UC Davis Police Pepper Spray Peaceful Protesters

I find the rather nonchalant gassing of the protestors by the police officer, as if he is sparying his roses for aphids, to be disturbing.

Recognizing that police have to right to remove protesters if they are lawfully ordering them to leave, if force is necessary, the amount applied has to be commensurate to the actions being utilized by the protestors.

As such, when students at UC Davis sat down and linked arms to obstruct police who were trying to disassemble a Occupy camp ground, I can see a legitimate argument for arresting the students engaged in the action (although the degree to which the police even being there is necessary is another issue entirely).  After all, civil disobedience can result in arrest (indeed, is often a goal).

However, I see no justification for pepper spraying persons peacefully sitting on the sidewalk.  There was no indication that those blocking the sidewalk were going to resist arrest in some violent fashion.  Further, had they done so, the pepper spray was obviously available for immediate deployment.

Here’s the video:

 

I find the rather nonchalant gassing of the protestors by the police officer, as if he is sparying his roses for aphids or somesuch, to be disturbing.

The local CBS affiliate reports:  Police Defend Use Of Force On ‘Occupy UC Davis’

“If you look at the video you are going to see that there were 200 people in that quad,” said Chief Spicuzza. “Hindsight is 20-20 and based on the situation we were sitting in, ultimately that was the decision that was made.”

Authorities are still reviewing video of the incident, Spicuzza added.

Officers left the quad after making 10 arrests, nine of which were UC Davis students. Law enforcement retreated out of the field in a direction that was not obstructed by sitting protesters.

I have to wonder that if in many of these cases the authorities would be better off just ignoring these “occupations” and letting them die of inertia.  But, I am also aware of real problems, like sanitation. 

FILED UNDER: US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is Professor of Political Science and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Troy University. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. jan says:

    I know when dealing with bodily pain, after you pass a certain threshold, waiting until the pain becomes unbearable before taking pain medication, it will usually require more medication to level the pain off than if it was addressed earlier.

    Perhaps, one can look at public demonstrations in a similar vein. Where is the point that intervention is critical? Because if you wait too long, a more severe intervention may be required to manage a crowd than if such a demonstration was broken up earlier, peacefully and with no injuries to either the police or students.

    Pepper spray or billy clubs kind of choices…..

  2. @jan: This is a false choice. There is no reason that the police could not have arrested the peaceful protesters without resorting to violence. It simply was not necessary. As such, I see no basis for the notion that the choice was “Pepper spray or billy clubs.”

  3. WR says:

    @jan: Shorter Jan: People whose politics differ from mine are nothing but an infection, and thus they should be treated that way. The notion that they have rights to peacably assemble, or to freely express themselves is nothing compared to the fact that they disagree with me, and therefore can be beaten or tortured at the whim of the officials.

    Oh, and if someone is rude to a Tea Partier, that’s a huge assault of my constitutional rights.

  4. Graham says:

    I have to wonder that if in many of these cases the authorities would be better off just ignoring these “occupations” and letting them die of inertia.

    That’s basically what happened in Milwaukee in Thursday. The police decided that, in a neighborhood with fairly high rates of violence and property crime, they had better things to do than spend hours processing protestors through the system and announced there would no mass arrest. The protest left about 40 minutes later.

  5. TheColourfield says:

    Maybe they should just get the Kent Stm treatment eh Jan.

    Serve and protect my ass

  6. matt b says:

    This seems to me like another case of two policing problems coming together in a dangerous way:

    1. An over-reliance on so-called “non-lethal” methods of control
    2. A general lack of officer training

    To the first point, recent years have seen an increasing number of products marketed to Law Enforcement as being “non-lethal.” And many are also thought of as having only temporary pain based effects. So in many cases, officers are being encouraged to use these methods rather than resorting to “roughing” people up via direct physical control (i.e. anything that potentially leaves a mark). Unfortunately, the very real dangers of deploying this type of force are typically not being addressed with officers.

    This gets to the second point — most police officers have little to no training/preparation for this sort of situation. These types of protests have been pretty rare in the US. And while they might have been addressed in the Academy or in refresher workshops, this is not something that police deal with on a regular basis. As such, these officers end up unintentionally escalating the situation (or relying on the marketing promises of the weapons manufacturers) — especially when their XO’s are putting pressure on them to resolve the situation fast.

  7. anjin-san says:

    I see no basis for the notion that the choice was “Pepper spray or billy clubs.”

    Well, there is a basis. It’s teaching those kids the concept of “obey, or you may get hurt”.

  8. matt b says:

    BTW, as to Steven’s point about letting them be, note that in many areas, the DA’s are immediately dismissing charges against anyone arrested because these types of prosecutions will just clog the system:

    http://www.timesunion.com/local/article/DA-s-office-Occupy-Albany-protesters-will-not-be-2267625.php

  9. matt b says:

    As to Jan’s comments…

    all I can say is that I am ecstatic that Jan decided to switch from being a liberal Democrat to a conservative “Independent” all those years ago. It’s clear to me that the right needs her “help” and “support” far more than the left.

  10. Delmar says:

    The idea of leaving these people to their own demonstrations is fine unless they are blocking sidewalks, streets, or trying to take over a business or other place, or engaging in all kinds of crime that has been occurring recently in their tent camps . They should not be allowed to interfere the activities of law abiding citizens.
    Most of what we have seen in the last few days has been nothing but post adolescent frustrations and boredom. There has not been one positive development, policy change. or even serious thoughts since this started. Indeed, the Bank of America pulled back on its plan to charge debit fees, but that was a result of action by the law abiding citizens who pulled their business and took it elsewhere. This is how change occurs. This is the way the “great silent majority” gets things done.

  11. john personna says:

    The should have just left them there until they needed a bathroom break, and then grabbed them. And course if they didn’t take the break, that was their own punishment.

    If the’d been someplace critical, like in a street, then it might be a different equation. You could probably give some sprains if not breaks using force on linked arms. In that case, casual pepper spray might be the lesser harm.

    I think in this case though the crime was “not respecting author-i-tay.”

    Cops world-wide consider OWS their prey.

  12. john personna says:

    (BTW, Egyptian police ejected tents from Tahrir Square a few hours ago.)

  13. Tsar Nicholas II says:

    Well, given that Generation Y is the most ignorant, the least educated, the dumbest and the most coddled and spoiled collection of useful idiots in recorded history these sorts of life lessons ultimately might do them a lot more good than harm.

  14. Liberty60 says:

    Re: nonlethal tactics-

    I think this shows the danger of the militarization of the police force.

    There is this attitude floating around that police are merely a lesser form of soldiers, when in fact they are completely different.

    The highest and best form of policing is to keep order, and the best way to do that is to defuse situations, rather than escalate them.

    So this cop was able to clear the sidewalk for pedestrians to walk- bravo!

    But in the meantime he radicalized and outraged thousands, who now see him and his department and the entire civic structure as The Enemy.

    The environment at UC Davis is now less stable, less ordered than before. Was this damage worth the benefit of clearing a sidewalk?

    I was at the protests in Los Angeles this week, and the police did a terrific job of restraint and keeping order; even the afternoon protest, when they eventually arrested a dozen or so protestors there was no pepper spray, no violence. Public order was maintained, and the citizens kept their respect for the civic structure.

    Oh, and for good measure- does anyone remember back in the 90’s when the EPA descended on a farmer in California for violations of environmental laws, and arrested not just him but his tractor?
    At the time, Rush Limbaugh went ballistic, calling them “jack booted thugs” and G. Gordon Liddy went on the radio and hysterically called for the cops to be shot in the head.

    Maybe if it was the EPA pepper spraying these kids Rush might be more sympathetic.

  15. Liberty60 says:

    @Tsar Nicholas II:

    Sounds like SOMEONE’s lawn got trampled. Damn punk kids!

    Bet they had droopy drawers.

  16. Northern Californian says:

    As retired UC Davis faculty, I am appalled by this incident. It seems clear that the tents could have been removed without use of pepper spray. Arrests could have been made, if needed, without it, too–although why arrest some people just sitting there? Why not just move them aside if they were in the way? The seemingly sadistic approach to the spraying of the students, well characterized here by Steven L. Taylor, adds a particularly nauseating flavor to the incident. In the end, the students have in their lineage the likes of Thoreau, Gandhi, and Chavez. The chancellor and the police have the likes of Orval Faubus and Bull Connor. One wonders how that shoe feels on the administrative foot at the moment.

    UCD English prof’s open letter to the chancellor:
    http://bicyclebarricade.wordpress.com/2011/11/19/open-letter-to-chancellor-linda-p-b-katehi/

  17. Rick Almeida says:

    @Tsar Nicholas II:

    I’m guessing you’re a a Boomer.

  18. Delmar says:

    @Northern Californian:Protestors’ lineage? I think that their lineage is more in line with Timothy Leary, Charlie Sheen, Redd Foxx, and Snoop Dog. I would like to see a more Daniel Moynihan or William Fulbright lineage there. I do agree that a “less is best” approach by police would usually be better in most cases.

  19. An Interested Party says:

    This is how change occurs. This is the way the “great silent majority” gets things done.

    Oh sure…that’s exactly how the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s worked…no civil disobedience there…by the way, I wonder if that “great silent majority” is the same one that Nixon appealed to…

    Well, given that Generation Y is the most ignorant, the least educated, the dumbest and the most coddled and spoiled collection of useful idiots in recorded history…

    Yet again the constant trashing of an entire generational group…and to think the holder of this view might wonder why so many people consider conservatives like him to be such narrow-minded bigots…

  20. Dazedandconfused says:

    Anybody watch that to the end of the tape? The cops received direct feed-back on the efficacy of their technique. They will learn. Couple generations removed from having to deal with this sort of thing, I reckon. Institutional knowledge has been lost.

    It’s disturbing as hell if they continue to decide they must prove who’s “boss” in every situation that confronts them, but they learned something here, by the look of it.

  21. The real problem here is that law enforcement has become almost entirely populated with narcicists, sadists, and control freaks. You take people like that and put them above the law (which they essence they are giving the general lack of interest DAs have in punishing police misbehavior), and it’s hardly suprising they casually brutalize the public.

  22. Ben Wolf says:

    @Tsar Nicholas II: Bring the crotchety-old-man hate! No one does it better than you!

  23. @jan:

    Because if you wait too long, a more severe intervention may be required to manage a crowd than if such a demonstration was broken up earlier, peacefully and with no injuries to either the police or students.

    I take the exact opposite lesson from this. These cops took a completely non-violent situation and nearly triggered a riot. Their early intervention didn’t prevent a more aggressive future concentration, they made one MORE likely.

  24. michael reynolds says:

    @Tsar Nicholas II:
    The gall of narcissistic boomers like you trashing the generation they bankrupted is staggering.

  25. matt b says:

    @Liberty60:

    I think this shows the danger of the militarization of the police force.

    Well put.

  26. michael reynolds says:

    You know, after decades of rapprochement between my generation and the police, after having children of my own and teaching them to respect the police, I have to offer something different to the new generation. It’s a chant my generation once used and it seems sadly appropriate in response to these police thugs. It goes like this:

    Pigs off campus!

    Simple, easy to remember, and it has a nice rhythm.

  27. Just nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @Rick Almeida: I would say Tsar is probably Gen X. Most of the boomers that I know get OWS just fine, Remember, a lot of us who have been laid off are finding that we may never get jobs again.

  28. Just nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    Having watched the full eight minutes I am left with the following impression

    1. Jan was just shooting her mouth off and doesn’t know what she’s talking about with the “medicine” simile she tried to use. In other news, the sun rises, in the East, too.

    2. I realize that these guys are wearing kevlar, but you can see in their faces and necks that they spend too much time at Krispy Kreme–or that their hours are so long and/or the situations of their families are so unstable that they have had to resort to the two income family model and eat a lot of take out. Alternatively, they could simply have poor eating habits, but that wouldn’t account for most of them looking obviously obese.

    3. If their objective was to clear the sidewalk, they need to take down the “mission accomplished” sign. The protestor’s still controlled the sidewalk when the police left.

    All in all, I’d have to say net win for OWS on this one. But then again, scenes such as this one are why civil disobedience works.

  29. Liberty60 says:

    @Just nutha ig’rant cracker:
    Pivoting slightly OT, I am at 51 a late Boomer.

    In my social group of middle aged professional engineers, designers, technicians, there is palpable fear of being laid off and never finding work again.

  30. CB says:

    @michael reynolds:

    thank you michael. as one of those ‘useless Gen Y’ers’, i give tsar a hearty middle finger. WE are the problem?? i cant imagine a more condescending comment from the generation that WE will be paying for into infinity. enjoy that social security, asshole, because we useless Gen Y’ers will most definitely not have what youre getting.

  31. Liberty60 says:

    @CB:

    oh hey, CB, this should calm you down-

    Tsar Nicholas and his generation were educated under the 1960-1980 years when American public universities received massive amounts of taxpayer funding, such that college tuition was practically nonexistant- for example, UCLA was known as the place where plumbers and bus drivers sent their kids. Even for the small amount of tuition was charged, there were generous Pell grants.

    In those days, when Tsar Nick was a fuzzy chinned bongo playing lad, college students graduated without any debt,

    Oh, and if he was a veteran- he got a GI Bill that covered what Pell grants didn’t, and when he graduated, the VA was standing by with a low interest government backed loan to buy a house. In the San Fernando Valley in the 1960’s there were billboards that said “Vets! $1 moves you in!”

    But not to worry, Tsar Nick and his buddies had to work plenty hard- there were billions in public infrastructure like the freeways and the space program and the schools and hospitals that needed to be engineered and built and serviced. They had to do the hard work of scanning through 15 pages of newspaper ads filled with jobs, in order to pick the one they liked.

    They took those “good union jobs” that the conservatives love to spit on- (how else do you think they know so much about them?)

    Many of them now are spinning around at Tea Party rallies in their Medicare hoverrounds, spending the free time they have as a result of their defined pension plans- they don’t know nuthin bout these newfangled 401 K s that you have.

    So yeah, next time one of the Boomers tells you that no one helped him and that he had to work for what he got- its true!
    They had to fill out a form to get their welfare bennies- with a ballpoint pen!
    No “Intertubes” for them!

  32. Northern Californian says:

    @Delmar: With all due respect to Messrs Leary, Sheen, Foxx, and Dog, I must confess to an inability to see anything similar to their behavior in the actions of the Davis students. Rather, what I see (and maybe we are not looking at the same video?) is simple, passive non-violent resistance in the mode of Gandhi, King, Chavez, et al. As for Moynihan and Fulbright as avatars, what do you mean, more precisely?

  33. An Interested Party says:

    I would say Tsar is probably Gen X. Most of the boomers that I know get OWS just fine…

    There are plenty of people in the Gen X generation who also get OWS just fine…

    Jan was just shooting her mouth off and doesn’t know what she’s talking about…

    Par for the course…

  34. Ron Beasley says:

    In places like Egypt, Syria and China the military is used to control the population. Here in the USofA we have militarized the police.

  35. Ben Wolf says:

    @michael reynolds: Gall?! Dude, Nicholas just outed himself as a fascist, calling for the beating of anyone who challenges authority or the merger of state and corporation. This ain’t some jerk, he’s an anti-democratic monster.

  36. Delmar says:

    @Northern Californian: Fulbright: a great statesman and leader well respected by people here and abroad. Moynihan: original thinker and consensus builder – worked with Republicans and Democrats.
    This is the type of leaders we need – in and outside of Washington.

  37. CS says:

    This officer needs to be charged criminally. Excessive use of force should be considered assault and prosecuted as such.

  38. Barry says:

    @An Interested Party: “Oh sure…that’s exactly how the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s worked…no civil disobedience there…”

    And (to hear them speak) right-wingers were respectful of people’s rights.

    And to hear them speak now, It Was Different Then.

  39. John says:

    If they were not blocking the sidewalk or left when they were told, they would not have been sprayed.