“It’s not safe for multiple reasons”

by zunguzungu

UC Davis Police Chief Annette Spicuzza said it would not be safe or sustainable for demonstrators to camp in the quad. “It’s not safe for multiple reasons,” Spicuzza said.

So, to ensure student safety, the police did this:

And then, when the students refused to be moved, the police retreated.

Read Nathan Brown’s open letter to the UC Davis Chancellor for more details:

Today you ordered police onto our campus to clear student protesters from the quad. These were protesters who participated in a rally speaking out against tuition increases and police brutality on UC campuses on Tuesday—a rally that I organized, and which was endorsed by the Davis Faculty Association. These students attended that rally in response to a call for solidarity from students and faculty who were bludgeoned with batons, hospitalized, and arrested at UC Berkeley last week. In the highest tradition of non-violent civil disobedience, those protesters had linked arms and held their ground in defense of tents they set up beside Sproul Hall. In a gesture of solidarity with those students and faculty, and in solidarity with the national Occupy movement, students at UC Davis set up tents on the main quad. When you ordered police outfitted with riot helmets, brandishing batons and teargas guns to remove their tents today, those students sat down on the ground in a circle and linked arms to protect them.

What happened next?

Without any provocation whatsoever, other than the bodies of these students sitting where they were on the ground, with their arms linked, police pepper-sprayed students. Students remained on the ground, now writhing in pain, with their arms linked.

What happened next?

Police used batons to try to push the students apart. Those they could separate, they arrested, kneeling on their bodies and pushing their heads into the ground. Those they could not separate, they pepper-sprayed directly in the face, holding these students as they did so. When students covered their eyes with their clothing, police forced open their mouths and pepper-sprayed down their throats. Several of these students were hospitalized. Others are seriously injured. One of them, forty-five minutes after being pepper-sprayed down his throat, was still coughing up blood.

As Angus Johnston puts it:

In order to clear the demonstrators police pepper-sprayed the line. Just sprayed the entire line of students with a casual sweeping motion. Video shows that within eight seconds of the first use of spray, the line was broken up and no longer restricted police action at all. (One student on the scene says that police sprayed the thickest section of the line and that there were gaps in it at other points. That it was always, in other words, a symbolic rather than actual barrier.)

Students. Sitting down. With bowed heads. On university property. Police freely moving around them, pepper spraying them, facing no resistance whatsoever. Within eight seconds the students represented no impediment to anyone. They were just students sitting on the ground.

When police put bodies in pain in order to achieve symbolic compliance, what  they are doing is simple: violently attacking disobedience, as such. In case you’re wondering, this particular police lieutenant is paid over $110,000 a year to do what he does.

UPDATE: Millicent observes:

Look at his face as he sprays them (as best you can–he’s behind a mask). Then fast-forward to the end of the clip (around 6:15), when the students announce to the officers that they are offering them “a moment of peace,” that is, the option of leaving without further escalating a truly horrible situation. They cry (in one of the most moving instances of the human mic I’ve ever seen) “You can go! You can go!”

It’s transcendently brilliant, this tactic–the students offer an alternative in a high-pressure situation, a situation that no one wants, but which seems inevitable in the heat of the moment. It’s an act of mercy which, like all acts of mercy, is entirely undeserved. Watch the other officers’ surprise at this turn in the students’ rhetoric, after they had (rightfully) been chanting “Shame on you!” Watch the officers seriously consider (and eventually accept) the students’ offer.

As the officer in the left foreground teeters back and forth, nervous, braced, thinking, watch the power-drunk cop on the right (who I think is the one who pepper-sprayed the crowd earlier) brandish not one but TWO bottles of pepper-spray, shaking them, not just in preparation, but in anticipation. He’s seconds away from spraying the students again. His mask is up this time, you can see his face, but it’s a nonexperience: it’s blank, immobile. It would be inaccurate to say that he’s immune to the students’ appeal; he’s not even bothering to listen. All he hears are sounds. No signals, all noise. Luckily, it’s made clear to him in time that this colleagues are in retreat, and he does not spray them again.

Strange to seek a lesson on the police side of this appalling moment in our country’s history, but there is one, I think, when you look at the faces behind the riot masks. Look at the expressions. So many are human, attentive, defensive, even regretful, but his is  impassive, glutted and red with a chemical thrill. If he is indeed the same officer who sprayed the students earlier, he’s already made the decision to spray once; it’s much easier to jump that moral hurdle a second time.

It’s a truism to say that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, but here’s the thing: until the students call the rest of the officers to their senses in a truly exceptional act of grace, that doughy nugget of unthinking cruelty is winning.

But call him out they do, and that’s a microcosm for what the Occupy movements are about when they’re at their best–calling us out of our own bottom lines, forcing us to rethink what the hard outlines of the legal constraints we ordinarily accept, impelling us to see what they look when upheld by the beefy implacable hand of an Old Testament God.