On Friday November 18 several dozen police officers in full riot gear were called by UC Davis Chancellor or “Chief Executive Officer” Linda Katehi to disperse a crowd of occupying students at her campus. These students were all that was left of a small occupation of the campus quad that had been set up the previous day in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street protesters. When the police arrived these students refused to disperse and chose instead to lock arms in defiance of the orders to leave. In response the police repeatedly doused the protesters with streams of pepper spray even as they continued to sit peacefully on the ground.
As video footage of the event plainly shows, police not only sprayed them in the face from close range, but literally sprayed the chemical irritant in their mouths. One student reportedly was sprayed so badly that he was still coughing up blood forty minutes later. Such treatment of peaceful demonstrators would be cause for alarm anywhere. That these demonstrators were an organized group of college students enrolled in the very university they were occupying, is especially disturbing. Student demonstrators exercising their democratic right to free assembly and free speech are not criminals and should not be treated like criminals.
Chancellor Katehi’s decision to set police in riot gear upon her own students, and her mealy-mouthed and unapologetic response to the police violence, show a lack of awareness, compassion, and leadership that is inexcusable. Katehi claimed that the police were there to protect the students of UC Davis and to ensure that the university would be able to continue to use its resources to achieve its core academic mission. Her decision, however, not only led to the injury of several students, but actively destroyed a learning environment more powerful than any classroom. Indeed, the students protesting at UC Davis are receiving perhaps the best education possible. They are learning how to think critically, how to work together in small groups, how to organize events, analyze complex information, celebrate cultural diversity, and act as independent thinkers capable of questioning the dogma of entrenched authority. They have been sorely wronged by the police and by their own Chancellor. There is no easy way to solve this problem and there is no way forward except for Chancellor Katehi to immediately resign, and for the university to call for a direct criminal investigation into the police brutality perpetrated against its students.
The Advocate urges all readers to write to the UC Board of Regents and demand that Chancellor Katehi resign or be removed from her position as chancellor.