Video of a confrontation between police and Occupy UC Davis members went viral Friday night and has since caused a wave of outrage. Videos filmed during the event depict police pepper spraying students who are calmly sitting in protest. The police also arrested ten students, before subsequently being forced to retreat by a growing crowd that witnessed the attack.
This latest instance of a disproportionately violent reaction to peaceful protest will garner further sympathy for the Occupy movement. Further, the successful re-taking of the quad by UC Davis protesters may serve to encourage the Occupy campus movements around the country.
The incident began after UC Davis officials had notified Occupy Davis students that they would have to remove their encampment from the quad by 3 p.m. according to University spokesperson Karen Nikos. However, it seems the University did not warn students of the severity with which police would crack down on the encampment. Though police dismantled most of the encampment, a ring of largely undergraduate students formed around the remaining part of the encampment. Officials say that there were 35-45 officers present – a combination of university and city police – to disperse approximately 50 students. Eventually, the crowd grew to approximately 200.
Video footage depicts policemen in full riot gear holding weapons resembling guns and billy clubs. At one point, an officer takes pepper spray cans and walks right up to the students, before spraying protesters’ faces. Once the chemicals had incapacitated protesters, officers began pulling them from the circle, cuffing them, and dragging them away. The protesters remained peaceful and none resisted.
After the tear-gassing, onlookers promptly begin shouting “Shame” and asking the police whom they serve and protect, as it certainly isn’t the students of the university. The video seems to depict the police as smiling and genial during the pepper spraying and arrests, but they quickly become worried, close ranks, and begin to retreat once the crowd of observers grows. The protesters successfully get the police to retreat and re-take the quad, declaring that this is their University and their quad.
Students have declared that they will re-establish their encampment, but so far there is no sign they have done so.
This incident is shameful on the part of the university police force, which claims that its actions were taken because of fears for officer safety, given the large crowd that was forming.
Though what transpired was troubling, however, the incident can be viewed as a victory for the Occupy Davis movement. Protesters managed to keep calm and peaceful, and were ultimately able to force the police to evacuate the area using non-violent methods. This could prove to be a galvanizing moment for the Occupy campus movement to increase participation by university students on campuses around the country.