A non-violent protest at UC Davis turned chaotic Friday afternoon as police pepper-sprayed a group of students sitting on the ground. Videos shot at the scene show a policeman walking up to the protesters, pulling out his can of pepper spray to display to the crowd, and liberally sweeping the protesters with the stinging substance. Many students had their heads down, but at least one demonstrator was hit in the face. Other officers then followed suit, spraying many of the Occupiers who appeared to be sitting in a circle with their arms linked. By midday Saturday, videos of the showdown were circulating the Internet.
As the pepper spray hit protesters, the gathered crowd bristled at the police action. A chorus of boos quickly rang out and as police attempted to drag students from the circle the crowd began to chant “Shame on you!” At least one teacher reported that police restrained students as they were pepper-sprayed in the mouth. Bystanders swooped in to tend to those who had been sprayed, as police in riot gear stood watch. The afternoon ended with 10 arrests, nine of them students, the Associated Press reports.
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Police soon responded to the online uproar surrounding the videos. According to UC Davis police chief Annette Spicuzza, the students were surrounding police officers as they sat in their tightly-linked circle. “They were cutting the officers off from their support,” Spicuzza told the Sacramento Bee. “It’s a very volatile situation.”
The situation allegedly came to a standoff when the UC Davis students were told to move their encampment by 3 p.m. Friday. The Sacramento Bee reports they had been camped out since Thursday. On Friday morning they were told to take down their tents by the afternoon, but when police arrived tents remained. Shortly before 4 p.m., police from UC Davis, other UC campuses, and the city of Davis swooped in, shortly before 4 p.m.
This harshly contested chain of events has inspired UC Davis chancellor Linda Katehi to form a task force to investigate the police action. “The use of the pepper spray as shown on the video is chilling to us all and raises many questions about how best to handle situations like this,” Katehi said.
An alternate angle of the pepper-spray incident: