There are 758 words in the statement released Saturday by the Chancellor of UC Davis. The Chancellor, Linda Katehi, is the one who ordered campus police to disrupt the tents at the campus’s “Occupy” protest. The many videos of what happened after those orders sicken the stomach.
One of the words not included in this statement: “sorry.” Another phrase that does not appear: “I apologize.” Another: “It was wrong.”
These are kids.
These are kids who were barely aware of the latent violence ready to burst out into their protest. One video of the events, for instance, shows one of the students laughing at the absurdity of a policeman’s threats–because these threats were absurd, for the circumstances–only to be pepper-sprayed in the face two minutes later.
Chancellor Katehi should take responsibility for what happened. As an assistant UCD professor wrote to her,
You are responsible for it because this is what happens when UC Chancellors order police onto our campuses to disperse peaceful protesters through the use of force: students get hurt. Faculty get hurt.
Afterwards, Katehi and the campus police chief refused to even remotely take responsibility for what happened. According to Gawker,
UCD Police Chief Annette Spicuzza told the Davis Enterprise that she’s “very proud” of her officers. “I don’t believe any of our officers were hurt,” she says, “and I hope none of the students were injured.”
When asked why the police begin spraying the protestors, the police chief again blames the protestors:
“The students had encircled the officers,” [Police Chief Spicuzza] said. “They needed to exit. They were looking to leave but were unable to get out.”
The absurdity of this excuse is obvious in every video of the event, because Lt. John Pike steps over the students’ line to start the pepper-spraying. Pike appears to provide the vast proportion of abuse by himself, staining the reputation of his colleagues.
Katehi has organized a “task force” to report back to her with recommendations in 90 days. Does it really take 90 days to understand that this was unnecessary? Does it take 90 days to say, “I was wrong”?
I know Katehi’s lawyers must be advising against admitting culpability, since the university could be held liable for costly court cases. But has our society become so litigated to death that we cannot admit that such brutality is just a wrenchingly awful mistake?
Sadly, this kind of overreach happens every day, by a very small but not negligible number of people. As Ta-Nehisi Coates reminds us,
Not to diminish what happened at UC Davis, but it’s worth considering what happens in poor neighborhoods and prisons, far from the cameras.
Since Katehi will not say the one word she must say, UCD students have left her in eerie, stunning silence, protesting her with a silent vigil that shows all of the discipline and moral force that she and one of her policemen lack.