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UC Davis Students Call Strike in Wake of Police Pepper Spray Attack
Putting the police attacks on UC Davis students in a context of ongoing police violence in the Central Valley and in Davis.
On Tuesday, November 15th, hundreds of UC Davis (as well as CSU Sacramento) students flooded into Mrak Hall (which was occupied in 2009) and began on occupation which was evicted by police the next day. The actions came in the wake of continued fee hikes as well as attacks by UC Berkeley police on protesters attempting to occupy a public plaza on the campus. The blog UCDavis Bike Barricade speaks on the occupation:
In an act of brazen political resistance, in which We meant us, UC Davis students stormed Mrak Hall—the nucleus of an administration that colludes in the looting of our university, earning more and growing larger on the backs of Us, as it smothers dissent with swift force of police violence. On Tuesday we fought back, emphatically and hoarsely shouting “Enough”! We did not demand anything, knowing that what we came for could be taken but not given, as we flooded into the space where the decisions concerning our collective present and future are made. These are decisions concerning our learning conditions, concerning how much more debt we will put up with, and even concerning the health and safety of our fellow students as we fight to change a system that has grown intolerable and untenable.
On November 17th, over 30+ officers evicted the occupation during normal student use hours. The next day, students again gathered in the quad. Again, from the UCDavis Bicycle Barricade:
Yesterday, after 90+ students and allies spent the night occupying Mrak Hall on the UC Davis campus following Tuesday’s huge walk-out/rally/march in solidarity with Occupy Cal and the system-wide higher education strike to protest police brutality on campus, the UCD administration called in 30 riot cops—in the middle of the afternoon– to clear the occupation, and close the building in fear of further protest. This use of unnecessary force against UC student protesters, who were well within their right to be inside of a university building, during working hours, is additional proof of the militarization of university campuses...
On orders from the campus administration, campus police came to clear the students from the quad and to take down their tents. Several students sat down in a line and locked armed and police used direct application of pepper spray to students faces before hauling them away in plastic ties. Police were also clad in riot gear and had various chemical weapons on them. The video of the attack can be seen below.
And, just at the attack on UC Berkeley students caused the UC Berkeley administration to back pedal, the UC Davis Chancellor, Linda Katehi quickly called the police actions her responsibility but also claimed that an investigation is on the way and the incident would not happen again. On November 20th, students surrounded a building where Katehi was giving a news conference on the police attack and disrupted it. This action forced the chancellor to slink back to her car a full three hours later, admits many calls for her resignation. According to the Davis Enterprise:
The protesters formed lines leading away from the building, leaving a pathway to permit the chancellor’s exit, but the chancellor did not leave immediately following the conference.“It didn’t seem like we would be allowed to leave,” said Mitchell Benson, assistant vice chancellor for university communications. “There was quite a loud, and I would hazard to say, hostile crowd outside both of the doors of the building and it didn’t seem that she would be able to get out in a safe manner, so she stood put for a couple of hours.”While protesters chanted outside for, among other things, her resignation, Katehi stayed inside.
For some strange reason, students, or more importantly those that seek to represent and manage them, went to great lengths to ensure Chancellor Linda's safety, although she apparently refuses to turn the favor. The sea of angry people was parted, allowing a safe passage for the Chancellor from the news conference to her nice, expensive car. In this way, activists kept anyone from coming into contact with the Chancellor and any possible mob action from happening. As the picture on the left illustrates, students allowed the Chancellor to leave whenever she wanted by making a walkway between them. Apparently she wasn't sold on their commitment to 'non-violence,' (perhaps that's because she herself isn't!), and decided to wait for three hours before leaving for her car. Members of the upper managerial class like Linda have the police to do their dirty work; we only have our own abilities and each other. We should not be afraid to express our rage and not let self-appointed leaders tell us otherwise.
We must put the police attacks at UC Davis into perspective. Up until now, the media has portrayed the students as passive victims; simply kids who sit on the ground and wait to be sprayed in the face. We are supposed to feel pity for them while at the same time commending them for staying 'non-violent,' ie, not doing anything while being brutally attacked. If the students had fought back, as UC Berkeley protesters bravely did in September, or as those at Occupy Oakland have done, they would have been labeled by the media and much of the Left as "violent troublemakers," and thus deserving of any violence dished out by the state. Furthermore, whenever people have fought back against the police, the police have always claimed that the violence was started by protesters themselves and that their assaults are only in self-defense This of course is simply a way for the police to justify their actions and keep larger bodies of people from coming out and expanding a struggle which understands the police to be a repressive institution which must be confronted. Those that fight back against the police are courageous individuals which put their lives on the line for moments of dignity and bravery, boldly confronting the shock troops of the capitalist order.
We must also keep in mind that Davis is a city built around the university. It's a 'company town' and the school is the company. A large segment of the population either goes to school there, has a job there (whether as a custodian, professor, office worker, cafeteria worker, or tutor), or works for a business that exists because of the student population. Is it any wonder that we see the same naked brutality toward protesters at UC Davis that we do from police in any other department in any other city or town? The police: directed and controlled by the elites, and in this case the Chancellor of UC Davis. Occupy a building or start a protest camp in the middle of their business (in this case the university), and you'll receive the full brunt of the state's violence.
This violence, in Davis much less the Central Valley, is nothing new. In the Spring of 2008, DQ-University a indigenous/Chicano school which was occupied by students since 2005, was the scene of a police raid by Yolo County Sheriffs who stormed the school with guns drawn, arresting up to 20 students, supporters, and Native elders. DQ-University, which began as a takeover of an Air Force base by Native and Chicano activists, received only a small amount of the press when compared to that of the student occupation movement only a few years later. Likewise, Davis and nearby Woodland has been the scene of brutal police murders in recent years. In May of 2008, Woodland police tasered to death Ricardo Abrahams, a mentally disturbed man who 'failed to obey police orders.' In 2009, an undercover gang unit in Woodland shot and killed Luis Gutierrez, who ran from police after leaving the DMV when they started to chase him. Later autopsy reports showed that Gutierrez died unarmed - while shot in the back repeatedly trying to escape those who he thought to be gang members. Also in 2009, Davis police shot an Ethiopian woman whom they were trying to evict from her apartment. The message is clear, when poor non-white people die, it isn't news and it's always justified. When largely passive and privileged students which are expected to leave college and enter the halls of business and commerce are attacked, the eyes of the world are focused. This is not to downplay the struggle of UC Davis students or to write off the brutality that they have faced, only to put it's reality into a context of an ongoing social war between the state and it's combatants: us.
If the struggle in Davis is to move forward, we must keep this all in mind. Police violence is not isolated at the university, nor is it the 'accident' of Chancellor who made a wrong call, (as some professors have stated in a letter to the Davis newspaper - while still supporting the power of the police to 'peacefully remove protesters'), it is the natural expression of the power of the police. Police in the Davis/Woodland area have, and will continue to, until they are destroyed, kill people for the crime of being 'mentally unstable,' 'not following orders,' or for failing to be evicted. We must also remember that where current struggles are being waged, there are often generations of people who have already engaged in similar battles and who may still be fighting. Many UC Davis students that participated in the hundreds at the occupation of Mrak Hall, probably had no idea that literally miles away lies a university that was not only founded through forceful occupation of US Government property, but had been occupied for years by indigenous and Chicano students. As revolutionaries who document police murder and violence and who were also involved in the occupation of DQ-University, we remember, but we also realize that many UC Davis students (many coming from out of town or even out of state to study) do not or are not aware. Student insurgents, learn the history of your area. Realize the context of the social terrain. Know your enemies and find your friends.
In a society where everyone is seen as a potential insurgent, where all organic and self-organized expressions of social life are seen as potentially insurrectionary and always criminal, the actions of the police will always be violent. As the class antagonisms that democracy tries to hide and the lie of social peace becomes the facade that it is as more and more people are drawn into social struggles, the actions of the police will take on a much more militarized and aggressive nature. Thus, those that speak of non-violence speak of proudly marching to their deaths and also for the 'glorious' defeat of their struggles. We have no intention of losing and even less intention of allowing ourselves to be beaten, imprisoned, and brutalized by the dogs of the elites. And, we don't think that the students of UC Davis - or anyone, should have to either. As the UCDavis Bicycle Barricade wrote:
Friday’s punitive violence, as terrible as it was, is not an example of bad policing. It is an example of policing. We’ve seen this kind of violence used before on California campuses, and not just in response to the anti-privatization protests and occupations of the past two years. We’re seeing it used now to suppress dissent in cities across the world, from Oakland to Cairo. When UC Davis police chief Annette Spicuzza says she is “very proud” of her officers, who “did a great job,” she is convinced that this is true. It’s not simply a public relations strategy, it’s a reflection of the fact that her officers did what cops are expected to do: employ violence against those who challenge authority.
As of this writing, UC Davis students have called for a student strike to begin on campus at 12 Noon. Take the buildings! Drive the pigs out!