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Davis, California

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

The UC Davis pepper spray incident, 10 years later

The Editorial Board reflects on the attack against peaceful student protestors that broke international news

When students peacefully protested against a raise in tuition as part of the Occupy Wall Street movement on Nov. 18, 2011, an unprovoked UC Davis police officer sprayed several passive protestors in the face with pepper spray, sparking outrage among students, faculty, staff and the general public. With today marking the 10 year anniversary of this event, termed the UC Davis pepper spray incident, the Editorial Board would like to look back on the subsequent actions, impacts and changes made as a result of this horrific account of violence inflicted on students by the UC Davis Police Department (UCDPD).

The display of unnecessary force used against protestors made international news and became a point of focus in the Occupy Wall Street movement. The reach of the incident is made especially clear by comments from Kamran Loghman, who helped develop weapon-grade pepper spray. “I have never seen such an inappropriate and improper use of chemical agents,” he said in an interview with The New York Times.

Such a negative response to the incident did not reflect well on UC Davis — something the administration at the time apparently felt strongly about. A little over a year after the incident generated widespread news, the university paid a public relations firm to remove references to the incident in Google searches on the university and on then-Chancellor Linda Katehi. This irresponsible and unethical move shocked and disappointed students at the time, and, similar to the pepper spray event itself, today serves as a reminder of the capabilities of powerful institutions.

Even though a decade has passed since this incident, it is necessary to continuously reexamine this institution’s past to maintain the expectations the student body and the public had of the university at the time of the events. On college campuses, from which students graduate and leave every year, and with them their experiences and reactions to happenings on campus, it’s particularly important to think back to why injustice happened, what was promised to be improved and if since, appropriate action has been taken.

In response to the wrongful attack on student protestors, reports were conducted to investigate the events and make recommendations for UC Davis and the UC system, many of which UC Davis acted on. On the Combined Report Recommendations page of the website dedicated to reviewing the Nov. 18, 2011 events, tables show specific recommended actions from different reports and their completion status; most say “Completed,” though several UC System-wide action items say they are still in progress or pending review.

UCDPD has taken action since completing the above recommendations, including its accreditation by the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators this year. That being said, as more task forces are assembled and more recommendations are made, the university should issue regular updates on their progress for students, faculty, staff and the public to check their commitment to these issues.

The Report of the Task Force on Next Generation Reforms to Advance Campus Safety was released in June this year, which included eight recommendations to be enacted within two academic years. The task force was assembled in June 2020 in response to worldwide protests against police brutality. We at The California Aggie are committed to holding this administration to this two-year deadline, and encourage the student body and local community to do the same.

While it’s clear that over the past 10 years the university has proven their dedication to ensuring campus policing is regulated, some students and faculty strongly oppose the presence of police officers on campus at all, and still feel unheard by the university on these matters. Today, on Nov. 18, UC Davis Cops Off Campus and other campus groups are hosting a rally on the Quad, providing a space to discuss and protest the threat they claim is posed by campus officers.

While some students and the university may be at odds on the matter of the abolition of campus police, the Editorial Board supports the notion that students may be experiencing emotional distress due to having cops on campus, and that this is only heightened with today’s remembrance of what the police were capable of doing in our community before.

The Editorial Board recognizes the severe impacts of police brutality and the disproportionate harm this abuse of power has on Black individuals and other members of the BIPOC community. While the pepper spray incident was not reported to be racially motivated, we understand the context of this conversation today and want to acknowledge the stress caused by the recollection of harm done to students by police officers on our campus.

While remembering such traumatic events can be difficult, it is imperative to consider our institutions’ histories, including the mistakes they’ve made and the changes they’ve promised. As we recall the pepper spray incident 10 years later, we appreciate the follow-through on recommended improvements from the past and call on the members of the current administration to maintain their commitment to these issues and consider community concerns as they continue taking action.


    Written by: The Editorial Board 



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