Audio, Transcript: Interview w/ UC Davis Chancellor on Pepper-Spray Controversy; Video of Incident

UC Davis announced today that it has placed university police chief Annette Spicuzza on leave after her officers used pepper spray to move seated Occupy UC Davis protesters on Friday. The incident, which has attracted international attention, also led the campus faculty association to call for the resignation of Chancellor Linda Katehi. She says she will not step down.

KQED Radio 88.5’s Forum show discussed the controversy with Chancellor Katehi, with Fatima Sbeih, a student who was among the demonstrators pepper-sprayed by police, with Nathan Brown, an assistant professor of English who has called for her resignation, and with Joseph McNamara, research fellow at the Hoover Institution and a retired San Jose police chief. Audio is below. Click here for a transcript.

KQED’s Ian Hill has Storified some of listener reaction to Katehi’s appearance on the show. And there are a bunch of comments on Forum’s web site.

Video of the incident below. The East Bay Express describes it this way:

UC Davis got all shook up Friday following an incident in which campus police demonstrated that they, too, don’t have a clue about how to deal with peaceful protesters. The video below centers on a group of campus police officers dispatched Friday to clear out the remaining occupiers who had camped overnight in the quad, after a week of peaceful demonstrations. In a shabby spectacle, an officer empties his pepper spray canister at close range on a small group of seated individuals. The victims, mostly students, bury their heads in their shirts for protection, eventually incapacitated enough to be easily carried away.

Update 1:30 p.m. Boing Boing has posted an interview with a student who was pepper-sprayed.

Here’s an interview with Chancellor Katehi yesterday from the student-run AggieTV:

On Sunday, UC President Mark Yudof issued a response to campus protests throughout the university system.

I am appalled by images of University of California students being doused with pepper spray and jabbed with police batons on our campuses.

I intend to do everything in my power as president of this university to protect the rights of our students, faculty and staff to engage in non-violent protest.

Chancellors at the UC Davis and UC Berkeley campuses already have initiated reviews of incidents that occurred on their campuses. I applaud this rapid response and eagerly await the results.

Yudof goes on to say he will convene all 10 chancellors to discuss “proportional law enforcement response to non-violent protest.” He says he has also begun the process of assembling a panel to reassess campus police procedures.

And from Scientific American today, About Pepper Spray:

I was looking for a way to measure the intensity of pepper spray, the kind that police have been using on Occupy protestors including this week’s shocking incident involving peacefully protesting students at the University of California-Davis.

…(C)ommercial grade pepper spray leaves even the most painful of natural peppers (the Himalayan ghost pepper) far behind. It’s listed at between 2 million and 5.3 million Scoville units. The lower number refers to the kind of pepper spray that you and I might be able to purchase for self-protective uses. And the higher number? It’s the kind of spray that police use, the super-high dose given in the orange-colored spray used at UC-Davis.

The reason pepper-spray ends up on the Scoville chart is that – you probably guessed this – it’s literally derived from pepper chemistry, the compounds that make habaneros so much more formidable than the comparatively wimpy bells…

But we’ve taken to calling it pepper spray, I think, because that makes it sound so much more benign than it really is, like something just a grade or so above what we might mix up in a home kitchen. The description hints maybe at that eye-stinging effect that the cook occasionally experiences when making something like a jalapeno-based salsa, a little burn, nothing too serious.

Related:

  • Chancellor creates task force to review Friday’s incident

    Yesterday was not a day that would make anyone on our campus proud; indeed the events of the day need to guide us forward as we try to make our campus a better place of inquiry, debate, and even dissent…

  • Police Pepper-Spray Peaceful UC Davis Students: Ask Chancellor Katehi to Resign!

    I am a junior faculty member at UC Davis. I am an Assistant Professor in the Department of English, and I teach in the Program in Critical Theory and in Science & Technology Studies. I have a strong record of research, teaching, and service. I am currently a Board Member of the Davis Faculty Association. I have also taken an active role in supporting the student movement to defend public education on our campus and throughout the UC system. In a word: I am the sort of young faculty member, like many of my colleagues, this campus needs. I am an asset to the University of California at Davis.

    You are not.

Transcript of today’s Forum show:

Chancellor Katehi

Well, it was only about a peaceful dismantling of the equipment in the encampment because the UC policies for health and safety reasons suggest that we do not allow camps to be set on our campuses. We do care, especially in this particular case, we do care about the safety of our students. The group that set this up was not just UC Davis students, they were individuals who were not affiliated with the campus, so out of concern for the students. And after a day of having the camp up set on the quad we suggested that the students remove the equipment from the quad so the police was called for nothing else than a peaceful dismantling of the equipment. They were not supposed to use force, it was never called for, they were not supposed to limit the students from having the rally, from congregating to express their anger and frustrations primarily for all the things going wrong on our campuses and our state, you know, nation around the world.

Michael Krasny

You saw the video. If it was appalling, it was on your watch…

Chancellor Katehi

It happened and it was unacceptable. In fact, what I saw on the video has been horrific, and it’s really not representative of our campus. We really have to look at what happened, and why these two police decided to… It was completely unacceptable what happened.

Michael Krasny

They just very dispassionately did it like they were spraying paint.

Chancellor Katehi

Absolutely. That’s a very correct characterization and that’s disheartening. I mean, as a person, as a chancellor first of all, as an educator, as a human being I felt outrage and sadness. It was horrible what I felt. My commitment is that I really need to understand how, why, what went wrong. Why this thing went so wrong? We really need to take a quick action to make the appropriate connections to make sure this never happens again, but beyond that, we really need to bring the campus together.

Michael Krasny

Forgive me but the Unviersity Faculty Associaton says it’s a gross failure of leadership on your part. Why does the buck not stop with you as the chancellor?

Chancellor Katehi

It does absolutely. As the chancellor I take responsibility for everything that happens on this campus. Our campus has policies. The only reason we have those policies in place is to make sure that the 32 thousand students that use our campus are safe and we provide them with the right conditions to really learn in an appropriate environment so our campus has been, for the last 2 and a half weeks witnessed a lot of unrest. Our students are very upset with the things they see around them, with the tuition increase, with the reduction of state funding in the UCs, with the economic situation. They have been protesting on our campuses and that has been going on for some time.

Michael Krasny

Haven’t you called for a 30-day deadline for a task force investigation?

Chancellor Katehi

As you indicated, they, the chief of police and the 2 policeman have been put on administrative leave. We are moving very fast, and we have a number of investigations underway. One by the DA to look at the excessive use of force, and another one by the Senate to look at the incident, and one that will be performed at the president level to look at the whole situation. So all of these, at least the one that I called for, which is the task force, I have called for a 30 day report, I mean a report in 30 days, to be given back so we can take appropriate action. There are a lot of things we need to do on our campus. I have to say, as a chancellor, I really believe that we need to move on. Our campus is a wonderful place, have very high ideals. Last Friday was such a horrific incident; we had such a horrific incident that really does not characterize of who we are. So it’s time for us to move forward. We really need to bring the community in together. I will spend a lot of time listening to the students and listening to the faculty and the staff, and try to get ourselves together as a group and move on. We really need to come back to where we are and make our campus a better place.

Sean (caller who was there and witnessed it)

Yes. Hello. Thank you. I was there. I saw two of my students get pepper sprayed in the face. I’m a grad student here. I saw several students vomiting and foaming at the mouth. This is inexcusable. Chancellor, yesterday on Aggie TV and our local student newspaper you said that “spraying [kids] with pepper spray in this case was approved by university policy,” and this was in accordance and that certainly university policy shouldn’t be followed at all times. Obviously you’re responsible for university policy. Do you now retract that statement?

Chancellor Katehi

No, No. Can I explain what I said? I said, of course the context was a falling. I said, even technically, that police were characterized technically within police code, I said it was an unacceptable act. That it was an unacceptable decision to use that type of force on students who were quietly sitting.

Michael Krasny Someone from the police force was quoted as saying it was acceptable. Someone named Charles Kelley was quoted at length…

Chancellor Katehi

I’m just trying to correct what I said on this video. That the other person is referring to. I just wanted to correct the statement that I made, and put in on record that what I said was that even if people can argue that technically could have been within police code, is that I said, that in my mind it is totally unacceptable.

Michael Krasny

A number of people have asked why you were not there…

Chancellor Katehi

First of all, I don’t go to demonstrations. At least the policy that the system has is that I don’t participate in demonstrations. I don’t go when there are events and then when groups gather. I go to many events. I speak with faculty staff or students, but different types of forums. In fact, I don’t go to rallies on our campus. Now you can say that this is a wrong policy and I’m willing to reconsider it, but because those rallies and events are very volatile types of gathers, I would say, I don’t go to those. And that was part of that, that it’s part of the practice we have on our campus in our UC system.

Michael Krasny

Thank you. Geoffrey Wildanger is a student who was pepper-sprayed in the face. Give us a sense of what you were doing.

Student Geoffrey Wildanger

Yes. A number of us were just sitting peacefully with our arms linked. We were chanting, asking the police to release the people they had arrested, and we had formed a circle and the police, Officer Jonathon Pike stepped in over the circle. He was inside, stepped outside of the circle and then pepper sprayed us three times as a group and then a couple of individuals he pepper sprayed individually.

Michael Krasny

There have been quotes from the police that students encircled officers who were unable to get out.

Geoffrey Wildanger

Well, it’s pretty clear if you watch the video that Jon Pike was inside the circle before he pepper sprayed us, and he pepper sprayed us while standing outside of the circle. There’s actually a fantastic photo circulating on the internet with chief police Spicuzza who has this quote about the impeded movement of the police juxtaposed with a picture of Jon Pike stepping over the line of protesters and going out to pepper spray us.

Michael Krasny

What went through your mind?

Geoffrey Wildanger

Well, to me, my head was tucked down at the time. Obviously, I was hoping to not get any pepper spray in my eyes. And um, what was most terrifying, I guess, is the nonchalant attitude with which he carried out the brutality. You know, one expects that police brutality — you have police that are enflamed or exceptionally angry about a situation, but this was carried out mundanely as if he we taking a walk in the park. Earlier, he threatened to shoot us. Presumably he meant with their paintball guns that have tear gas paintballs, but he just, he whispered into a friend’s ear that if we didn’t move he would shoot us. And at that point, you know, it was becoming very, very frightening.

Michael Krasny

Do you feel that this in some ways has highlighted what you were protesting in part, the way police handled the protest at UC Berkeley?

Geoffrey Wildanger

Definitely. I think that it has brought a lot of attention. Just like in 2009, the 52 arrests on the UC Davis campus also when Katehi was just arriving here. Those also brought a lot of attention. I think that the UC Davis police are notorious for responding with unjustifiable force to protests. In a way one that one would not expect at such a sort of mainstream, middle American type campus such as UC Davis.

Michael Krasny

Professor Nathan Brown, did you hear the chancellor talk essentially about how appalled she was at this earlier in the program here in this hour?

Prof. Nathan Brown, calling for chancellor to resign

No I did not, but what we’ve seen from the chancellor since this has occurred is her sort statement of unequivocal support for the police tactics, and since then she’s been engaged in a program of (unintelligible).

Michael Krasny

So you are calling for her resignation in spite of the fact that she indeed wants to move forward, wants to meet with demonstrators, has echoed support for demonstrators and so forth?

Nathan Brown

Well, the chancellor routinely says that she supports student protests on our campus. She routinely says through email to the campus community that her primary concern is the health and safety of the student body at UC Davis, and… those statements in writing and speech, they are in no way consistent to her actual actions. What the chancellor says, is that she’s concerned about the health and safety of UC Davis students. What the chancellor does, is…

Michael Krasny

Excuse me, she also says that police were there to dismantle the encampment. It was not to pepper spray and she was appalled that the pepper spray was used the way it was.

Nathan Brown

The chancellor ordered to police forces on the campus to disperse the encampment by force, and so it happened. The chancellor has every reason to expect that what happened is just the sort of thing that will happen because at Berkeley just the previous week, what we saw is that students had set up an encampment in solidarity with the national occupy movement, the chancellor at UC Berkeley ordered police to come in and remove that encampment, just as in UC Davis, those students and faculty linked arms and stood their ground in front of the tents and the police brutally beat them with batons. They seriously injured faculty, they seriously injured, hospitalize students.

One week after that, while students at UC Davis are protesting in solidarity with those students in Berkeley against the use of police brutality on that campus, once again the chancellor of UC Davis orders the police to come in and to forcibly disperse a peaceful demonstration. The chancellor has to recognize that when she orders riot police onto UC Davis, students and other community members get hurt. That’s what happens when police are ordered onto UC campuses over the last few years, and that’s why I say the UC Davis chancellor Linda Katehi is in fact the primary threat to the health and safety of students at UC Davis.

Michael Krasny

Well you’ve said that the police are actually forced to open the eyes and throats and pepper spray down the throats of some of these students and that the police have been used on UC campuses to crush political dissent and free speech assembly? I mean, first of all, did you witness the first statement at all? That is, spraying in the eyes and down the throat deliberately?

Nathan Brown

That statement is based on direct testimony from students and faculty who were present.

Michael Krasny

And what about the idea that this is police force on UC campuses is directly to crush political dissent and suppress free speech assembly when we have President Yudof saying that he was appalled, and he wants all the chancellors to meet and to have appropriate action?

Nathan Brown

Again, this is what the administration of the UC system always says. We’ve been hearing these responses from US administrators for 2 years, but what has actually been happening is that tuition has been raised precipitously at UC campuses since 2004. When students and faculty protest those tuition increases as they did all through the Fall of 2009, as they did through the Spring of 2009, as they’re doing again this year, what happens is that University as well as other police forces are sent into campus, and those police forces have routinely brutalized students and faculty. So that’s what I mean when I say that the administration of the University has consistently, systematically used police brutality as a tool to terrorize students and faculty on our campuses, as a tool to suppress free speech and political dissent, and as a tool to force tuition increases. Because when students didn’t stand up and they said, “no, I will not pay anymore tuition, I will not take anymore debt,” what happens is that police forces are sent in and they beat, hospitalize, and arrest those students.

Interviews with Joseph McNamara, Research Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Retired police chief of San Jose, and Eugene O’Donnell, Professor of law and police studies, John Jay College in New York, former NYPD officer:

Krasny: Let’s get the precedent, from a legal standpoint and what the precedent is as you see it, of actually pepper spraying people who are just sitting there in civil disobedience.

McNamara: I think in California law the penal code says the police can use necessary force to make an arrest. However, that force has to be reasonable and cannot be excessive, and in the end, the courts have ruled that using pepper spray on passive demonstrators is unnecessary force in these situations. The pepper spray devices originally came into police use to avoid a violent tactic to protect officers and to protect others from violence. The TV pictures that I saw clearly indicated the demonstrators were sitting with their head down. There was no impending violence whatsoever.

Krasny: Of you course you heard the reports that the police were surrounded.

McNamara: Well, that’s bizarre, really. I can’t understand this.

Krasny: It was not on the video.

McNamara: I saw the television pictures. There were a significant number of police standing there and how can you be surrounded by people that sitting passively. If the police wanted to leave, they certainly could have just left and could have stepped over the people demonstrating. So the idea that they were surrounded or somehow threatened with violence just doesn’t match what we saw on television.

Krasny: So the use of pepper spray as an alternative to using deadly force is entirely inappropriate in this case as you see it.

McNamara: In my opinion, this was unnecessary force and it’s a major victory for the occupy movement because one of the criticisms of the movement is that they lack focus… Well this gives them a focus the public I suspect will overwhelmingly be appalled by seeing that kind of image of the police using pepper spray, creating pain among demonstrators who are passive.

Krasny: Is there a countervailing view from what we just heard from Joe McNamara?

O’Donnell: With the caveat that the police really should not be inserted in these situations promiscuously, which they often are, this is a university issue, it’s an issue that calls for university leadership, for the people in charge there to stand up and be counted and be in the front, and for the police whenever possible to be kept in reserve.

Having said that, let’s be honest, there’s a schizophrenia about policing. One minute people are asking why were the police as aggressive as they were, and in the very next breath, and we saw this in New York with Occupy Wall Street here. Should the police stand by and allow somebody to get hurt or injured or be insufficiently affirmative when there’s a need to do that? Questions would be raised about that.

In this case we know the ending, we know there was no violence used. In a light most favorable to the cops, they could have been encircled… All the more reason why the cops should not be sent into these things unless it’s absolutely necessary. They come with a force orientation, they come with weapons, and they have to protect those weapons, and they have to protect themselves. We need less use of the police and more use of people talking, more use of dialog and more leadership of people who aren’t wearing uniforms, not just on campus, but beyond that.

Krasny: What about this notion, again, this came largely from Charles Kelly, one of the officers involved, that pepper spray is a compliance tool and it should be used even with subjects that don’t resist because otherwise you have to pick them up and lead them away, although that was not apparently a mandate or an order that was given in any…

O’Donnell: The best agency in the country for dealing with these situations unequivocally is the NYPD, which is definitely far from perfect. Even when they did their re-occupation the other day, they got their very best crowd control people, they trained them right before doing it. Their patrol guide specifically says when people are passively resisting, specifically it says do not use pepper spray in that situation.

Again though, it’s very much a nuanced proposition because all you have to add into that is the potential that there could be violence, the potential that the police did feel cut off, the potential that their weapons could be taken off them. Again, these are students so that’s highly unlikely. And also of course you have to weigh the reality that university police should be doing the service task they mostly are doing, and crowd control, public disorder is something they generally shouldn’t be doing. If there’s a need to do that, then there should be consideration of going outside to the very best crowd-control people. University police are not oriented towards that.

Krasny: To my understanding, I don’t know if there’s even training for university police with crowd control.

O’Donnell: You don’t want them (university police) to become… and some have said and some of it’s legitimate that they get militarized, they get weaponized. Some of it’s because of school shootings, some of it becomes hysterical. University police are best suited to do the kind of work that you expect them to do in the university. New York Police Department is as good as it gets and it’s far from perfect. And anytime you’re using the police you are taking risks. Any police department can never afford to take a victory laps about crowd control because you’re one day away from a big problem.

Again, there’s no way to say it any more clearly than you do not need the police in a lot of these situations being front and center. You need non-police people to lead, and the police should be in reserve, not just this by the way. You could make a whole list of things. The mentally ill is another one that comes to mind, where we insert the police and wonder why we have tragic results.

Krasny: Did you see the video Professor O’Donnell?

O’Donnell: I did see the video, yeah, but the thing, the crucial thing with a video is that we have the benefit of knowing how these things turn out. You can flip that over very easily, and with crowd control, I don’t know if people followed what happened in London and throughout the UK in terms of riots, I’m not making those comparisons, but it is interesting to me that people can turn on a dime. They can go from saying, “I’m outraged about why the police are so aggressive” to, “I’m outraged at why the police are so passive.”

Across the political spectrum in the UK, from the far left to the far right, people went out of their minds at the notion that police stood back while there was violence and did nothing about it. Again, I’m not equating those two things, but it just shows the schizophrenic, the schizophrenia that characterizes a lot of the thinking in this area.

Krasny: Listener writes: People such as Chancellor Katehi keep citing health and safety as the reason for sending in police armed for riot control. Are riot police generally sent in for health code violations? No, this is a political action abusing police power to intimidate and attempt to silence dissent. Period.

McNamara: Yes. It’s true. You know, as a former professor at John Jay, when I was with the NYPD, I have to point out that the situation’s a little bit different than in New York because that campus police are a state police agency. They’re the same as the NYPD is a police agency, and so they were not inserted. It was their everyday duty to police that campus.

But having said that, I think the professor is right. The police, by their tactics, can sometimes create a violent situation unnecessarily. In this case it was pretty clear that there was no immediate threat of violence. The fact is that camping is somewhat different than what they were doing. They were merely sitting and demonstrating in a passive way with their heads down, and there was no imminent threat of any violence whatsoever, whereas pitching tents is against the law. The very term occupying something is a connotation that the law is being broken, and, for example, if in state parks, people decided to put up tents and create those kinds of unsanitary conditions, they’d be roundly condemned by the public. So I think what you have going on here is a clear difference between to occupy demonstrators and the establishment and police are a part of the establishment fighting for approval. So the police tactics in the end must comply with what the public expects to be reasonable enforcement. And merely because there’s a public outcry against demonstrations doesn’t mean the police can disregard the First Amendment’s ruling that even the most hateful speech has to be protected.

Krasny: Professor O’Donnell can we hear from you?

O’Donnell: Well, obviously university police are in a unique position because they work for the university, so in that sense, they’re more under control than ordinary police and more directly under control over accountable people. Town police, local police, city police, it’s a little diffuse about who is responsible, but at a university, the buck stops with the people who run the university in terms of how the police are used.

  • Carol Denney

    I’m an alumna, and I’ll believe there is actual concern about students’ and protesters’ safety when they take dangerous weapons out of the hands of police entirely. For some it is simply torture; for a small ratio of any given population, it is lethal.

    A real concern about this issue, however would not just focus on pepper spray, but carotid holds, hog-tying, jabbing with the blunt end of batons, and other crowd control techniques long renounced by other police jurisdictions but freely used on UC campuses.
    Carol Denney
    Berkeley
    (510) 548-1512

  • http://www.dregstudios.com Brandt Hardin

    When will we start holding officers accountable for their brutality and excessive use of force? Evicting protesters is Unconstitutional and endangers the basic rights of EVERY last American. Is this the country we were raised in, were men and women are beaten, gassed, pepper-sprayed and arrested for their disapproval of the government? We have to be careful to protect our Constitutional Rights! Raise awareness and do your part with these free posters I designed for the movement on my artist’s blog at http://dregstudiosart.blogspot.com/2011/11/propaganda-for-occupy-movement.html

Author

Jon Brooks

Jon Brooks writes mostly on film for KQED Arts. He is also an online editor and writer for KQED's daily news blog, News Fix. Jon is a playwright whose work has been produced in San Francisco, New York, Italy, and around the U.S.

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