Sunday, November 20, 2011

UC Davis Decides To Start Playing Rough

So here's the woman that Atrios helpfully labels "The Worst Person In The World".

And I have to agree. Not for a moment do I think the University of California at Davis (UC Davis, or UCD) police pepper-sprayed the students on their own authority. No, this order to get rough came from the top. And the reason the Administration is getting rough is that Occupy UC Davis finally got their attention, and they want to hurt them.

University Administrators do not live in the same community that faculty and students do. For decades now, Administrators have had their own job track, which is quite divorced from everyone else's, and has little to do with either learning or teaching. Administrators don't really know many students, and thus, to them, students seem shadowy creatures; subhuman perhaps, or, more accurately, almost human. Students don't become fully-human until they become fully-employed alumni, at which time they can contribute to the Annual Fund.

The rapid acceleration in the cost of education of the last decade is of little concern to Administrators, since they benefit from that acceleration, so the sacrifices that that acceleration is causing among students seem of little moment. It is exasperating to students and faculty alike that when they speak to Administrators, it's like speaking to deaf people. What hurts students helps Administrators, and vice-versa.

So, Administrators and Students stare across a rapidly-growing gulf of misunderstanding. Students and faculty labor under the impression they have more clout than they really do. Administrators understand, however, that the role of faculty and students is to obey. Obey them, specifically.

So, the various protests at UC Davis over the last three years have only served to irritate the Administration. So, what do Administrators do when faced with insolent refusals to obey?

Administrators do what bureaucrats often do in this situation. They carefully-calibrate escalating punishments so as to dissuade further inconvenience. Because, to Administrators, the proper course of action is quite logical and clear: it's just a matter of compelling people, with increasingly-forceful methods if need be, to obey.

The targets of persuasion are usually quite bewildered, however. To them, the recommendations of the Authorities are often illogical and haphazard. Instead of compliance, obstreperous rebellion results.

The classic case of escalation failing in application, of course, is Vietnam. The Johnson Administration thought its actions in support of the South Vietnamese people were quite reasonable, balancing careful applications of force with efforts not to offend the Soviet Union or the Chinese. As historical records have made clear, however, the North Vietnamese never understood at all what the United States was doing. To them, it looked liked foreign conquest, pure and simple. They resisted. Before long, the United States had dropped more bombs on Southeast Asia than they had ever dropped in Europe in WWII. Compliance did not result: quite the opposite.

But there were other examples where escalation was practiced domestically: specifically, and more to the point, the Free Speech Movement at UC Berkeley in the mid-60's. Reasonable people on both sides were soon literally at each other's throats:

Blogger Digby has been warning for years now that the militarization of police forces following 9/11 (tasers, bean bag guns, pepper spray, sound cannons, water cannons, etc.) has given them unwarranted confidence that they can indeed escalate dangerous situations without harm or consequences to themselves. The consequences will be increasing threats to our democracy from unaccountable, even fascistic, police forces. She's right! The UCD incident on Friday is a prime example of this development.

Most of my information this weekend came from Facebook.

Christina was here, at the Walk of Shame, where Chancellor Katehi left Surge II hours after originally scheduled and walked to her car, but only after an agreement was negotiated to allow the students to gather on just one side of the walkway.

(As an aside, I have to admire the way that UCD alumnus Christina usually ends up on both sides of any arbitrary division she encounters in the human race: both in the Greek system, and outside of it; both sides of the town/gown divide in Davis - DMTC (town) and UCD (gown); both an actor and on the Board at DMTC. I'm sure the only reason she isn't an Administrator herself, as well as an alumnus, is that she's just been busy lately. In any event, it makes her an unusually well-informed participant in, and reporter of, events at UCD.)

As I was saying, what is not so clear in the video (but as Christina relays) is that Katehi made eye contact with each and every student lining the walkway, and vice-versa. The shaming was complete from the students' perspective: from the Administrators' perspective, however, we still don't know. For all we know, Katehi may have silently pitied what she might have thought were these poor, misguided Morlochs. But if it's any consolation, Digby (and many others) give the highest credit to the UCD students:
I have to give the students at UC Davis a big round of applause. Not only did they show tremendous restraint and maturity in enduring that pepper spray assault, they skillfully organized the most effective possible response

The best reporting so far seems to be coming from Boing-Boing (h/t Karina). It's clear that there was plenty of dialog between the police and the students. There was no misunderstanding between them, or indeed, any police overreaction in the press of events. The police didn't panic. No, they were acting under orders. And those orders were to cause pain.

Much has been made of the fact that the police felt compelled to act because they were surrounded. But this was no siege: it wasn't something from the movie 'Zulu'. Being surrounded doesn't mean being aggressively surrounded; it just means being encircled. (This ambiguity may have escaped the Administrators' attention, but it certainly didn't escape the attention of the police).

To the police, being surrounded was important as a bureaucratic check box. Once the police were 'surrounded', they had carte blanche to do whatever they pleased to whomever they wished. And it's simple choreography to get surrounded: you just walk into a group of people. Once you are 'surrounded' your actions are completely covered and you can do any depraved thing without consequence. Like hurting people. With military-grade weaponry. As they had been instructed to do. Because Occupy UC Davis won't obey, and must be taught a lesson:
W. tells Boing Boing that Pike sprayed them at close range with military-grade pepper spray, in a punitive manner. Pike knew the students by name from Thursday night when they "occupied" a campus plaza. The students offered Pike food and coffee and chatted with him and other officers while setting up tents. On Friday, UC Davis chancellor Linda Katehi told students they had to remove their #OWS tents for unspecified "health and safety" reasons.

"Move or we're going to shoot you," Pike is reported to have yelled at one student right before delivering pepper spray. Then, turning to his fellow officers and brandishing the can in the air, "Don't worry, I'm going to spray these kids down."

...So the Tuesday protest was one of the biggest rallies on the campus since tuition hikes in 2009. That protest ended with a march around the campus, which led us to the administrative building. Sort of spontaneously, we all decided to occupy an area on the grounds and we stayed the night. The administration allowed it. I had a wonderful conversation with Lieutenant Pike that night. I dialogued with him for a while. He was cordial to me. He knew me by name. We offered him coffee and food.

On Wednesday there was the big protest in San Francisco, and striking at the UC regents meeting over the proposed 81% tuition increase next year. The regents actually canceled their meeting because they knew we were coming, and they have since decided to do it by teleconference next Monday so we can't disrupt them.

UC Davis police cleared out the 15 or so protesters who remained in Mrak Hall while the rest of the occupiers had left for the demonstration in San Francisco.

We had another rally on Thursday, with a big General Assembly. We decided to have an occupation against the injustices we were facing, and on Thursday night there were 35 tents set up, with more planning on coming.

...So, everyone removed the tents, and they were in the process of arresting more people. A collective decision was made on the fly to just sit in a circle arms linked legs crossed, with police officers and "prisoners" in the middle because we didn't want them arresting only 3 of us. It wasn't fair that 50 of us were there, and only a few arrested who hadn't volunteered to be arrested. There was still one walkway open that the police were going to use to walk the arrestees out. I saw some friends of mine sit down there, and they were my friends, so I joined them. We linked arms, legs crossed.

We were never warned that we were going to be pepper-sprayed.

Lt. 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 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."

He lifts the can, spins it around in a circle to show it off to everybody.

Then he sprays us three times.

As if one time of being sprayed at point blank wasn't enough.
So, where do we go from here?

Interesting! The UCD incident is big on BBC at the moment. If it bleeds; it leads!

There is the big rally at noon on Monday (I want to be there, but I forgot about a 11 a.m. conference call I'm supposed to be in on.) So, I might have to lean on Facebook again to understand what is actually going on there.

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