was uc-davis a ‘confrontation’

Echoing what I said at the close of this post, Ta-Nehisi Coates of The Atlantic points out the following. First, he quotes the police response to the pepper-spraying incident:

Shortly before 4 p.m., about 35 officers from UC Davis and other UC campuses as well as the city of Davis responded to the protest, said Annette Spicuzza, UC Davis police chief. They were wearing protective gear and some held batons. The protest initially involved about 50 students, Spicuzza said, but swelled to about 200 as the confrontation with police escalated.
She said officers were forced to use pepper spray when students surrounded them. They used a sweeping motion on the group, per procedure, to avoid injury, she said. The students were informed repeatedly ahead of time that if they didn’t move, force would be used, she said.
“There was no way out of that circle,” Spicuzza said. “They were cutting the officers off from their support. It’s a very volatile situation.”

This is all quite predictable, as Coates points out:

Those of [sic] who’ve followed police brutality cases over the years will see the pattern at work. When accused of police brutality cops often claim to be endangered, regardless of the facts of the situation. An abusive could be driving a tank and facing off with a baby stroller, and yet somehow he/she would be the one outgunned. When there simply is no evidence at all, abusive officer [sic] will create the evidence and then laugh about it later[…].

As we think about the  justification by police of their actions, we have to ask what it means to ‘respond to’ a peaceful, nonviolent protest. Is this ‘response’ necessary? Is it even a ‘response’, let alone one that calls for police intervention? If there was any ‘confrontation’ at UC-Davis–and certainly there was–it was neither provoked nor escalated by the students, but resulted instead by the ‘response’ of the police.

Second, does anyone see the cops ‘forced’ to use pepper spray in the video? Okay, let’s say for the sake of argument that their being surrounded forced them to use the spray. Shouldn’t the spray have been used on those surrounding the officers, rather than the passively seated students?  And the spraying was done–per procedure!–to ‘avoid injury’? What’s not injurious about a deliberate dose of pepper concentrate in the eyes?

Third, the police claim that they were trapped in the circle of students. Once again, they willfully placed themselves there in ‘response’ to the nonviolent protest. If they felt cut-off from their support, they had only themselves to blame for it. Aside from this, however, it is necessary to note that the question is not one of support or procedure. It is a question of credible threat: were the police genuinely vulnerable or under real threat from the students? One must think that if they were genuinely under threat, then either the passively seated students or the supposed ‘mob’ surrounding them would have violently intervened when it became obvious that the officers were about to pepper-spray several students in the face, at point blank range. No such violent intervention transpired. Not even in response to police brutality. These are the facts of the case.


About plasticbodies

Contemporary philosopher.
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2 Responses to was uc-davis a ‘confrontation’

  1. Jason Hills says:

    I do not have all the facts, but if a few police officers were cut off and surrounded by many, many students, I could see this as a case of very poor decision-making.

    I say this because I have spent years during the summers doing open-air concert security. One thing that many miss when fighting mob-action is that the person in authority is absolutely ridiculously out-numbered and rarely allowed to use physical force. I wonder if many of these cases are of officers freaking out (for which they are still liable, but at least it makes sense then), or if there’s more to it. That said, I am clearly not saying that we should just trust the police.

  2. Pingback: More on UC campus violence | Progressive Geographies

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