‘Occupy Wall Street’ UC Davis protests escalate after pepper spray use sparks anger

November 21, 2011

Occupy Wall Street movement protests at UC Davis have become the latest flashpoint for the movement after a video of a police officer casually using pepper spray on passive college students sparked anger. As Melissa Bell reported:

The Occupy UC Davis protest is preparing for a march on the school’s campus at 12 p.m. PST. The rally in the quad comes after worldwide attention focused on the Northern California campus after a University of California at Davis police officer pepper-sprayed a line of passive students sitting on the ground. Videos of the pepper-spraying went viral, eliciting shock with the police’s casual use of violence. (See the video here.)

Two police officers and the police chief Annette Spicuzza have been suspended pending an investigation into the incident. Students and a faculty group called for UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi to resign.

On Saturday, students and Katehi had a brief standoff on campus, which ended with hundreds of students sitting along a path silently greeting Katehi as she walked to her car. Students called it Katehi’s “walk of shame.”

Chancellor Katehi sent a letter to the university saying the school had no option but to ask the police to assist in the removal of the protesters. A music professor at UC Davis, Bob Ostertag wrote in an op-ed on the Huffington Post that the school had plenty of other options: “To begin with, the chancellor could have thanked them for their sense of civic duty. The occupation could have been turned into a teach-in on the role of public education in this country. There could have been a call for professors to hold classes on the quad. The list of “other options” is endless.”

The video of the pepper spraying, which happened at a protests on Friday, raises further questions about the role of police in dispersing Occupy protests and their camps. As Philip Kennicott explained :

It looks as though he’s spraying weeds in the garden or coating the oven with caustic cleanser. It’s not just the casual, dispassionate manner in which the University of California at Davis police officer pepper-sprays a line of passive students sitting on the ground. It’s the way the can becomes merely a tool, an implement that diminishes the humanity of the students and widens a terrifying gulf between the police and the people whom they are entrusted to protect.

The video, which shows the officer using the spray against Occupy protesters Friday, went viral over the weekend. On Sunday, the university placed two police officers on administrative leave while a task force investigates. The clip probably will be the defining imagery of the Occupy movement, rivaling in symbolic power, if not in actual violence, images from the Kent State shootings more than 40 years ago.

Although another controversial image, showing an elderly woman hit with pepper spray near an Occupy protest in Seattle, made this nonlethal form of crowd control an iconic part of the new protest movement, the UC-Davis video goes even further in crystallizing an important question: What does the social contract say about nonviolent protest, and what is the role of police in a democratic society?

The latest protester camp to be ordered cleared was Occupy Toronto, which was ordered closed by a judge on Monday. As AP reported:

A judge has upheld an eviction order removing Occupy Toronto protesters from a downtown park.

Ontario Superior Court Justice David Brown upheld the city’s trespass bylaw on Monday. Toronto Mayor Rob Ford says he expects the protesters to get out of the park immediately.

Ford says he would appreciate their cooperation.

Some protesters say they will defy any attempt to remove them, while others say they do not want to risk a confrontation with police.

Sakura Saunders, a volunteer with Occupy Toronto, says those who choose to stay will be nonviolently resisting attempts to tear down their tents.

More from The Washington Post

Gingrich to Occupy protesters: ‘Take a bath’

Washington’s Occupy movement emerges as model for others

Pepper spray cop works his way through art history

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