U.C. Davis Police Chief, Officers Placed On Leave
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
The chancellor of the University of California at Davis has put two campus police officers, along with the police chief, on administrative leave. That's after police sprayed peaceful student protesters with pepper spray on Friday. The action was caught on video, and quickly distributed online. An investigation is just getting under way. But as John Myers, of member station KQED, reports, students say it's obvious who's to blame.
JOHN MYERS, BYLINE: If central casting was looking for the quintessential college town, Davis would make the cut.
GEOFFREY WILDANGER: I think that Davis has this perception as being a sort of like gentle, middle-American-type, university town.
MYERS: Geoffrey Wildanger is a U.C. Davis graduate student who just a few days ago, would have been considered just another bright, young student concerned about what he sees as the dismantling of higher education through deep budget cuts. But on Friday, Wildanger locked arms with friends, sat on the ground, and refused to move off the main quad of the U.C. Davis campus, which is when university police pulled out large cans of pepper spray just a few feet from the faces of the students on the ground.
UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Chanting) Shame on you! Shame on you! Shame on you! Shame on you!
MYERS: In videos quickly posted on YouTube, at least two U.C. Davis police officers can be seen walking up and down the protest line, spraying the seated students in an arcing, back-and-forth motion.
DR. LINDA KATEHI: The police was called for nothing else but a very peaceful dismantling of the equipment.
MYERS: Linda Katehi is the chancellor of U.C. Davis. The equipment she's talking about are the tents of the students who wanted to camp out through the weekend. In a radio interview this morning, she called the campus police reaction unacceptable.
KATEHI: As an educator, as a human being, I felt - I was filled with outrage and sadness. It was horrible, what I saw.
MYERS: But U.C. Davis students think every official involved, including Chancellor Katehi, should resign, and that was the focus of rallies on campus today.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: We ask you as individuals...
UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: We ask you as individuals...
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: ...and as a collective...
UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: ...and as a collective...
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: ...to follow your words...
UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: ...to follow your words...
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: ...with action.
UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: ...with action.
MYERS: Students are circulating petitions for the firing of the police and the resignation of U.C. Davis Chancellor Katehi. The chancellor has dismissed those calls. The incident on the Davis campus, which sits about 20 miles west of Sacramento, came just days after campus police at the University of California at Berkeley confronted student protesters there by hitting them with batons. The president of the University of California, Mark Yudof, has promised a meeting of chancellors at all 10 U.C. campuses, to ensure the rights of students to protest peacefully.
In a weekend statement, Yudof called such free speech, quote, part of the DNA of the University of California. U.C. Davis graduate student Geoffrey Wildanger, one of those pepper-sprayed Friday afternoon, says the protests here will go on. He says California's cuts to higher education have their roots in the issues raised by the national Occupy protests - including the unequal distribution of wealth, and the needs of the poor and middle class.
WILDANGER: All these issues are connected, and we need to take action on the issues that are most local to us, most present to us, but also connect them to the larger, global issues.
MYERS: The students here certainly have gotten a global audience. The YouTube videos of the pepper-spray incident have already been viewed thousands of times.
For NPR News, I'm John Myers at the University of California-Davis.