Monday, November 21, 2011

Were the UC Davis Police Justified in Pepper-Spraying Students?

That's the query from Wordsmith, at Flopping Aces.

Wordsmith has a 15-minute video, which includes almost 5 minutes of footage leading up to the pepper spray incident. The students were not violent, but they were being told to leave. And when police tell you to leave you leave. All of the progressive outrage is pretty overblown. But hey, no doubt it helps the cause to have police crack down. It's a "police state," dontcha know? And the university earns itself a public relations nightmare. Investigations are coming, which drags out the drama. See New York Times, "California University Puts Officers Who Used Pepper Spray on Leave." And at KCRA-TV Sacramento, "Statewide Investigation After Officers Pepper Spray Student Protesters: Two Officers Placed On Administrative Leave, University Police Say." And from the comments there:
Why are they asking for police presence if they are going to nail the police officers on every move they make?
That's a good question. It's not like UC officials were indifferent to possible outbreaks of violence. See last week at Los Angeles Times, for example, "UC regents cancel meeting, cite security threats":
Fearing potentially violent disruptions, University of California regents on Monday canceled a meeting scheduled for this week in San Francisco, while UC and Cal State students prepared for demonstrations Tuesday at campuses across the state.

The UC board had planned to hold its regular bi-monthly meeting Wednesday and Thursday at UC San Francisco's Mission Bay campus but postponed the session after what officials termed credible threats.

University police had received reports that "rogue elements intent on violence and confrontation with UC public safety officers" were planning to join otherwise peaceful protests at the meeting, according to a statement by regents Chairwoman Sherry Lansing, Vice Chairman Bruce Varner and UC President Mark G. Yudof. "Ensuring public safety must be a top priority."
And recall that the concerns are not new. It's been a state of siege at the UC for the past few years: "Berkeley Chancellor's Home Attacked by Torch-Bearing Mob: Governor Decries 'Terrorism'; Activists Pledge, 'Burn Every Rich Man's House to the Ground'!"


Mr. Mcgranor said...

Heck no.

Peter said...

I haven't followed this very closely but I've read that the police were clear, "if you don't leave we're gonna pepper spray you!" They didn't leave. Ooopsy!

RPD said...

It's interesting that as police are supplied with softer and softer responses, criticism is up for when they are actually used. There was no volley of rifle fire, no riot shields and billy clubs, no fire hoses. A chemical spray, it stings for a bit. Only in weirdly unique circumstances does it do any lasting harm.

Micha Elyi said...

Heck yes.

The punks wanted to stage an incident so rubes would throw 'em a pity-party. Where's the S.I. Hayakawa of today, a UC campus president able to call a punk a punk and unafraid to dish out what's deserved? (RPD @6:25 makes a good point.)

By the way, UC has serious budget problems. How about dismissing all students who are missing class (and profs who aren't keeping roll)? I see huge potential savings here.

I'm voting "no" on any tax hike or bond that has any taint of school funding in it. Ain't gonna be fooled again.

Anonymous said...

Point #1: The police are required (by the Fourth Amendment, state law, their explicit departmental policies, and basic decency) to use the minimum force that a situation calls for. If students are sitting in the middle of the campus green and not doing anything else, I think this calls for essentially no force, because there is no threat. What is appropriate force, and in general what is an appropriate role and standard of behavior for police, is something for the people and the courts to decide. Based on at least one nationwide poll (, 53% think the police used excessive force, 34% think it was appropriate force. This will almost certainly go to court, and I would like it to be a jury trial.

Point #2: I think what the police did in this case was deliberately punitive. It is clear that they felt their authority was being challenged (because it was) and their reaction was to deliberately hurt those who were challenging them. Not because of any threat to themselves or anyone else, but simply because someone had the audacity to disobey them. That is not acceptable police behavior. Saying "what did you expect would happen?" simply points out how used we have become to this kind of misconduct.

Point #3: We should not enforce petty laws (against loitering, etc) at the expense of fundamental rights (free speech, free assembly). What the students were doing at Davis is almost word for word what the Second Amendment talks about (peaceful assembly? check; petition for redress of grievances? check). What they are accused of is probably violating a city ordnance. Which is more important? How important was it to enforce that ordnance at that particular moment? Which would have caused greater harm to more people, enforcing it or not enforcing it? Exercise of free speech may not be convenient to everyone, and it may sometimes be disruptive - not that it was in this case - but it is *damn* important.