We’ve all seen the video clip of the UC Davis police officer calmly hosing down “peaceful” student protesters with pepper spray, as if he were spraying weed killer on his flower beds on a lazy Saturday morning.
What we haven’t seen are the events that led to this police action. When seen in context, it’s clear that the police used disciplined restraint and it’s incredible that nobody was seriously injured.
The protesters had been warned the day before that their tents were illegally occupying the quad and were ordered to remove them. The next day, the protesteres were again ordered several times to remove the tents. When they refused, police proceeded to remove them:
This was clearly a volatile situation. The dozen or so police, who were in riot gear and carrying pepper guns, were seriously outnumbered and being challenged by the protesters, who were constantly in their faces with cameras and were refusing to comply with police orders. The hundreds of students who were swarming the encampment area could have easily overwhelmed the police and one loon in the crowd with a weapon could have turned the situation into a tragedy of Kent State proportions.
Several protesters who attempted to impede the police action were arrested, which angered the protesters. The chanting resumed:
That we pass a resolution…
To demand the cops…
Off the quad…
Apparently proper English usage is not a priority at UC Davis.
The group then marched en masse to the area where the students who had been arrested were being held and surrounded the police. The jeering mob attempted to “negotiate” with their hostages, saying they would allow the police to leave if they released the students who had been arrested.
At this point the situation had escalated far beyond a peaceful protest to an angry mob that was threatening the police. The officers were armed, but it was clear throughout the video that they had no desire to harm (or even arrest) the protesters. They waited an excruciatingly long time before they proceeded to use pepper spray on the students and continued to warn them of the consequences if they refused to move.
It was also clear that the students wanted the situation to escalate in order to make the police look bad. Upon being warned that the next step would be pepper guns, one student shouted, “Are you going to shoot students?” which set off angry chants of, “Don’t shoot students! Don’t shoot students!” One student in the crowd [11:50] says, “Who’s got their own?” It’s frightening to think what could have happened.
You can imagine what must have been going through the minds of the police officers at that point. I’m sure some of them are parents, perhaps some with children the same age as the protesters. No doubt they’ve been trained to de-escalate these situations and to use the least amount of force necessary to get everyone out safely while maintaining law and order. At the same time, they’ve got cameras in their faces recording every word and every move. One wrong move and they’ll find themselves on YouTube or worse, in court. They have to make split-second decisions while they are surrounded by an angry mob of students who are screaming and jeering at them.
What could go wrong?
Fortunately, the occupiers decided to release their hostages (as if they had the right to detain them in the first place):
We are willing…
To give you a brief moment of peace…
So that you may take your weapons…
And our friends and go…
Please do not return….
We are giving you a moment of peace….
We are giving you a moment of peace. ..
You can go….
We will not follow you…..
We will let you leave…
These students are too young to remember what happened at Kent State University on May 4, 1970 and who knows what, if anything, they’re being taught about that event at UC Davis. Four college students were killed and nine wounded when National Guard troops fired on protesters in the midst of a raucous protest.
“The next stage of the movement is the most crucial and delicate — the formation of a Student Strike Coordinating Committee. There are two pre-conditions necessary for its existence. First, there must be a quasi-radical base of some size that has been developed from past activity. Secondly, either a crisis situation provoked by the administration or a climate of active frustration with the administration or the ruling class it represents must exist. The frustration should be centered around a set of specific demands that have been unresolved through the established channels of liberal action. If this kind of situation exists, then a strike is both possible and desirable.”
The result of course, was a campus that became a powder keg. The shootings were the culmination of months of escalation by radicals disregarding the rule of law and provoking police and university authorities. Whether or not the National Guard members were justified in firing on the students is the subject of another discussion. However, the lesson of Kent State remains: intentional escalation by radical activists can lead to volatile and sometimes dangerous situations. Backing the police into a corner and detaining them in order to flex your muscles is not an exercise of your first amendment rights.
The students at UC Davis seem oblivious to the fact that they are putting everyone involved in danger. They are laughing and joking, acting as if nothing could possibly go wrong in this angry mob scene. History tells us otherwise when the rule of law is ignored and radicals take over.
Students lob a tear gas cannister back at Ohio National Guard troops on May 4, 1970, the date that four students were shot and killed and nine others wounded|Chuck Ayers/Kent State University Archives - .
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