Passive Occupy protesters take pepper spray blast

By Sudhin Thanawala

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, Nov. 19 2011 7:45 p.m. MST

In this image made from video, a police officer uses pepper spray as he walks down a line of Occupy demonstrators sitting on the ground at the University of California, Davis on Friday, Nov. 18, 2011. The video - posted on YouTube - was shot Friday as police moved in on more than a dozen tents erected on campus and arrested 10 people, nine of them students.

Thomas K. Fowler, Associated Press

Enlarge 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 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.

However, a law enforcement official who watched the clip called the use of force "fairly standard police procedure."

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," Chancellor Linda Katehi said in a message posted on the school's website Saturday.

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 on YouTube and widely elsewhere 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.

It called Katehi's authorization of police force a "gross failure of leadership."

At a news conference later on Saturday, Katehi said what the video shows is "sad and really very inappropriate." The events surrounding the protest have been hard on her personally, but she had no plans to resign, she said.

"I do not think that I have violated the policies of the institution. I have worked personally very hard to make this campus a safe campus for all," she said.

Charles J. Kelly, a former Baltimore Police Department lieutenant who wrote the department's use of force guidelines, said pepper spray is a "compliance tool" that can be used on subjects who do not resist, and is preferable to simply lifting protesters.

"When you start picking up human bodies, you risk hurting them," Kelly said. "Bodies don't have handles on them."

After reviewing the video, Kelly said he observed at least two cases of "active resistance" from protesters. In one instance, a woman pulls her arm back from an officer. In the second instance, a protester curls into a ball. Each of those actions could have warranted more force, including baton strikes and pressure-point techniques.

"What I'm looking at is fairly standard police procedure," Kelly said.

Images of police actions have served to galvanize support during the Occupy Wall Street movement, from the clash between protesters and police in Oakland last month that left an Iraq War veteran with serious injuries to more recent skirmishes in New York City, San Diego, Denver and Portland, Ore.

The forcible Oakland protest eviction, the first of its kind on a large scale, marred the national reputation of the city's mayor and police department while rallying encampments nationwide beset with their own public safety and sanitation issues.

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