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 firstname.lastname@example.org.