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Katehi apologizes for police action; crowd calls for resignation

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From page A1 | November 22, 2011 |

UC Davis students vote thumbs-up on a proposition Monday afternoon. Fred Gladdis/Enterprise photo

Having listened to thousands chant for her to resign, a visibly shaken Chancellor Linda Katehi apologized Monday for the pepper-spraying of unarmed protesters.

“I’m here to apologize. I really feel horrible for what happened on Friday,” Katehi told a sprawling crowd of thousands filling half the Quad. “If you think you don’t want to be students of a university like we had on Friday, I’m just telling you, I don’t want to be the chancellor of the university we had on Friday.”

Resign, came scattered voices. Resign.

“Our university has to be better than it is,” Katehi continued. “It needs all of the community to come together to do that. We need to work together. I know you may not believe anything that I’m telling you today, and you don’t have to, it is my responsibility to earn your trust.”

Time will tell if the third-year chancellor has the chance.

UCD Faculty speak out about Katehi

Katehi has said she will not step down, but almost 70,000 people have signed an online petition calling for her resignation. Some alumni and faculty have joined the chorus.

Their ire — and worldwide attention — has been drawn by a YouTube video, viewed more than 1.4 million times, of UC Davis police Lt. John Pike spraying the seated protesters after police cleared the day-old Occupy UC Davis encampment of about 50 people, most of them students.

Paramedics later treated the eyes of 11 protesters — two were taken to Sutter Davis Hospital, where they were treated and released — and 10 were arrested of suspicion of misdemeanor charges.

UCD police chief placed on administrative leave

UCD’s police chief, Annette Spicuzza, Pike and one other officer, whom UCD has declined to name, have been placed on administrative leave until a student, faculty and staff task force completes an investigation into Friday’s events.

In a surreal moment on Monday, English professor Nathan Brown climbed onto the stage and chastised the chancellor — the crowd repeating his words as a human microphone — as she stood just feet away, surrounded by news cameras.

As is the custom at general assemblies held by Occupy group, Katehi waited her turn to speak. She spoke for no more than two minutes, with her husband, Spiros Tseregounis, standing behind her.

Her voice broke as she referenced a plaque on the Quad commemorating what Greeks call simply, “17 November,” the day in 1973 when a tank crashed through the gates of National Technical University of Athens to put down a student-led uprising against the military’s dictatorship. More than two dozen protesters were killed.

“I was there, and I don’t want to forget that,” she said. “So I hope that I will have a better opportunity to work with you, to meet you, to get to know you. And there will be many opportunities in the next few weeks to do that.”

For now, Katehi plans to meet with faculty and students privately. A spokesperson declined to release her schedule.

Yudof: We cannot let this happen again

She also took part in a teleconference with the other nine chancellors of the UC system, called by President Mark Yudof, who has said he plans a review of campus policies for dealing with nonviolent protests.

Last week’s UCD protests, including a one-night occupation of the Mrak Hall administration building, came in response to police using batons on protesters at UC Berkeley.

Suddenly, the protesters at UCD were thrust to the front of the worldwide Occupy movement on Friday night — with at least one magazine columnist going so far as to compare the image of Pike spraying students to the iconic image of the aftermath of the Kent State University shootings of Vietnam War protesters.

Campus pastor summoned to help two sides talk

On Saturday, Katehi holed up for three hours in the university building where she gave a short-lived news conference. When she emerged, protesters watched as she walked to her car, only her footsteps breaking the silence. (See related story on Page A5.)

Again, a video went viral — watched more than 600,000 times. The moment has yielded praise for the protesters as a powerful statement of nonviolence.

The same protesters who’d set up the small encampment Thursday faced a crowd Monday estimated variously at 2,000, the official estimate, to upwards of 5,000.

Again they knitted together their concerns with record-high tuition and what they view as the privatization of the university with the broader message of the Occupy Wall Street movement against economic inequality.

Signs in the crowd read “Say it, don’t spray it,” “Just starts here” and “Riot gear is for riots, not for camping without a permit.”

One by one, students who took part in Friday’s protest spoke to the crowd about being pepper-sprayed or arrested.

They dismissed the chancellor’s stated concerns that their encampment was unsafe, in part because nonstudents were involved, and Spicuzza’s partial explanation for the pepper-spraying that students had encircled the officers.

The Occupy camp had recycling bins, study space and students playing music, they said. And, yes, they encircled police who had arrested and bound the wrists of some of their friends, but the videos clearly show Pike walking around them to pepper-spray them at close range.

David Buscho, a senior, described what happened to seeing his friends arrested and thinking, “This is not right. This is not OK. We’re kids. We’re just kids.”

Pike later warned the protesters who had sat down in the path of police, “Move, or we’re going to shoot you,” Buscho said.

The students saw two officers with paintball guns loaded with pepper pellets, Buscho said, but didn’t know what was coming.

“Someone yelled, ‘Oh my God, pepper spray!’ and I closed my eyes. My arm was around my girlfriend and I kissed her on the cheek. My friends buried their faces into their chests and then it happened.”

The video shows Pike holding up the pepper spray canisters, then walking side to side, spraying the hunched-over group.

“At that point, I entered a world of pain,” Buscho said. “I felt like there was hot glass entering my eyes. I couldn’t see anything. I wanted to open my eyes but every time I did the pain got worse.

“I wanted to breathe but I couldn’t, because my face was covered in pepper spray. Every time I breathed, I was nauseous. I couldn’t see anything.

“I could feel my friends and my girlfriend writhing in pain. I wanted to cover her face but I couldn’t, because my hands were covered in pepper spray.”

Others who spoke included Fatima Sbeih and her fellow student, Chuck Parker, who described himself as a military veteran.

Sbeih was pepper-sprayed; Parker arrested.

“I spent the summer in Palestine, and I was in demonstrations there where we were tear-gassed — and I never, ever thought that I would come back, to Davis, and experience that again. I was horrified,” Sbeih said.

Said Parker, “I figured it was my right” to support other students after 10 years of military service.

“Rights are fickle things,” he said. “If you do not take them and seize them for yourself, they will be taken from you. Right now, right here, this is what we’re doing — we’re taking back our rights and we’re taking back our university.”

At about 8 p.m. on the Quad, work continued on a geodesic dome to join about 40 tents in a new encampment. There was no word from UCD’s administration on how it would respond.

The thousands of people from the midday general assembly had dwindled to a few dozen, and the number of satellite trucks to four, but a quietly festive atmosphere remained.

Someone strummed a guitar. People huddled around the pale light of laptops.

“This is amazing,” said Thomas Matzat, a junior who suffered nerve damage when police hauled him off on Friday. “The amount of support and community has really been bolstered because of this incident. (I’m) not saying it was a good thing, but it’s had positive outcomes.”

Standing with him, Adam Fetterman, a senior, said that he felt confident more camps will spring up at other UC campuses soon — and that, even if UC police departments aren’t disbanded, as he’d like, officers stop will carrying weapons.

“For me, the camp isn’t the most important thing,” he said. “I think the camp symbolizes something and it’s important to keep that symbol alive — like the Olympic torch or whatever — but I really just hope what comes out of this is that we demilitarize our campuses.”

— Reach Cory Golden at cgolden@davisenterprise.net. Follow him on Twitter at @cory_golden

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Cory Golden

Cory Golden

The Enterprise's higher-education and congressional reporter. http://about.me/cory_golden
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