WASHINGTON -- On Friday, a group of University of California, Davis students, part of the Occupy Wall Street movement on campus, became the latest victims of alleged police brutality to be captured on video. The videos show the students seated on the ground as a UC Davis police officer brandishes a red canister of pepper spray, showing it off for the crowd before dousing the seated students in a heavy, thick mist.
This incident recalls the earlier infamous pepper spraying by a New York Police Department official of several women who were seated and penned in. The UC Davis images are further proof that police continue to resort to brutal tactics when confronting Occupy activists. One woman was transported to a hospital to be treated for chemical burns.
"The UC Davis students were peacefully protesting on the quad," wrote one student who took videos in an email to The Huffington Post. The filmmaker, a senior, asked that his name not be used for fear of retribution by campus authorities. "The cop gave them 3 minutes to disperse before he said they would come and disturb the protest. The main objective for them was removing the tents. ... The students did have a right to be on campus, they were assembling peacefully and the campus was open at the time."
In a longer version of the video, the students are shown seated across a stretch of walkway surrounded by more than a dozen UC Davis cops, dressed in riot gear and clutching batons. Many other students are standing along the sides of the scene, watching and protesting as the standoff unfolded. Some students shouted "Thugs on campus!" and "From Davis to Greece, fuck the police!" Those chants were tamped down quickly by others, who warned all to "Keep it peaceful" and "Keep it nonviolent."
So the students started up a new chant that would prove prophetic: "You use weapons! We use our voice!"
At one point, one of the riot cops ambles over to the seated line and asks one of the students a question. The student replies, "We're sitting here."
The police officer then returns to his position with the other officers. He also turns his back on the seated students, as does at least one other officer. They show no fear that the students might turn violent or threatening. The first cop talks on his radio for a while.
After a few "mic checks" and few more chants, a cop goes back to the seated students. The student asks, "You're gonna shoot me for sitting here? You're shooting us for sitting here?"
Roughly a minute later, the officer can be seen shaking the pepper spray canister as the gathered students start shouting, "Don't shoot your children!"
As the officer began spraying the group of students, onlookers screamed, "Don't do it! Don't you do it!"
A news account captured the officer on camera spraying the students. The account names the officer as UC Davis Police Lt. John Pike. He did not return a voice mail message nor an email left Friday night. His voice-mail box eventually filled up to capacity as his name and phone number were posted on Twitter.
The UC Davis Police Department did not return calls from The Huffington Post seeking comment.
The UC Davis chancellor, Linda P.B. Katehi, released a statement Friday. It states, "We deeply regret that many of the protestors today chose not to work with our campus staff and police to remove the encampment as requested. We are even more saddened by the events that subsequently transpired to facilitate their removal."
Nathan Brown, an assistant English professor at the university, released an open letter to the chancellor, calling for her resignation. He wrote, "You are responsible for it because this is what happens when UC Chancellors order police onto our campuses to disperse peaceful protesters through the use of force: students get hurt."
The student filmmaker, who says he is not part of Occupy Davis, told HuffPost, "I couldn't believe it. I didn't think such a thing would ever happen on campus over a tent being on campus. It's embarrassing on the part of the police to take such actions."
After the pepper spraying, the crowd of students began marching down the quad. The UC Davis cops? They're pushed back down the walkway and finally leave. The students start an old cheer that rang true again, "Whose quad? Our quad!"
UC Davis Police Chief Annette Spicuzza defended her officers' actions to KCRA. She argued that it just wasn't safe for students to camp on the quad. "It's not safe for multiple reasons," Spicuzza said.
In a report by the CBS Sacramento station Friday night, Spicuzza said the officers' own safety was also a concern. "If you look at the video, you are going to see that there were 200 people in that quad," she said. "Hindsight is 20-20, and based on the situation we were sitting in, ultimately that was the decision that was made." Spicuzza also said authorities were reviewing the videos.
UPDATE: Nov. 19, 11:55 a.m. -- Claudia Morain, a UC Davis spokesperson, told The Huffington Post that there were 35 police officers on the scene, 50 occupiers and 200 bystanders.
She said that UC Davis officials had warned the occupiers that they could not set up a tent city. They were given notice that they had to clear out their tents by 3 p.m. on Friday. Some complied. Others did not.
"I can't speak for the thought process for the officer," Morain noted about the use of pepper spray. She said that the officers were essentially trapped (the videos suggest otherwise) and had to transport several of the arrested students. "The pepper spray was used because they needed to get out of there," she said, emphasizing that the students were repeatedly warned before the spray was deployed.
Morain admitted that she had not thoroughly studied the videos of the incident.
But she said, "We are just not going to allow a tent city. Just period. In these budget times, we shouldn't use resources that should be going to our core academic mission going to a tent city."
Nine students and one nonstudent were arrested. "The police tried to use the least force that they could," Morain explained.
WATCH a 15-minute video of events immediately surrounding the pepper-spraying:
UPDATE: Nov. 19, 12:49 p.m. -- In a statement, Bernie Goldsmith of the nearby Occupy Davis, a separate group from Occupy UC Davis, said:
At Occupy Davis, relations with the democratically elected city council and local police forces have been genial and productive. The authorities have worked continuously to harmonize the occupation's presence with the park and surrounding businesses and ensure that all aspects of the encampment remain non-violent. Those in charge of using force are aware that they are democratically elected officials that are directly accountable to the people.
Occupy UC Davis, a mere three blocks away, is under the jurisdiction of an undemocratic, appointed regime of force over which its subjects have no meaningful democratic control. The authorities there attacked non-violent protesters with indifference, and, in some cases, a clear display of sadistic pleasure.
There could be no better illustration of the differences between a democratic, accountable public safety effort and a fascist, totalitarian, unaccountable police state. The students of UC Davis have no meaningful voice, and that is reflected at the very top of the administration down to the officer on the ground who can spice up his day with a confident sense of utter, unassailable impunity.
UPDATE: Nov. 19, 9:17 p.m. -- UC Davis student Thomas Fowler, who made perhaps the best-known video capturing the pepper-spray incident at UC Davis, answered several questions in an email exchange with HuffPost.
When the pepper spraying started, he said, "I was just completely appalled, I was just speechless. ... I couldn't fathom what reason they believed they had to spray the students. ...[T]hey could have easily just stepped over them and left peacefully."
Moreover, he said, "No tents were confiscated yesterday. The protesters were able to break them down and get them off the Quad before the police officers could do anything about it. Which makes their actions that much more confusing, seeing that the reason they were called to the campus was to have the tents removed."
Fowler said the mood on the campus "has shifted drastically. A lot of the students who were on the fence or weren't following the movement closely are getting very involved now. There [are] a lot of students calling for the Chancellor's resignation in response to what had occurred yesterday."
UPDATE: Two UC Davis police officers involved in the incidents have reportedly been placed on administrative leave.
WATCH a 42-minute video of events at the University of California, Davis:
Other citizen journalists around the nation have documented the Occupy protests: