The Infamous Brad – More on “the Pepper Spraying Cop:” Why WERE the Cops There?


Brad @ Burning Man

In the interest of brevity, when I wrote yesterday’s journal entry about the UC Davis report (PDF link) on the still-infamous “pepper spraying cop” incident, I left one of the interesting unanswered questions of the report out of it: what were the cops even doing there, when everybody, and I mean everybody, that they interviewed knew in advance that this was not a police matter, and when everybody, and I mean literally everybody, who was involved in the planning of this was present at at least one meeting where that was brought up?

I mean, after all, this is the University of California system that we’re talking about, here! This is not the first campus protest they’ve had to deal with, to put it mildly. The University of California system has been dealing with disruptive campus protests since shortly after World War II. They have been dealing with disruptive protests, including ones that violate campus regulations, including ones that go farther than this one did and explicitly broke the law, ever since the Berkeley Free Speech Movement days. They have procedures for this. Those procedures were not followed. Why not? The report doesn’t say. And the report does say that this question was asked in advance.

I didn’t know this, but it turns out that under UC rules, no campus protest is a police matter. By long-standing policy, no protest that is defined as a campus protest is a matter for the university to involve state, local, or even campus police in. The consultants who wrote the fact-finding report couldn’t find an official definition of the term campus protest, as separated from an outside protest, one for the cops. But the department that is supposed to handle campus protests is the Student Affairs office, and when interviewed, they said that they use the same rule that the university system uses for defining campus clubs: three quarters or more of the attendees must be current students of that campus, alumnae of that campus, or faculty of that campus, and all leadership roles must be filled by students, alumnae, or professors. It seems like a good rule of thumb, and nobody had a contradictory definition. So if a protest happens on campus, and it meets that definition, then the campus police (and, in the university system’s opinion, all other police) are supposed to stand back and let Student Affairs handle it.

At the previous protest, the one where this protest was decided upon and scheduled, there was someone from Student Affairs there monitoring it, as part of her job. She reported that during the day, she couldn’t get a good count, but it seemed to her like it was more than three quarters students, not even counting alumnae and faculty. When they were occupying the admin building overnight, she did get an approximate count: 20 to 25 students, 10 to 15 alumnae, and one non-campus person, some kind of legal adviser who was there in case there were mass arrests, well within the guidelines. However, one campus police officer went by briefly and he reported to the Chancellor, the next day, that almost none of them were students. In that same meeting, after questioning him, the Chancellor said that she didn’t believe him, because he admitted that he had somehow forgotten that UC Davis has a grad school and plenty of older students; he had assumed that anybody who looked older than 20 couldn’t possibly be a college student. Nevertheless, she seems to have forgotten this by the time of later meetings, and in every meeting thereafter she stated that her concern was that she had a report from campus police that “most” of the protesters were from off campus, from Occupy Davis, who had come over to campus to make trouble.

But before that meeting even occurred, the head of Student Affairs had gone to the Chancellor and said “we have this under control, let us handle this” and the Chancellor agreed. In that meeting, Student Affairs again contradicted the one cop who said otherwise, and said, “we have this under control, we have a plan, it’s worked before, let us handle this.” I can’t remember the circumstances, but I remember reading that there was one more meeting or voice conference of the “leadership team” set up to deal with the protests where it was said, yet again, that this was Student Affairs’ responsibility, why are the campus cops dealing with this? The day of the incident, the Vice Chancellor, when it was her turn to speak, gave an impassioned 20 minute speech about how involving the cops in this and evicting the protesters was a bad idea, that they were on the wrong side of history, that using cops against protesters has never worked well for the University of California, we should not be doing this, we should let Student Affairs deal with this. Everybody who was on that conference call remembers this … and the awkward silence that followed it … and then everybody else ignoring the Vice Chancellor and going on with planning the police raid. And in the car on the way to the raid the incident commander (the one I called “Officer Nameless” yesterday) and his superior, the now-famous Lieutenant Pike, say that it occurred to them to ask each other, “Wait, why are we even being asked to do this? Isn’t this Student Affairs’ job?”

So, was it Student Affairs’ responsibility? Well, Lieutenant Pike and his officers arrested 10 randomly-selected people: 8 students, 1 alumnus, 1 outsider. So, yes.

(What was Student Affairs’ plan, if they had been allowed to use it? Politely wait them out, basically. Instead of paying overtime to every other campus police agency for one big raid, pay one local campus officer overtime on Friday and Saturday nights at bar-closing time to be on hand to keep rowdies from disturbing the camp. At other times have one Student Affairs staff member or volunteer at the protest to monitor it for safety issues and politely bring those issues up with the protesters. Student Affairs said that their experience was that when handled this way, campus protests always dry up and blow away, usually after the first rain, but if not then, then always by finals week.)

When interviewed after the fact, neither UC Davis Chancellor Katehi, nor US Davis campus PD Chief Spicuzza, could explain why the police were there, what campus policy or state law made it a campus police matter. Nobody said it, but I will: Student Affairs, the Vice Chancellor, the consulting firm who ran the investigation, and all of us who are appalled by this, we all have “a pre-9/11 mentality.” Since the Bush administration, “coddling” protesters (and by “coddling protesters” what I mean is “obeying the law” and “following good standard procedures”) is just not what “real Americans” (and by “real Americans” I mean “people with authoritarian personality andsocial dominance orientation“) do.

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