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Today, students, faculty and supporters at the University of California, Davis, have called for a general strike to protest tuition hikes and to demand the resignation of Chancellor Linda Katehi after police pepper-sprayed eleven protesters who blocked a public access way at an #OccupyUCDavis event on November 18th. Students maintain it was Chancellor Katehi who requested the police remove the Occupy encampment and clear access to the facility. The incident sparked a firestorm of media all across the world and has become a viral phenomenon, and now even an Internet meme.
We stand behind those calling for Chancellor Katehi's resignation. But not for the reasons they might think.
The events of UC Davis and the way in which the pepper-spray was handled has set a number of dangerous precedents. In the setting of academia, the rights of the majority of students are being trampled on to appease the tyranny of a minority. Further, the very system of law and order and its public servants instituted to protect the rights of the public at large have been undermined by incompetent leaders, unable to withstand the growing pressure of a noisy minority and the corrupt media that supports it. Most importantly, propaganda has established a foothold that is now stronger than ever, and far more dangerous than the short-term effects of pepper spray.
Over the last week, we have seen the media pick up the UC Davis story and run with it, always highlighting the same twenty seconds of one Officer Pike, methodically pepper-spraying eleven "peaceful protesters," while onlookers gasp and scream in horror and dismay. The public was almost undivided in its immediate condemnation of the act.
But just as Winston Churchill once said, "A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on." Perhaps in this case, it's not so much a lie, but a lot of omissions.
We know now that the Davis 11 locked arms to block the public access way, creating both a safety hazard and barring other students and the public from gaining access to facilities beyond that point. What the media has never explained is that the protesters were repeatedly warned to clear the path. Video shows officer Pike, the one with the pepper spray, informing each protester one last time that they would be "subject to the use of force" if they did not voluntarily move. The protesters acknowledge the warning and hunker down for the consequences.
The media also never provides an accurate portrayal of why the students were protesting in the first place, and what prompted them to block the access way. In an interview with Democracy Now, UC Davis Sustainable Agriculture student Elli Pearson, one of the protesters in the blockade who was pepper sprayed, reveals the truth.
She describes that the students were there to stand in solidarity with UC Berkeley students and the Occupy Wall Street movement, and to "protest tuition hikes that are happening at public universities all across the nation." Pearson goes on to explain:
"We linked arms and we sat down peacefully to protest their [riot police] presence on our campus, and then at one point we had encircled them [police] and they were trying to leave and trying to clear a path, and so we sat down and linked arms, and said that if they were trying to clear a path they would have to go through us."
When asked if the student protesters were given any sort of warning by police, Pearson responds:
"I believe they told maybe one student or maybe had some dialogue, but certainly not everyone could hear, it wasn't like an announcement that was made."
They intentionally encircled the police and blocked them in. In doing so, the Davis 11 created a very serious public safety hazard. But you'd never see that from the same twenty seconds of video splashed across every media outlet. Not until other bloggers began to delve into the story did the more complete versions of the incident begin to crop up on video.
But by then, the damage was done.
Police Chief Annette Spicuzza and two officers, including Lt. John Pike, have already been placed on administrative leave, and petitions calling for their resignation have been collected. Videos and internet memes of the "Casually Pepper Spray Everything Cop" have gone viral. The hacktivist collective Anonymous posted Pike's information online and encouraged people to call and harass the officer. YouTube has since removed the video for violating its policies, so the transcript of the video is as follows:
Greetings police forces of the world. We are Anonymous.
Since the beginning of the Occupy movement we have watched as police violence toward the otherwise peaceful protestors has steadily increased. Your brutalization of our citizens is both unjust and uncalled for. Your raids on our encampments and the illegal actions of corrupt officers within your ranks will no longer go unpunished.
Any officer found to be guilty of these crimes against peaceful protestors will be doxed and have their personal information released to the public. It is time you take a dose of your own medicine and stop hiding behind your badge.
U. C. Davis Campus Police, Lieutenant John Pike, Records Unit Manager.
You pepper sprayed a crowd of peaceful students sitting on the ground. You are a coward, and a bully.
A tool of the corrupt. A puppet for your masters.
Citizens of the world, flood his home phone at [REDACTED].
Flood his cell phone at [REDACTED].
Flood his email at, [REDACTED].
Flood his home with pizza deliveries and junk mail at [HOME ADDRESS REDACTED].
Flood his skype at [REDACTED].
Flood his phones, email and mailbox to voice your anger.
Flood the campus of U.C. Davis.
Flood the streets of the world and stand up for your rights, and against injustice.
We are Anonymous. We Are Legion. We do not forgive. We do not forget. Expect us!
All of this before anyone could hear or see the other side of the story.
Other law enforcement personnel have explained that pepper spray is often used as a compliance tool when necessary. "People don't consider what it takes to break up an unlawful assembly if the protestors refuse to disperse. It always takes some kind of force," said one law enforcement worker we spoke with. The officers needed to remove the protesters, who'd linked arms to form a blockade. Reaching in to manually break them apart would have required the use of physical force, while leaving the officers' weapons vulnerable to seizure. In that case, most procedures indicate that pepper-spray is justified and the most humane of all options. While it creates temporary discomfort for the protestors, it enables the officers to safely contain, and in this case, arrest the protesters in order to remove them from blocking the public's access. Protesters have since admitted, they intentionally surrounded the police and blocked them in. While the video footage shown on mainstream media may not appear this way, the complete footage that has since surfaced clearly backs up the officers' claims.
Police officers are public servants, they are people too. Where are they supposed to turn when a situation has become so politicized that they aren't supported by their own chain of command? Did these officers not have a right for the full video to be reviewed and an investigation conducted before being judged?
In March, some of the very same protesters encountered similar events during the March 4th Day of Action to Defend Public Education (video & photos), when protesters blocked a major California highway in a standoff with police, then went on to "Occupy" buildings and classrooms at UC Davis. One of those participants listed was Kase Wheatley, the same protester featured in the high-end raincoat and overalls at the November 18th event as one of the Davis 11 in the video that's appeared all over the media. Clearly, Kase is no stranger to such conflict, and apparently came prepared.
"The UC system has actually hired one of the premiere union busting firms in the country to basically break up the unions on campus," Wheatley said. "They're all connected, it's happening all over the world. It's happening with riots and protests in Tunisia and Egypt, and all the way to the United States."
Instead of pointing out Kase's activism experience to provide balance, media outlets like MSNBC have exalted Kase to martyr status, where he was most recently heralded by Michael Moore, who calls the incident an iconic moment in the Occupy movement akin to "Tiananmen Square."
The ramifications of the pepper spray incident reach further than the topic of the use of force. Too many fail to realize that 200 protesters in a school of over 30,000 tuition paying students is a tiny minority, less than 1 percent. What about the 99 percent in this case? The 99 percent who want to go about their daily routines, be safe on their college campus, not be afraid to voice their own opinions, and want to attend the classes they're paying for?
There is no better example of this majority than a young woman and a young man who spoke up at a Town Hall meeting that was held with Chancellor Katehi and other administrators from UC Davis. As the woman so eloquently stated:
"My concern is what the events of the last week have been doing to the quality of our education. I know that myself personally I've already had two days worth of classes canceled by the professors, I expect to have more classes canceled on Monday with the general strike and I don't think I'm alone in this. As was just stated, we have midterms coming up, we have finals coming up, and it's both ironic and sad that one of the initial starting points of this movement was to defend the right to education by not making it a classist place, and I do feel as though within the last week we have had some of those rights taken away from us. Not only are we not able to attend class because of noise, but classes are actually being canceled, we don't have the option to go."