UC Davis Students’ Powerful Silent Protest Calls on Katehi to Resign

Students and some faculty are trying to hold administrators accountable for last week's violence at a peaceful on-campus protest.

By Jorge Rivas Nov 21, 2011

The chancellor of the University of California at Davis said Monday that the school’s police chief has been placed on administrative leave, along with two other officers who were identified pepper spraying students during a peaceful on-campus protest.

The students were protesting tuition increases and police brutality on UC campuses. Video footage of Friday’s arrests show peaceful students getting pepper sprayed by the two officers from a very close proximity–eleven of them were treated on site for injuries. Gizmodo reports the pepper spray used on UC Davis students was some of the harshest available on the market. "The only time a spray is more potent? When it’s meant to stop a freaking bear."

Students across California’s UC system, along with many faculty members, are calling for the resignation of UC Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi, who ordered police onto campus.

Professor Nathan Brown, who’s part of UC Davis’ Department of English and Program in Critical Theory, wrote a scathing open letter to Katehi, notes that he organized Friday’s protest that was endorsed by the Davis Faculty Association. It read, in part:

These students attended that rally in response to a call for solidarity from students and faculty who were bludgeoned with batons, hospitalized, and arrested at UC Berkeley last week. In the highest tradition of non-violent civil disobedience, those protesters had linked arms and held their ground in defense of tents they set up beside Sproul Hall. In a gesture of solidarity with those students and faculty, and in solidarity with the national Occupy movement, students at UC Davis set up tents on the main quad. When you ordered police outfitted with riot helmets, brandishing batons and teargas guns to remove their tents today, those students sat down on the ground in a circle and linked arms to protect them.

What happened next?

Without any provocation whatsoever, other than the bodies of these students sitting where they were on the ground, with their arms linked, police pepper-sprayed students. Students remained on the ground, now writhing in pain, with their arms linked.

Brown goes on to call for Katehi’s resignation.

I call for your resignation because you are unfit to do your job. You are unfit to ensure the safety of students at UC Davis. In fact: you are the primary threat to the safety of students at UC Davis. As such, I call upon you to resign immediately.

Critics, including Brown and the Davis Faculty Association, say Katehi was well aware of the risk she was taking by authorizing police to remove the students because of the incidents that had already taken place earlier that same week at UC Berkeley. Police in Berkeley violently removed students by using batons and, according to one student, cops would grab people and move them by pulling on their hair. UC Berkeley Professor Robert Hass, former Poet Laureate of the United States, National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize winner, was also struck with a baton.

"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," Brown wrote in his open letter.

David Buscho, a student who claims he was one of the protestors pepper sprayed, has an online petition calling on Katehi to resign. At the time this story was published the petition had 66,300 signatures.

On Monday, Katehi made an appearance on "Good Morning America" to defend her position, and said the university needs her now more than ever.

The president of the University of California system, Mark G. Yudof, took a similar line on Sunday, the New York Times reported. In a statement, he said he was appalled by the images and that he would convene the system’s 10 chancellors to discuss "how to ensure proportional law enforcement response to nonviolent protest."

On Saturday Katehi holed herself up in her office while students protested outside. "Katehi refused to leave the building, attempting to give the media the impression that the students were somehow holding her hostage," wrote Lee Fang, an investigative journalist who was at the protest.

In response, dozens of students sat down, locked arms and silently protested as Katehi walked to a waiting car. It’s a powerful display of public shaming, since the only sound you can hear are Katehi’s heels on the pavement and photographers’ flashbulbs. Watch the clip below.

A montage made up of four of the clearest videos from UC Davis’ events on Friday synchronized.