Does SMC Pepper-Spraying Echo Davis Melee?

News reports were quick to liken the two incidents in which dozens of student protesters were pepper-sprayed. But there were plenty of differences.

Shortly after a Santa Monica College , reporters and newscasters—from New York Times to CBS Los Angeles—started likening the incident to the pepper-spraying of University of California, Davis students in November 2011.

But there were many differences. In Davis, police donned riot gear over their uniforms; protestors in Santa Monica were reportedly far more rambunctious.

At UC Davis, there was no meeting or event that spurred the pepper spray. It was an orchestrated response by police, who showed up on the quad at a predetermined time. In Santa Monica, protesters descended on an ongoing meeting, sparking the chaos.

This is not a comment on whether it was right for the protesters to show up—or for the police to react with pepper spray— it’s simply worth noting that at UC Davis, the chaos started when police arrived, whereas at Santa Monica, it was when the protesters arrived. 

And while the Davis incident occurred just as the Occupy movement was taking root, Santa Monica's happened after some students, including ones leading the , had already participated in protests.

Davis Patch Editor Justin Cox and Santa Monica Patch Editor Jenna Chandler draw comparisons, and differences, between the two events:

What were students doing that might have prompted police to use pepper spray?

DAVIS: The were sitting down in a line with their arms locked together. They were completely passive, from a physical standpoint, although much was being said to police. Critics of the protesters point to the fact that more than 100 people (many of them onlookers) ended up forming a circle around the officers, which could be interpreted as a justification to use force (pepper spray), although did step in and out of that circle several times.

SANTA MONCIA: There was a group of about 50 students who were congregating in the entryway to Board of Trustees' meeting room, a fairly small space in the Business Administration Building. The students were pumping their fists, at the trustees. Accounts differ about whether the students physically tried to force their way into the packed room, or whether police were unprovoked in starting to push students out of the way before one officer used pepper spray. Either the way, the meeting was disrupted by the chants, and the trustees could not carry out their meeting.

How many students were protesting?

DAVIS: More than 20 protesters were sitting in the line. About a dozen or so were pepper sprayed. Hundreds gathered around as the police response escalated. Many of them were chanting and , but the pepper spray was focused on the seated people.

SANTA MONICA: About 50 student protesters were crammed in, or just outside of, the board room's entrance. Many more were in the hallway, at least 50 others were in an adjacent overflow room, and just as many students were outside. Like in Davis, there was chanting and the protests were filmed.

How many were treated and hospitalized?

DAVIS: 10 people were arrested (and most of them treated on site). Two were hospitalized.

SANTA MONICA: 30 were treated for pepper spray exposure and three were hospitalized. There were no arrests. Superintendent Chui Tsang said afterward that the officers used restraint in not taking any students into custody.

How prepared were campus officials for the protest?

DAVIS: The police certainly had no shortage of equipment or manpower. What they could have better prepared was their plan, or communication between the chancellor and the department.  

The decision to show up in riot gear is something the university would likely do over again because it set the tone for the events that followed. The plan at the outset was to remove the tents (which were not allowed) but not necessarily the people (who were allowed). The police specifically targeted, and ultimately pepper sprayed, the people who were seated.

We should know a lot more about the details when a report is released in the coming weeks.

SANTA MONICA: Campus officials said they were prepared for a bigger-than-normal turnout (the audience is usually small), but couldn't have predicted the melee that ensued. They did reserve an overflow room adjacent to board chambers; still, there wasn't enough space to accommodate every student. There were at least two officers manning the board chambers.

Though campus officials might disagree, there were signs, at least in hindsight, that a disturbance was possible.

Patch hasn't been able to confirm, but students have said they contacted at least one school official alerting him to the fact that there would be a large audience at Tuesday's meeting.

the heart of the pepper-spraying incident, a group of student critics of the plan had a tense exchange with Superintendent Tsang.

After voting to approve the plan in March, students began chanting demands about their desire for affordable and equal access to education, prompting the board to take a recess. Outside board chambers, dozens cornered Tsang, seeking answers to questions about his salary and the college’s reserve funds. Some said the top administrators should take pay cuts, and others suggested that now is the time to tap into the savings. Tsang responded to some of their questions before walking away in frustration.

How did campus officials respond to the use of pepper spray?

DAVIS: The and . Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi said that she gave specific orders not to use force. She tried to hold a press conference the following day, but protesters got inside the building and filled the halls. The conference was cancelled. Katehi remained in the building for hours before walking out to her car . 

A full report about that day has been delayed several times, in part because the police union representing UC Davis police wanted information redacted. It with all information except for the officers’ names.

Members of the Occupy Davis movement, which was just taking root in the town, were allowed to reoccupy the quad without consequence. Their presence has ebbed and flowed in the months that followed without police enforcement.

SANTA MONICA: The day after the incident, He said their actions were regrettable and seemed to justify the use of pepper spray.

Three days later, at a public meeting, he back Speddled and said the entire event was "regrettable." He announced that in addition to an internal investigation, the college had set up a taskforce of faculty, administrators and a student to conduct an independent review. At that same public meeting—held in a much larger venue—.

Eddie Greenberg April 10, 2012 at 06:29 PM
Frankly I am proud of the students for standing up for what was right. I am equally ashamed of Mr, Tsang who failed miserably! You point out here he walked away from the students in frustratration. Is that not his job to communicate with the students? Then he back-peddled from his origianal position on the violence by police against the students. Fire him immediately because his crediblity has been eviserated. Kudos to the new generation of students, they have right on their side.


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