or without violence.

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Avatar for user 'SDCyclist'

SDCyclist | November 22, 2011 at 1:56 p.m. ― 3 years ago

Satariel and benz72... you're both very wrong but for reasons you probably didn't consider. Pepper spray and tasers are both weapons. They were never intended to be used to coerce someone into performing some action, nor were they ever intended to be used as punishment if someone disobeys an order. They were created and are used by law enforcement in lieu of using lethal weapons (guns). Your argument that the students were "asking" for it is just illogical and ridiculous. They were doing nothing illegal. The police did NOT have to use pepper spray. They were being extremely lazy and not doing their jobs properly. Pepper spray and tasers are appropriate in many situations but not when used against a group of students exercising their Constitutional right to peacefui protest. Here's a solution that would have worked for everyone: The police (all of them) could have backed up 500 feet and observed. Or, left. The protesters were harming no one, doing nothing illegal, and were simply protesting. How come the police don't pepper spray the awful "God Hates Fags" WBC idiots when they're protesting at military funerals and gay pride parades? Using your arguments all protesters should be handled with tasers and pepper spray. Fortunately, we live in America where the right for these students to protest peacefully (which they were doing) is protected. Those rights were CLEARLY violated.

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Avatar for user 'Satariel'

Satariel | November 22, 2011 at 2:10 p.m. ― 3 years ago

SDCyclist, good point. You are right that Pepper spray should be a last resort. But I disagree that those students were not doing anything illegal. They were blocking the sidewalk, and the university wanted the sidewalk to be unblocked. It is just like how I cannot block off the sidewalk outside my house for my personal use. The WBC protesters obey the police at all times, stay in their allocated protest areas, etc. I am sure the police would love to beat them the second they did something illegal... nobody likes those people.

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Avatar for user 'DeLaRick'

DeLaRick | November 22, 2011 at 3:12 p.m. ― 3 years ago

No! No! No! The police have this little thing in their pockets for just this type of occasion: A ticket tablet.

Dear Overly Aggressive "Peace" Officer,

Please write a ticket for the particular infraction and move on. (Please refer to your training materials for classifications of crimes and misdemeanors.) No one can "resist" arrest if the offense does not merit arrest. The offender can make his/her case to the judge in a court of law. Do your job, not the judge's.

Cordially,
Humble Citizens You're Supposed to "Protect"

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Avatar for user 'benz72'

benz72 | November 23, 2011 at 7:50 a.m. ― 3 years ago

Actually, as this is a campus and these are students, I'm more inclined to hope for a dean to take action by threatening or enacting expulsion from the university than having campus police issue a fine, but I do see the point. Do we know if the names of the non-compliant students could be determines without touching them so that the issue could have been handled administratively? Maybe there is a better way after all.

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | November 23, 2011 at 10:51 p.m. ― 3 years ago

Megyn Kelly tells O'Reilly, that pepper spray is "a food product, essentially"?
Megyn Kelly on fire hoses: "It’s a sports beverage, essentially!"
Megyn Kelly on police dogs: "It’s a family pet, essentially!"
Megyn Kelly on tasers: "It’s static cling, essentially!"
Megyn Kelly on rubber bullets: "It’s a pencil eraser, essentially!"
Megyn Kelly on hand grenades: "It’s a Fourth of July firework, essentially! God bless America."
Megyn Kelly on nightsticks: "It's an olive branch, essentially!"
Megyn Kelly on waterboarding: "It's a water park ride essentially!"
Megyn Kelly on Auschwitz: "It was a three star hotel, essentially."
Megyn Kelly on fingernail extraction: "It's a mani-pedi, essentially!"
Megyn Kelly on genital mutilation: "It's a Brazilian wax, essentially!"
Megan Kelly on her haircut: "It's a style, essentially!"
Megyn Kelly on vet beatings: "It's greeting liberators, essentially
Megyn Kelly on being laid off when your wife is pregnant: "It's European style family leave, essentially."
Megyn Kelly on zip-tie handcuffs: "It's a Livestrong bracelet, essentially."
Megyn Kelly on Jerry Sandusky: "He was having sex, essentially".
Megyn Kelly on the 9/11 hijackings: "They were like that Steve Miller Band Jet Airliner song, essentially."
Megyn Kelly on tear gas: "It's like a sad story, essentially!"
Megyn Kelly on sleep deprivation: "It's like a cup o' Joe, essentially!"
Megyn Kelly on mock executions: "It's like make-believe, essentially!"
Megyn Kelly on the rack: "It's a chiropractor, essentially!"
Megyn Kelly on mustard gas: "It's a hot dog condiment, essentially!"
Megyn Kelly on nuclear weapons: "It's a microwave dinner, essentially!"
Megyn kelly on guantanamo: "ít's a carribean vacation, essentially"
Megyn Kelly on arsenic: "It's a vitamin, essentially!"
Megyn Kelly on handguns: "It's a slingshot, essentially!"
Megyn Kelly on Hitler: "Basically a guy with neat hair and a cute moustache"
Megyn Kelly on incest: "It's fatherly love, essentially!"
Megyn Kelly on slavery: "It's the ideal ownership society, essentially!"
Megyn Kelly on atrocious and unnecessary spellings of first names: "It's the most Anglo-Saxony-looking way, essentially!"
Megyn Kelly on landmines: "It's like a treasure hunt, essentially!"
Megyn Kelly on pepper spray chemical burns: "It's an affordable chemical peel, essentially!"
Megyn Kelly on the electric chair: "It's a massage chair, essentially!"
Megyn Kelly on Fox News: "It's entertainment, essentially!" Oh, wait a minute.... essentially!
Megyn Kelly on Homelessness: "It's urban camping, essentially!" !"
Megyn Kelly on child porn: "It's a home movie, essentially!"
Megyn Kelly on irony: "It's a traffic jam when you're already late, essentially."
Megyn Kelly on carpet bombing: "It's a heavy downpour, essentially!"
Megyn Kelly on Casey Anthony: "She lost her kid, essentially!"

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Avatar for user 'HarryStreet'

HarryStreet | November 25, 2011 at 3:33 p.m. ― 3 years ago

Sad? Chilling? The police were inappropriate? Come on, people----it's their job to disperse these protests when called upon. I agree with the wall street protestors and support them fully, but this action was to be expected. And I think Newt Gingrich is going to suffer at the polls when asked about his comment that wall street protestors should take a bath and look for a job. I mean what's out there? McDonalds? Seriously, though, let's move on. This has already been debated enough.

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Avatar for user 'Satariel'

Satariel | November 28, 2011 at 9:28 a.m. ― 3 years ago

There are lots of jobs for people who went to school for something useful, David65.

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