Explaining Southern California's economy

Is Linda Katehi the right person to be running UC Davis?

Occupy UC Davis Protests Police Pepper Spray Incident

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

DAVIS, CA - NOVEMBER 21: UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi (C) wipes her eye as she is escorted to a car after speaking to Occupy protestors during a demonstration at the UC Davis campus on November 21, 2011 in Davis, California. Thousands of Occupy protestors staged a demonstration on the UC Davis campus to protest the UC Davis police who pepper sprayed students who sat passively with their arms locked during an Occupy Wall Street demonstration on November 18. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

In the aftermath of the UC Davis pepper spray incident, when campus cop Lt. John Pike unleashed the nasty dispersing agent on a group of Occupy protesters who had refused to leave the university's quad, Chancellor Linda Katehi has been standing her ground, cooperating with an investigation rather than resigning.

This sounds like a prudent course of action and has attained some credibility, especially now that former LA Police Chief and New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton — not a man to be trifled with — has been appointed by UC to lead to lead the inquiry.

But of course, the outcome is already baked in the cake. Chancellor Katehi, who reportedly ordered the campus cops to remove the protesters and their tents from the quad, is now fighting for her career. She's just thrown the offending officers under the bus, declaring that they defied her order to avoid a repeat of an earlier action against Occupy at UC Berkeley, which turned ugly.

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Did the pepper spray cop use excessive force at UC Davis?

AP Photo/The Enterprise, Wayne Tilcock

In this Friday, Nov. 18, 2011, photo University of California, Davis Police Lt. John Pike uses pepper spray to move Occupy UC Davis protesters while blocking their exit from the school's quad Friday in Davis, Calif. Two University of California, Davis police officers involved in pepper spraying seated protesters were placed on administrative leave Sunday, Nov. 20, 2011, as the chancellor of the school accelerates the investigation into the incident.

In just a few days, UC Davis campus cop John Pike has entered his 15-minutes-of-infamy. All it took was a can of weapons-grade pepper spray and a group of Occupy protestors. And the web. And Photoshop. You get the idea. News travels fast and then gets twisted to various creative purposes.

The question is, Did Pike use excessive force in dealing with what looked to many like a peaceful demonstration? I think he probably could have held off on the pepper spray. But Higher Ed Live points out that what observers might think is non-violent protest can be perceived differently by police. Cited is a report that grew out of a similar protest at UCLA in 2008, which Higher Ed Live references:

[O]ne very interesting issue was addressed when the report looked at UCLA PD’s use-of-force regulations. This issue was that among the factors to be considered in determining the reasonableness of force is “whether the suspect is actively resisting arrest or attempting to evade arrest by flight.”

This is the very issue that is at the heart of last Friday’s incident at UC Davis. Were the students sitting linked arm-in-arm peacefully protesting, or actively resisting police? Were campus police within their rights to deploy force to disperse them?

At UCLA at least, here’s what the report finds:

“It appears from interviews and correspondence that many students and faculty members were under the impression that…locking arms with others to block a pathway would be regarded by police as passive and peaceful resistance not justifying the use of force. In fact, demonstrators who stand, sit, or lie down with arms locked to one another are engaged in ‘active resistance’ as UCLA and other police departments understand that phrase…”

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Why is Occupy LA so much more calm — and successful — than other Occupy movements?

Corey Moore/KPCC

Hundreds of Occupy protesters gathered downtown LA for a march through the financial district

The news broke earlier today that Occupy LA has been offered a pretty sweet deal by the city to clear its tents from the lawn around City Hall. In return, the two-month-old protest movement — which has been for the most part a model of peaceful agitation — will get 10,000 feet of nearby office space.

For $1!

Oh, and the city is evidently throwing in some farmland.

Yes, farmland.

For Occupy LA protesters who might, you know, want to work the land.

This is a remarkable development, for three reasons:

  • Occupy LA, unlike its far more belligerent cousins in the Bay Area, is beginning to shift into something of an entrepreneurial mode. It trades tents, dead grass, and cold nights for...office space! Occupy LA, in short, is starting to organize itself like a business, or at least a more conventional political movement, with the eminently practical goal of moving its operations indoors.
  • Occupy is also proving that the ostensibly leaderless movement can throw up some quasi-leaders. Members of Occupy LA have clearly been negotiating with the city, and while this is ticking off the movement's hardcore elements, it's a welcome evolution.
  • The farming thing is strange, but also consistent with the ethos of earlier protest movements — such as those that emerged in the 1960s — which often had a communal, agrarian component. 

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Occupy Movement: A Kent State moment at UC Davis?

Occupy Protests Pepper Spray

Thomas K. Fowler/AP

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.

One of the central problems with understanding the Occupy Movement is that, in America, we have no real recent experience with large-scale protests. It's not like police, mayors, members of Congress, university presidents, of even President Obama himself have been studying the country's last major protest movement, again the Vietnam War.

Some of these leaders have no excuse. They lived through Vietnam. Some were on the protest battlements themselves. Some were in the actual war.

The result is that the country is dangerously unprepared for what has suddenly morphed into an increasingly violent showdown between Occupy protesters and the authorities.

Last week, I suggested that another Kent State shooting is unlikely. "Kent State" is popular shorthand for a 1970 massacre at Kent State University in Ohio, when national guardsmen killed four students and wounded nine, prompting a national outrage and signaling the beginning of the end of the Vietnam War, as well as much of the romance of the countercultural 1960s.

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