UC Davis pepper spray and the power of nonviolent witness

BRIAN NGUYEN REUTERS University of California Davis students covered in pepper spray sit during an “Occupy UCD” demonstration in Davis, … Continued

BRIAN NGUYEN

REUTERS

University of California Davis students covered in pepper spray sit during an “Occupy UCD” demonstration in Davis, California November 18, 2011.

Millions of Americans have now viewed the YouTube videos of a University of California Davis police officer callously pepper-spraying a seated line of non-violent students. The video has now gone viral.

This is chemical warfare against American citizens simply for exercising the right to dissent in a peaceful fashion. This is what we have reaped as a nation from the militarization of our police forces in the so-called “war on terror.”

Police officers, in the many military-type operations conducted against #occupywallstreet protests, dress in full battle gear, use chemical weapons, conduct stealth operations in the dead of night, and systematically keep the press away, even with the threat of violence. This was, indeed, the kind of military operation that was conducted to “clear” Zuccotti park, the home of #occupywallstreet.

It is not necessary to go down this road of responding with excessive force to American citizens. Indeed, what has happened on the UC Davis campus following the pepper spraying of students provides a lesson in how to peacefully deal with deep conflict without violence, and indeed a lesson perhaps in how faith leaders can lend a hand in this effort.

Following the pepper-spraying of the students, the chancellor of UC Davis, Linda Katehi, called a press conference. Upset students gathered outside, feeling shut out. The students eventually pushed into the room where the press conference was being held; though they left peacefully, the chancellor retreated into another room.

The campus chaplain, Rev. Kristen Stoneking, was called to mediate between the administration and the students. The outcome was this extraordinary witness of students standing or seated in non-violent and mute witness as the chancellor passes among them, walking safely to her car with Rev. Stoneking.

BRIAN NGUYEN

REUTERS

UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi walks with Rev. Stoneking past silent protesters as she leaves her office at the campus in Davis, California November 19, 2011.

Rev. Stoneking writes on her own blog about this moment and I believe there are crucial lessons in this for our way forward as a nation.

“What was clear to me was that once again, the students’ willingness to show restraint kept us from spiraling into a cycle of violence upon violence. There was no credible threat to the Chancellor, only a perceived one. The situation was not hostile. And what was also clear to me is that whether they admit it or not, the administrators that were inside the building are afraid. And exhausted. And human. And the suffering that has been inflicted is real. The pain present as the three of us watched the video of students being pepper sprayed was palpable. A society is only truly free when all persons take responsibility for their actions; it is only upon taking responsibility that healing can come.”

There are so many important themes in this campus chaplain’s blog post that we need to take with profound seriousness as a society:

The willingness to refrain from violence interrupts the spiral of violence.

MAX WHITTAKER

REUTERS

UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi leaves an “Occupy UCD” rally on campus in Davis, Califonia November 21, 2011. Katehi apologized to jeering students on Monday for police use of pepper spray against campus protesters in a standoff captured by video and widely replayed on television and the Internet.

Fear is an accelerant for violence. Deal with the fear and you reduce the threat of violence.

The pain of those treated violently by police is real and must be kept in the forefront of any attempt to “move forward.”

All persons in this society must take responsibility for us to turn from this disastrous course we seem set upon.

Religious leaders can be a resource for this work, though the students themselves had to act in the way that they did in order for this remarkably inspiring moment of mute witness to unjust suffering caused against UC Davis students to occur.

If the United States military can now be considering talking to the Taliban in Afghanistan as a way to find a peaceful exit from that dreadful war, surely American police departments can find ways to demilitarize their approach to #occupywallstreet, find ways to talk to demonstrators and use respect and negotiation as a way forward.

We can do that.

  • sharkman3

    This blog post is the most idiotic spewing of moronic propaganda I have ever heard. What a joke and yet another black eye for the Washington Post.

  • Moravecglobal

    Campus police report to campus chancellors: Fire UC Campus Chancellors. Discrimination against Californians by University of California Berkeley Chancellor. Chancellor Robert J Birgeneau ($450,000 salary) displaces Californians qualified for public university education at Cal. for a $50,600 payment by a foreign student.

    The need for transparency at UC Berkeley has never been so clear. UC Berkeley, # 70 Forbes ranking, is not increasing enrollment. Birgeneau accepts $50,600 foreign students at the EXPENSE of displaced qualified instate Californians (If amortization of fixed assets funded by Californians are included in foreign and out of state tuition calculations they would pay more than $100,000+ and would NOT subsidize instate tuition)

    UC Regent Chairwoman Lansing and President Yudof both agree to discriminate against Californians for the admission of foreigners. Birgeneau, Yudof, Lansing need to answer to Californians.

    Opinions make a difference; email UC Board of Regents [email protected]

  • Moravecglobal

    UC police take direction from and report to campus chancellors: Fire campus chancellors. Discrimination against Californians by University of California Berkeley Chancellor. Chancellor Robert J Birgeneau ($450,000 salary) displaces Californians qualified for public university education at Cal. for a $50,600 payment by a foreign student.

    The need for transparency at UC Berkeley has never been so clear. UC Berkeley, # 70 Forbes ranking, is not increasing enrollment. Birgeneau accepts $50,600 foreign students at the EXPENSE of displaced qualified instate Californians (If amortization of fixed assets funded by Californians are included in foreign and out of state tuition calculations they would pay more than $100,000+ and would NOT subsidize instate tuition)

    UC Regent Chairwoman Lansing and President Yudof both agree to discriminate against Californians for the admission of foreigners. Birgeneau, Yudof, Lansing need to answer to Californians.

    Opinions make a difference; email UC Board of Regents [email protected]

  • bruce30

    please be specific.

  • thebump

    Bravo to the authorities for controlling the hippie filth.

  • thebobbob

    “This is chemical warfare against American citizens simply for exercising the right to dissent in a peaceful fashion. This is what we have reaped as a nation from the militarization of our police forces in the so-called “war on terror.”

    Well said. It didn’t look like the police were in any danger or physically threatened at all. Is this the “Security” at all costs that Republicans want for America?

    Fear, Hatred, Distortion, Distraction and Division is all Republicans have to offer America.

  • obx2004

    well, it will be you one day.

  • jckdoors

    Why do you have a problem with non-violent demonstrations?

  • ThinkThink2

    The bump,

    I’d imagine you would have had the same reaction to Christ himself if he had come to you with any of his teachings. Of course, he met with similar persecution for the very same offenses.

  • ThinkThink2

    Or the rantings of someone who doesn’t understand or value the first amendment and the implications of undermining it.

  • JamesHofacker

    [email protected]
    Sat Nov 19, 2011 Susan Russell posted a nice letter to the Episcopal diocese of NY on the election for Bishop even though her favorite candidate did not win. Conspicuous by it’s absence was such a letter to Central Fl. Does this relate to OCCUPY? see my response to Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite’s post on Wiredwisdomhttp: //wiredwisdom.net/2011/06/paul-ryan-refuses-bible-from-member-of-faithful-america/
    which is:
    James Hofacker says:
    November 23, 2011 at 4:32 pm
    I was answering a petition to Trinity Wall Street from Faithful America and I wanted to verify that Susan Br
    ooks Thistlethwaite still supports them. I wanted OWS to focus on a goal/demand for TWS church to support. SWT posted elsewhere RevDrMLK comments that give us that 99% etc. is a (specific) demand for social justice. I now agree with her position re: santuary at TWS. An additional benefit of seeing this post is I now see UCC leaders are still opposing JSB (Objectivism) as in Paul Ryan. I knew Ryan was bad, now I know more about how bad and why. And who my friends are. THANKS Rev.Dr.Susan. Sincerely James.

  • JamesHofacker

    TWS:SWT::SWT:SBT ok real time blogging is my bad…

  • Moravecglobal

    University of California campus chancellors vet campus police tactics. UCPD report to chancellors and take direction from their chancellor.

    UC Berkeley Chancellor Birgeneau and UC Davis Chancellor are in derelection of their duties.

    UC Berkeley Chancellor Birgeneau and UC Davis Chancellor need to quit or be fired for permitting the brutal outrage on students protesting tuition increases and student debt

    Opinions? Email the UC Board of Regents [email protected]

  • cassandrasdaddy

    what a load. cops order you to leave and warn you you will be sprayed. you chose to stay and get sprayed. then you whine? wtf?

  • Kumagai616

    Please note that Rev. Kristin Stoneking is a Campus Minister in The Davis Community (Not A Campus Chaplin) and does not work for The University of California, Davis nor for U.C. Davis Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi.

    Rev. Stoneking’s remarkable work last Saturday night to negotiate “Safe Passage” when Chancellor Katehi found herself trapped by student protesters following a news conference.

    In our community’s darkest hours, there are individuals such as Rev. Stoneking whom, guided by faith, allow us to move forward.

  • Moravecglobal

    Brutal baton jabs by UC Berkeley Chancellor Birgeneau campus police on students, University of California Berkeley Chancellor Birgeneau hijack’s all our kids’ futures. I love University of California (UC) having been a student & lecturer. But today I am concerned that at times I do not recognize the UC I love. Like so many I am deeply disappointed by the pervasive failures of Regent Chairwoman Lansing, President Yudof, Chancellor Birgeneau from holding the line on rising costs & tuition increases
    Chancellor Birgeneau has molded Cal. into the most expensive public university. Paying more is not a better education.
    Californians are reeling from 19% unemployment (includes: those forced to work part time; those no longer searching), mortgage defaults, loss of unemployment benefits. And those who still have jobs are working longer for less. Faculty wages must reflect California’s ability to pay, not what others are paid.
    Current pay increases for generously paid University of California Faculty is arrogance. Instate tuition consumes 14% of Ca. Median Family Income!
    Paying more is not a better education. UC Berkeley(# 70 Forbes) tuition increases exceed the national average rate of increases.
    UC President Yudof, Cal. Chancellor Birgeneau($450,000 salary) dismissed many much needed cost-cutting options. They did not consider freezing vacant faculty positions, increasing class size, requiring faculty to teach more classes, doubling the time between sabbaticals, cutting & freezing pay & benefits for chancellors & reforming pensions & the health benefits.
    They said such faculty reforms “would not be healthy for UC”. Exodus of faculty, administrators? Who can afford them and where would they go?
    We agree it is far from the ideal situation, but it is in the best interests of the university system & the state to stop cost increases. UC cannot expect to do business as usual: raising tuition; granting pay raises & huge bonuses during a weak economy that has sapped state revenues & individual C