UC Davis: Nonviolent student protest is met with extreme violence

Kate Kelly argues that students everywhere should be outraged at what transpired at UC Davis, where students were peppered spray in an attempt to break up their nonviolent protest. Following the Occupy movement these past

Kate Kelly argues that students everywhere should be outraged at what transpired at UC Davis, where students were peppered spray in an attempt to break up their nonviolent protest.

Following the Occupy movement these past few weeks, I have seen several disturbing images and videos depicting seemingly-unwarranted police brutality against protestors. I saw young women in Manhattan pepper sprayed full in the face while complying with police instruction to remain on the sidewalk. I saw an Iraq war veteran, Scott Olsen, shot in the head with a police projectile that fractured his skull in Oakland, Calif. However, nothing prepared me for the photos and footage that went viral after the recent incident at the University of California, Davis.

For those of you who live in caves, the Occupy Wall Street movement started in Sept. 17 when people started camping in at Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan, protesting economic injustices and corporate greed. Occupations have sprung up in cities around the globe, including here in Philadelphia. Unnerved by the images emerging from other occupations, I have been pleasantly surprised at the peaceful nature of Occupy Philly; there has been little to no violent contact with the Philadelphia police.

Students at UC Davis have not been so lucky.

On Friday, Nov. 18, UC Davis campus police were ordered by the school administration to dismantle the Occupy camp that students had constructed on campus. They had done so with the permission of Chancellor Linda Katehi, who seems to have changed her mind about the situation. The police surrounded a group of students who were seated on the ground, their arms linked. Then, in an effort to clear the path they were blocking, Officer John Pike began spraying military-grade pepper spray directly into the eyes, noses and mouths of the seated students.

If you have not seen the video, watch it right now. It is sick and chilling. After one pass of the pepper spray, Pike reverses and coats them again. It almost looks like he’s watering his yard. Except shrubbery doesn’t scream in pain and crawl away vomiting like the students did.

The next day, students rallied outside a press conference given by Katehi, who then refused to leave the building for hours because she felt there was a threat of violence against her. The students, demonstrating an incredible level of organization and maturity, seated themselves in two lines on either side of the path leading from the building to Katehi’s car. Seated in the same position as their pepper sprayed classmates, the students remained completely silent. Their response could not have been executed more perfectly. As she left the building, this gauntlet of shame forced Katehi to confront the fact that she betrayed the very people she is supposed to protect.

This incident brings to light the complex relationship between college students and their school administrations. The bottom line is we trust our schools. We have to. Many of us are away from home for the first time and we look to Temple for food, shelter and security. We feel safe on campus. There is a level of trust between student and school officials that is deeper than we usually care to think about or admit. The incident at UC Davis is a dramatic and disturbing betrayal of that trust.

We as a school need to find a way to stand in solidarity with those students. This is not a political issue. It does not matter if you agree with the Occupy movement or not. Students who were protesting nonviolently on campus were subdued in an extremely violent manner. This issue relates to every single one of us, regardless of who you are going to vote for.

If you’re not outraged, you haven’t been paying attention.

Kate Kelly can be reached at katekelly@temple.edu.


  1. “Officer John Pike began spraying military-grade pepper spray directly into the eyes, noses and mouths of the seated students.” Yep, it’s more useful than spraying it onto the ground or their cloths.

    You nitwits didn’t want police to use batons so now they have pepper spray and tazers. Apparently, they’re still too harsh for people who won’t obey lawful orders. Maybe we should hamstring the police even further and arm them with bananas and ice cream.

    It’s pepper spray, not a nuke. Anybody that tries to equate pepper spray used by LEOs who are doing their job with “extreme violence” should be well… pepper sprayed.

  2. This is a blatantly false account of the events that transpired on that day. STUDENTS surrounded OFFICERS, not the other way around. They blockaded the officers and refused to allow them to leave. The twist on this is sickening. I was personally at the event, I took footage; students did not vomit, they did not crawl away, and, as a matter of fact, they still resisted. These students broke the law, barricaded police forces, and paid the consequences for their actions.
    These links will show the truth about what happened, not the twisted, sensationalized perspective provided by the media.



  3. This incident highlights many of the very issues that the Occupy Movement address, in particular: how is power structured in this country and who does that power serve? As far as I can tell, the students posed no serious threat to anyone’s well-being and were not in anyway engaged in acts of violence. The students may have been “disruptive” to “campus life,” but does blocking a walkway deserve pepper-spray? And pepper-spray may not be the same as a “nuke” (as stated by “Matt K” above), but it is without a doubt violent–simply look at the effects it has on the human body.

  4. UC Berkeley Chancellor Birgeneau’s campus police report to the chancellor and the campus police take direction from the chancellor. University of California (UC) campus chancellors vet their campus police protocols. Birgeneau allowed pepper spray and use of batons to be included in his campus police protocols.

    Chancellor Birgeneau’s campus police use brutal baton jabs on students protesting increases in tuition. UC Berkeley Chancellor Birgeneau and UC Davis Chancellor Katehi are in dereliction of their duties.

    Birgeneau and UC Davis Chancellor need to quit or be fired for permitting the brutal outrages on students protesting tuition increases.

    Opinions? Email the UC Board of Regents marsha.kelman@ucop.edu

  5. If it makes you feel any better the organizers of the Occupy “movement” will be happy that they pay dirt in this article.

    Because you seem like a well intentioned person I’ll let you in on what the rest of the country already knows (excluding those who make a pretty good living perpetuating unrest, or who are so thoroughly indoctrinated that they are beyond reason).

    While it’s encouraging that the Occupy “movement” has directed attention towards the inexplicable rise in tuition over the last decade by actually demonstrating at those institutions, we need to be clear about this “movement’s” desired results. It is clear that the goal of the Occupy movement that “spontaneously” popped up (in several cities across the country and at the same time;) is not to address serious issues, but is rather to incite physical confrontation in the interest of cultivating civil unrest. Why do you think the “passive” demonstrators with linked arms had surrounded the police? Why do they need to be located where they can obstruct others, or adopt an approach (like camping) that forces others to take action to protect the general welfare? Because we can’t see them demonstrate during the day?

    Activists target college students because they are attentive and inquisitive, receptive to new ideas, and because they are passionate and want to believe in SOMETHING. Unfortunately they are also targeted because they are readily available (no schedule, no dependents, no jobs, no immediate financial burdens) and because they are blissfully unaware of the long term ramifications of pseudo-informed, passion-driven, behavior. Think Saturday night, 2AM.

    You are being spoon-fed media coverage that is designed to insight, rather than resolve. You are witnessing selected images presented to you that are confrontational BY DESIGN. Think about it. The people who are suffering the adverse effects of the protesters are the very people they profess to represent. It isn’t the 1% who are having their classes disrupted, and it isn’t the 1% who are actually being damaged by the cost and disruption to city centers. See much of them in the news? Think about how it is possible for someone who recently signed a Master Promissory Note to be surprised by the fact that they will have to pay back the money they borrowed. Really?

    Those of you concentrating on “who did what to who” are missing the basic issue here. You have a legal and moral right to speak and demonstrate. You have NO right to force your will on others. You are entitled to an opinion, but just because you have an opinion doesn’t entitle you to get your way.

    Finally, you have a deeply disturbing understanding of institutions, and the rights and responsibilities of individuals. You appear to be under the impression that you should be able to have some sort of blind dependency on Temple. What you describe as a “complex relationship” really isn’t that complex. You’re just confused. The Institution isn’t your parent and it isn’t some omniscient STATE responsible for your up-bringing. Temple is a place where instruction is provided for a fee. You are a customer. You pay for a safe and secure environment where you can learn and have equal access to facilities, free from disruption, including from wandering bands of malcontents.

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