Lewis’ Blog

20 November 2011

In response to the incident on the campus of the University of California at Davis, Nov. 18, 2011

Filed under: Davis, gatherings, social injustice — Tags: — lewis @ 11:24 pm

A basic requirement of a university campus is that it be a safe place for its students to learn and to express themselves. It is unacceptable that a peaceful group has been dispersed by campus police, merely for expressing political dissent in a reasonable way. By her own admission, Chancellor Katehi is responsible for ordering this dispersion, and she is to be considered accountable for it.

In addition to this unacceptable repression of freedom of expression on a college campus, a greater wrong has been perpetrated in this case. Not only were students dispersed, but they were violently dispersed. A group of students involved in a non-violent and inoffensive protest were assaulted by police officers with pepper-spray as they sat on the ground. In some cases, these officers forcibly exposed students’ faces so that the pepper spray would be maximally painful. This violence was enormously disproportionate to the task the officers were sent to accomplish. Their task — nominally to clear away a few tents and their attendant non-violent protesters — in no way called for the use of a chemical intended to inflict pain in dangerous situations. The officers themselves were in no danger.  Their persons were not hurt nor threatened, and their movements were unhindered.

UC Davis campus police are allowed to be on the campus of UC Davis to protect and serve its population. In absolutely no case should officers of this organization perpetrate violence against peaceable and unthreatening UC Davis students. The callous and violent actions of the UC Davis police force in this incident were utterly unacceptable, and deserve the highest condemnation.

As if this all weren’t bad enough, the university administration, and notably Chancellor Katehi, has done a terrible job responding to the injustice. In a statement a day after the incident, Katehi explains that the student encampment on the campus violated university policy (it would be interesting to hear exactly what policies are involved here), and that such violations could not be tolerated. Although she had expressed sympathy for the protesters’ cause in an earlier statement, she apparently did not think that this cause was of enough importance to permit peaceful civil disobedience on a university campus. The protesters may have been violating university policy, but sending the police against a peaceful group of students should be considered a gross violation of university policy.

In the same statement Katehi explains that the decision to break up the campus protest was made due to “concern for the safety and health of the students involved in the protest, as well as other students on our campus”. The best that can be said about this is that the decision was misinformed. The protest was known to be a non-violent one, with no prospect to endanger safety. Sending the police to break up such a protest is bound to result in a more unstable, less safe situation for all involved — and of course the ensuing events can speak for themselves.

Katehi even comments that the use of pepper spray against students “raises many questions about how best to handle situations like this.” The use of pepper spray in this incident raises no questions. It was clearly unethical, and clearly a gross overreaction to the particular situation.

Katehi claims “full responsibility” for what happened, and expresses “sadness” about the situation, but she has yet to offer so much as an apology. Instead, she has formed a task force to investigate the issue and get back to her in 30 days.

Forming a task force to investigate the course of events leading up to this incident is a good idea. It is important to understand exactly what happened, and to adjust university policy to better serve its students, its faculty, its staff, and the state that the university represents. Forming a task force is important, but it is not enough.

When I first heard the call for Chancellor Katehi to resign, I thought it premature. It was then unclear where exactly the blame should fall for this incident. And it is still somewhat unclear — a situation which hopefully the task force will remedy. But Katehi’s timid and out-of-touch response to the injustice of this incident and to the anger that it has engendered in the university community have caused her to lose her legitimacy as a leader. I therefore join the ranks of those who believe that the chancellor should step down at this time.

It has also been made public that two police officers have been put on “administrative leave” for using pepper spray on the students. In my opinion, this is not enough. What these officers did was unethical, and (I hope) illegal, and they should be held accountable for their actions. Moreover, their superiors who allowed this incident to take place should be held accountable for their role.

It will be interesting to see how this incident progresses in the coming days. At present the situation remains very much unresolved, and I for one am quite dissatisfied with the university’s handling of the incident up to this point.

30 March 2010

Davis in April

Filed under: Davis, clouds, nature, plants, self, stars — Tags: — lewis @ 9:46 pm

It being nearly April again, I thought I’d post something I wrote last April that I just found in my notebook.

In Davis in April in this dry valley almost too big to be called a valley created by an inland sea flooded year after year by the Sacramento River by the American River by the Yuba River by Putah Creek the soil enriched over the centuries by silt these carried from the high mountains of the Sierra from the crumbling mountains of the coastal range from the hilly unknown lands to the north, in this dry valley I sit, and breathe.

I breathe the rich dry eair of Yolo County, full like soil of decaying plant matter of dung of carcasses, all these returned to dust and settled into soil, and sometimes blown in gusts to enrich this air.  I sit on a lawn a large and well-kempt lawn of the university which nevertheless is populated by a large variety of weeds, is strewn with oak leaves like the innumerable stars that can be seen from mountain-tops.  In a season these leaves will be dust and soil and compost, their ancient life force slowly absorbed by the roots of plants.

I sit under a cork-oak whose leaves are falling (it may be sick) and who provides me with a delicious shade on this warm April day, mixed deliciously with patches of sunshine.  The clouds too conspire to bring my life these ingredients, lazy flocks of cumulus humilis slowly floating eastwards from the sea perhaps to bring the high Sierras another dusting of snow.  It has been a dry Winter but not utterly devoid of water, and the reservoirs are middling full.  Spring has come unhindered, and Davis is full of butterflies now though bees are few this year.

I love this air that smells of compost.  I love to walk in the sun and in the shade in Davis in the springtime.  I love the university with its many workers and many students, and its many seekers of truth, or money.  Out of this good soil has been cultivated a great campus of learning and employ, by the grace of God.  Here has sprung up a community of people around the campus, and the old Davis needs all this too to survive — we all must love each other truly here in this earth, while we breathe the rich air, while we walk in the sun-soaked pathways of the university at Davis.

Powered by WordPress