Yager: Police violence at UC Davis unacceptable and unwarranted

Picture 200 students, arms tightly linked, on Sturges Quad along with a couple of tents. Initially this would seem like some sort of event put on by the school, like a motionless MP3 experiment.

But what if they collectively started yelling about rising tuition prices? What it they were exclaiming the woes of the mounting debt against America’s college students to anyone within earshot? I’d like to think that the event would bring in many more protesters and perhaps some media attention. After a couple of days the peaceful demonstration would take its course and everyone would go back to their normal lives. At the University of California Davis, however, that is not the case. Instead, students like you and I were shot with pepper spray for their principles right here in the United States. This police overreaction is unacceptable.

I am disturbed by these events because if they can happen in one of the most liberal areas of the country, then what’s stopping similar events from unfolding here in Geneseo, N.Y.? The head campus administrator at UC Davis, Chancellor Linda P. B. Katehi, decided after four days of peaceful protest that the only way to disperse the group of passive protestors would be to involve the police – police with handcuffs, pepper spray, riot gear and guns.

To quote a student at the event, “Lt. [John] Pike walked up to my friend, and I am told that he said, ‘Move or we’re going to shoot you.’ Then he went back and talked to a few of his police officer friends. A couple of other officers started to remove people who were sitting there, blocking the exit. Pike could have easily removed us, just picked us up and removed us. We were just sitting there, nonviolent civil disobedience. But Pike turned around and I am told that he said to the other officers, ‘Don’t worry about it, I’m going to spray these kids down.’” Then Lt. Pike and two other Davis police officers sprayed the protestors three times with military grade pepper spray at point-blank range.

If I am a tax-paying citizen who is not committing any crimes nor disturbing the public, in what way would I or any other person deserve this kind of police brutality? I’m particularly frightened of the idea that this could potentially happen with any group of protestors. I’m sympathetic with the Occupy Wall Street movement and am in no way opposed to the idea of peaceful protest, so if Geneseo had a serious protest I’d be one of the people on the front lines. I’d be there in the circle with arms linked. I’d be one of the people getting pepper sprayed. I’d be one of the people getting handcuffed so tightly I’d end up with nerve damage.

Time and time again protests have been conducted the same way. People think something is wrong so they congregate in a public space and stay there indefinitely. Eventually those in power instruct the police to remove the people and the civilians remain relatively peaceful. In fact, the Occupy Wall Street gatherings have been rather civil considering their circumstances. So when the pictures surfaced of the UC Davis police brutality, politics and technology pundit Baratunde Thurston was quoted saying, “There’s a frighteningly relaxed attitude to this ‘Peace Officer’ … and among many authorities.”

So if the police are already ready and willing to physically injure passive students, what is the limit of their violence towards innocent civilians?