The UC-Davis pepper-spraying incident report is out: this is perhaps the worst campus-related clusterfuck since Kent State

You no doubt remember the infamous Lt. Pike and the his pepper-spraying assault on lawfully assembled #Occupy UC-Davis students last year. If not, let’s begin with a brief reminder.

Some of you might read my lead sentence above and think “oh, look, that ‘lawfully assembled’ part is biased. Fucking hippie.” But you don’t have to take my word for it because now the officially commissioned independent reviews (the Reynoso Report and the Kroll Report) have been completed and are available to the public. To say the Reynoso Report is damning is putting it mildly.

I encourage you to read the report in its entirety. But if you don’t have time, The Infamous Brad provides a nice summary of the findings, commenting that:

You know how every time somebody in law enforcement does something that looks bad, we’re told that we should “wait until the facts are in” before passing judgment? Well, after Lieutenant Pike of the UC Davis Police Department became an internet meme by using high-pressure pepper-spray on peaceful resisters, the campus hired an independent consulting firm to interview everybody they could find, review all the videos and other evidence, review the relevant policies and laws, and issue a final fact-finding report to the university.

This is not better than the initial media reports. This is worse. This is an epic textbook in official-violence failure.

“Epic” is a much overused and abused word these days, but in this case it’s appropriate. UC-Davis isn’t the first campus to be confronted with students unhappy about the state of things. In fact, university administrators and law enforcement personnel have fifty years of history to draw on, at least. By now, there is zero excuse for not having productive philosophies and procedures in place that stress the unique role of the higher education institution in American society. These are students, not escaped convicts. They are, if I might borrow a cliché that we toss around way too casually, the leaders of tomorrow. There are no barbarians at the gate. Visigoths are not storming the walls. The only danger to anyone’s safety and well-being is posed by the authorities.

The report is measured, factual, detailed and objective in tone, but make no mistake, everyone on the university/police/government side of the incident comes in for a well-deserved reaming. The recommendations are all more than valid, aiming at helping the school and the UC system in general craft processes that will enable a more coherent response in the event of future demonstrations.

Of course, they don’t go far enough, but I don’t suspect their charge included recommendations on personnel. Still, it’s impossible to read this report without concluding that a lot of people associated with the assaults, from university PD officers to very senior administration officials, should be removed from their positions immediately (and I include here Chancellor Linda Katehi, who is, at a minimum, guilty of a generalized cluelessness that renders her unfit for the position she currently holds).

If any of the students are currently considering legal action, The Reynoso Report should provide university and state counsel with ample incentive to settle quickly.

How this happened is hard to imagine. It’s like nobody at Davis ever heard of Kent State. Mercifully, in this case nobody died. In many other respects, though, including the philosophical assumptions that were made about unarmed students and the thuggish operational tactics deemed appropriate for dealing with peaceful protesters, UCD was every bit the debacle that Kent was.

Thx to Deborah Newell Tornello for tipping me to this report.

4 replies »

  1. Back in the day, Jackson State was after Kent State, people died there, too. Numerous other protests took place in the following days. People were bayonetted at the University of New Mexico, All those incidents were a tad worse.

    • I guess we have evolved, huh? Now we just pepper spray innocent students.

      I’m coming the perspective of a guy who deals with process and procedure and philosophy in organizations a lot. In terms of the outcomes UCD is no way as bad as the 60s and 70s. But if you read that report, you see instance after instance of people not doing what was written down, of people assuming instead of verifying, of people ignoring the chain of command, and so on. If this happened in one of my clients’ organizations, I’d come back with a recommendation to fire just about everybody, up to and including the people I reported to if they were as culpable as Katehi.

  2. I went to Kent and one of the best courses I took was on the shootings. The thing that always struck me about Kent, Jackson State, et al was that they marked, in many ways, the end of the anti-war movement. Message delivered. Maybe someone at UC Davis–maybe just a cop with a can in his hand–thought he could teach a lesson that would shut down the Occupy Movement.

    Glad to see that he was wrong and that no one was killed. Even gladder that justice seems possible and that the report came down on the right side.

    • You have to read that report, Cat. This is way beyond one rogue cop who hates hippie kids. I think that was certainly part of it, but that wasn’t all of it by a long shot.