Students at the University of California at Davis during a rally. Police had pepper sprayed students demonstrating against the economic crisis., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
UC Davis Chancellor Says Police Wielding Pepper-Spray Defied Orders
November 23, 2011
Senior News Editor
In her most thorough comments since the police pepper-spraying of peaceful campus protesters put UC Davis on the national stage for all the wrong reasons, embattled Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi was adamant that the police went against her orders.
In an interview Tuesday with the Sacramento Bee, she said she ordered police to clear the camp of students protesting as an offshoot of the Occupy Wall Street movement, but insisted she did not authorize the use of pepper spray. She said she did not want “another Berkeley.”
"We told them very specifically to do it peacefully, and if there were too many of them, not to do it, if the students were aggressive, not to do it,” she told the paper.
A video of police officers pepper-spraying seated students went viral starting Friday, setting off an explosion of outrage. Many, including UC Davis’ English department, have called for Katehi’s resignation. The English department’s website, seen here on a New York Times screenshot, also called for the dissolution of the campus police department. The UC Davis police chief is on administrative leave.
Katehi has apologized for the incident but says she will not resign.
A university-sponsored investigation of the incident will be led by former Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton, the L.A. Times reported. He told the Times that the investigation would be modeled on the LAPD’s inquiry into a 2007 incident in MacArthur Park where police allegedly used unnecessary force to disperse a crowd.
Reflecting on the Davis incident, student leaders noted the impact the event was having on student life and the main reasons for the protests in the first place: tuition hikes as a result of deep budget cuts.
“All (Katehi) did was say ‘I’m sorry,’” student senator Amy Martin told Talking Points Memo. “That’s not going to be enough for anyone in the student body.”
A Sacramento Bee editorial published Wednesday sympathized with the students, but said the calls for the chancellor’s resignation are overblown:
They are an overreaction. They reflect the passions stoked by a stunningly stupid police action that has gone viral, putting UC Davis on the international map for all the wrong reasons. Katehi and UC Davis deserve a more deliberate consideration of her overall leadership and her role in Friday's events before any decision is made on her future.
Katehi is clearly responsible for everything her administration does, and she has accepted responsibility for the incident. But much is still unclear about what Katehi knew and authorized in the chain of events that led police dressed in riot gear to casually pepper-spray a line of students.
Other reactions to the incident have been mocking. Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly went on Bill O’Rielly’s show and said pepper spray was no big deal, essentially a “food product.” She stopped short of declaring it a vegetable.
An internet meme has popped up in which the pepper-spraying officer is superimposed over famous paintings such as Picasso’s “Guernica.” What makes it interesting, said Syracuse University professor Robert Thompson in an interview with the New York Times, is how casual the police appear in the images and videos. “… [T]hose officers don’t look like the Chicago police in 1968,” he said.