Calls Mount for UC Davis Chancellor to Resign Following Brutal Pepper-Spraying of Student Protesters
More than 34,000 people have signed a petition calling on Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi of the University of California at Davis to resign her position after nonviolent student activists were pepper-sprayed in the face at point-blank range by a riot police officer, identified as Lieutenant John Pike.
The petition, started by David Buscho, one of the students who was pepper-sprayed by the officer, reprints a letter from UC Davis faculty member Nathan Brown, an assistant professor in the Department of English. Brown wrote, in part:
I am writing to tell you in no uncertain terms that there must be space for protest on our campus. There must be space for political dissent on our campus. There must be space for civil disobedience on our campus. There must be space for students to assert their right to decide on the form of their protest, their dissent, and their civil disobedience—including the simple act of setting up tents in solidarity with other students who have done so. There must be space for protest and dissent, especially, when the object of protest and dissent is police brutality itself. You may not order police to forcefully disperse student protesters peacefully protesting police brutality. You may not do so. It is not an option available to you as the Chancellor of a UC campus. That is why I am calling for your immediate resignation.
The violence against the peaceful UC Davis students is only the latest brutal assault on nonviolent protesters, but perhaps one of the most iconic thus far. Who can argue that students seated on the ground, arms linked, heads bowed, were a threat to the helmeted and armed riot police?
While the protest that brought the Davis students out was in part to express solidarity with their comrades at UC Berkeley, who earlier in the week also faced police brutality to protest, they also have the same ideals as the rest of the Occupy movement at heart. Economic justice and basic fairness was at the heart of their protest, as one Davis student explained to Xeni Jardin at BoingBoing:
On Tuesday there was a rally organized by some faculty members in response to the brutality on the UC Berkeley campus, and in response to the proposed 81% tuition hike.
One of the reasons I am involved with #OWS, and advocating for an occupy movement on the UC campus, is to fight privatization and austerity in the UC system, and fight rising tuition costs. I think that citizens have the right to get an education regardless of economic condition. Most people are not going to get a job where they can afford to pay off student loans. But to exclude people from knowledge is unconscionable.
The #OWS movement is global, but it's expressed locally in ways that are relevant to each city. People who are in NYC go to Wall Street. Oakland takes the port. At Davis, we have a university.
An 81% tuition increase? UC Davis currently costs in-state students over $13,000 a year; out-of-state tuition is a whopping $35,000 per year. 81% over four years would bring the cost for in-state students to over $23,000 per year. As Mike Konczal noted, nearly doubling the tuition at a public university would be another step in "moving the world class system further away from a right citizens have to develop their talents to a debt-financed commodity they indentured themselves to access as consumers."
Student debt has become a touchstone for the Occupy movement nationwide; while police brutality is the issue that brought about calls for the chancellor's resignation, it's worth remembering too what the students were willing to face pepper spray and batons for. They were assaulted for expressing their opinion that public education should be accessible to all.
Jardin also later tweeted that one of the UC Davis student journalists who had written and spoken out about the violence he witnessed was facing punitive action by the university.
Chancellor Katehi has yet to speak to the students; in this video, you can see the silent protest held by the students as she left the university on Saturday evening. She tells a questioner in the video that she plans to speak to the students on Monday at their general assembly.