Dear Chancellor Katehi,
The faculty of the Women and Gender Studies program are writing to express our deep concern regarding the unjustifiable use of gratuitous force against UC Davis students on November 18, 2011. The administration has attempted to defend its actions by characterizing them as measures taken to protect the health and safety of Davis students. We do not see how pepper spraying students demonstrates concern for their well-being.
The campus community has been asked to accept disproportionate police action in the name of safety. To encourage the acceptance of that logic, the administration raises the specter of criminalized outsiders and mentions the risk of university “liability.” We do not accept the logic that outsiders, sitting on the ground, with their arms linked to our students, are more dangerous than the persons pointing weapons at them. In fact, sitting with linked arms has a long tradition in the Black Civil Rights and pacifist movements in this country and is understood as a non-violent means of exercising free speech rights. Furthermore we reject the implicit gendered logic of vulnerability that suggests that in order to protect vulnerable women from outsiders we must stifle protest.
Witnesses present on Friday afternoon report that most if not all of the tents were removed before the police closed in upon the students. Regardless, the issue of the presence of tents is a specious one. Despite the administration’s calls for tolerance and dialogue, it has shown that it will not tolerate peaceful protest. At UC Berkeley Chancellor Birgeneau described arm-linking as "not nonviolent." Such a claim is preposterous and merely represents an attempt to find provocation where none is present. The students who were pepper-sprayed were linking arms and sitting on the ground. As the video of Friday’s events spreads across the Internet, it is clear to all who view it that it was not the students, but rather the police who were violent. We are deeply concerned by the militarized police violence that academic administration used to exercise its control and discipline over Davis students expressing concerns over rising debts and UC tuition, the stress on their families, and the privatization of a public land grant institution. Moreover, the video clearly discredits the police chief’s account of what transpired.
For those of us old enough to remember, Friday’s events brought back images of Kent State. We reject arguments that justify violence in the name of security. We oppose the stifling of free speech done in the name of maintaining community. We reaffirm the right of students to assemble, to link arms, and to fight for public education. The video of an officer, systematically pepper-spraying passive students, has circulated nationally and discredits our university. We can be very proud, however, of the students who bravely and peacefully held their ground. We are writing to show our support of those students. We share their love of this university and their belief that public education and social-economic justice are worth fighting for.
In times of conflict, the administration often invokes the Principles of Community but does not appear to be able to translate these principles into actions that bring a diverse community together. Those Principles were fundamentally violated on Friday. We ask for clear accountability. We want to know how and why the decision was made to call in police from other jurisdictions. We want to know whose decision it was to have the police appear in riot gear. We want to know who sanctioned the use of pepper spray. Finally, we want to know what specific measures will be put into place to ensure that such violence never again occurs on our campus.
We call for an immediate and thorough investigation by an Academic Senate-appointed committee, to be completed by the end of fall quarter, of the events leading to the use of force on Friday and request that those found culpable be disciplined. We call upon the Chancellor to drop any pending charges against the students who were taken into custody, and to take immediate actions to foster a meaningful dialogue regarding next steps. We do not believe that the campus can wait 90 days for a task force report.