November 20, 2011 in Nation/World

Passive protesters get blast of pepper spray

Sudhin Thanawala Associated Press
Associated Press photo

In this image made from video, a police officer uses pepper spray on a line of demonstrators sitting on the ground at the University of California, Davis, on Friday.
(Full-size photo)

SAN FRANCISCO – Protesters sitting on the ground supporting the Occupy Wall Street movement on the campus of the University of California, Davis, took a face full of pepper spray at close range from an officer in riot gear in an incident that was captured on cellphone video and spread virally across the Internet on Saturday.

UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi described the video images as “chilling” and said she was forming a task force to investigate even as a faculty group called for her resignation because of the police action Friday.

In the video, an officer dispassionately pepper-sprays a line of several sitting protesters who flinch and cover their faces but remain passive with their arms interlocked as onlookers shriek and scream out for the officer to stop.

“The use of the pepper spray as shown on the video is chilling to us all and raises many questions about how best to handle situations like this,” Katehi said in a message posted on the school’s website.

The protest was held in support of the overall Occupy Wall Street movement and in solidarity with protesters at the University of California, Berkeley, who were jabbed by police with batons on Nov. 9.

The UC Davis video images, which were circulated online, prompted immediate outrage among faculty and students, with the Davis Faculty Association saying in a letter Saturday that Katehi should resign.

“The Chancellor’s role is to enable open and free inquiry, not to suppress it,” the faculty association said in its letter.

At a news conference on Saturday, Katehi said what the video shows is “sad and really very inappropriate.”

In the video of the UC Davis protest, a member of the UC Davis police force displays a bottle before spraying its contents on the seated protesters in a sweeping motion while walking back and forth. Most of the protesters have their heads down, but several were hit directly in the face.

Some members of a crowd gathered at the scene scream and cry out. The crowd then chants “Shame on You” as the protesters on the ground are led away. Ten people were arrested.

University spokeswoman Karen Nikos said nine people hit by pepper spray were treated at the scene. Another two were taken to hospitals and released.

At Saturday’s news conference, UC Davis police Chief Annette Spicuzza said the decision to use pepper spray was made at the scene.

“The students had encircled the officers,” she said. “They needed to exit. They were looking to leave but were unable to get out.”

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