Two police officers are now on administrative leave after an incident in which they used pepper spray on protesters at U.S. University of California, Davis. The students were protesting in support of the Occupy Wall Street movement, and expressing support for University of California, Berkeley protesters who police used batons against on November 9.
The violence was unprovoked, disproportional and excessive — Davis Faculty Association
The incident was videoed and distributed on YouTube and social networking websites including Facebook and Twitter. The footage shows a police officer spraying numerous students sat alongside each other on the ground at close range while walking past them. The video also displays officers detaining students as members of the crowd repeatedly shout the words “shame on you”.
According to CBS News, ten individuals were arrested by police at the scene. Nine students that were sprayed were given medical treatment at the location; Two were hospitalised, but later released.
Linda P.B. Katehi, university chancellor, has accepted “full responsibility for the incident” and has launched an investigation. She described the use of such methods as “chilling”; the video displays, “sad and really very inappropriate” enforcement and the incident has prompted “many questions about how best to handle situations like this”.
Meanwhile, the Davis Faculty Association, representing academic staff, condemned the actions taken by the University of California, calling the actions of the police officers “unprovoked, disproportional and excessive”. The association statement requested the chancellor of the university resign for what they called a “gross failure of leadership”. Katehi has refused to resign, believing that she had not “violated the policies of the institution”. She also stated: “I have worked personally very hard to make the campus a safe campus for all.”
Charles J. Kelly, who used to work as a lieutenant for Baltimore Police Department, defended the actions of the police officers as-seen in the video, calling it to be “fairly standard police procedure”. Kelly explained that the use of pepper spray is preferable to physical force in such situations – as-opposed to attempting to lift up protesters. “When you start picking up human bodies, you risk hurting them,” explained Kelly. “Bodies don’t have handles on them.”
University of California, Davis Police Chief Annette Spicuzza also defended the officers’ actions, claiming “[t]he students had encircled the officers”. They “needed to exit” and were “were looking to leave but were unable to get out”.