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#ows Updates: #Occupy UC Davis (with a touch of anti-hysteria)

November 20, 2011

I’m still following the #Occupy movement in the news and online, and this week’s events have caught my eye.  Here are the facts and observations as I’ve gathered them:

  1. Students at UC Davis demonstrated in support of the #Occupy movement.
  2. The UC-Davis Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi authorised a police force presence.
  3. Three students were arrested at the protest.
  4. A group of students (looked to be fewer than 15 people) sat and linked arms to demand the prisoners be released. It appeared to me that they were preventing the police force from leaving that location.
  5. After some milling and preparation, a few officers began to try pulling people out of the linked line. Another officer waved them off, speaking and gesturing to a large can of pepper spray he was holding. The surrounding crowd exhorted the protesters to keep their eyes closed and protect their faces.
  6. The officer walked down the line of linked sitters, spraying the whole line with pepper spray. The line was broken up and a few people pinned down and cuffed. In the videos I watched, I didn’t see any really excessive force on the protesters at that point, and the protesters weren’t resisting. (One guy who’d been pepper sprayed kept curling up into a ball, I presume to protect his face and front, but he didn’t resist and they didn’t hit him.)
  7. The crowd quickly started chanting “shame on you” at the officers. After a couple of minutes and after the police led away a few people in handcuffs, the remaining force formed into a tight (and, to me, nervous-looking) group with visors down and batons out. They edged away, the crowd chanting at them all the while.
  8. The chanting changed a few times, and about 7 or so minutes after the initial spraying, the crowd leaders started up the chant “you can leave, you can leave”. They left.
  9. People have been calling for the chancellor’s resignation, as she was the one who authorised what certainly seems to be an unneccesary police force presence.
  10. According to this report on BoingBoing, after yesterday’s press conference, the protesters wanted their say.  The chancellor refused to leave her office, purportedly because she was afraid of the protesters. So the protest leaders had everyone for a large walkthrough gap and sit silently with arms linked. The video of her walkout is stunning: it looks like hundreds of students, sitting and watching perfectly quietly.

You can see the chancellor’s response to this incident in this interview on CNN.  They played the entire phone interview over footage of the protesters being pepper sprayed. (Yeowch.)

Now, a few observations:

  • The chancellor was probably wrong to call in a police force. 
  • The police were probably wrong to pepper spray the nonviolent protesters.
  • It was probably a bad idea for the protesters to actually hem in a police force. But it’s difficult for me to see whether the police were actually encircled, as it’s been reported, or if it was just the line across the walkway.  However: see the previous bullet point.
  • Reactions online have been slightly hysterical, as these things are wont to be.  I was young once (35 isn’t all that old, but it’s out of the demographic), and I remember giving in to the hysteria. As long as the protests remain peaceful, and there is some leadership that speaks with some level of reason, then the movement is keeping a good balance between passion and effectiveness.

Keep strong, guys. Keep mad. Keep breaking the rules, and doing it peacefully. These are the things that keep you in the right. These are the things that put you in the spotlight as the heroes and martyrs when the autorities go overboard.

Power, protest, peace.


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