Bil Browning

US Davis Chancellor Makes the Walk of Shame

Filed By Bil Browning | November 21, 2011 10:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: Linda Katehi, pepper spray, police brutality, police violence, public shaming, UC Davis, walk of shame

After UC Davis police used pepper spray against students peacefully sitting on the ground, the university's chancellor has been widely condemned for ordering the cops to break up the gathering. Two officers sprayed the group at close range - even moving the clothing students used to cover their faces and prying open the kids' mouths to shoot pepper spray directly down their throats. Several students were hospitalized afterward.

Other students and faculty on campus quickly surrounded the riot police and started chanting "Shame on you!" and "Who's university? Our university!" before eventually telling the officers "You can go" before the angry mob turned on the outnumbered cops. The video quickly went viral and has been lifted up as a highlight of the differences between the peaceful Occupy protesters and the police brutality against Katehi-walk-of-shame.jpgthem happening daily.

Chancellor Linda Katehi has rebuffed calls for her resignation - both private and public. (See an open letter to the chancellor from a junior faculty member after the break.) Shortly after the incident, Katehi blamed students for not leaving after the cops ordered them to disperse, but has since changed her tone saying she "feel[s] their outrage" and taking "full responsibility for the incident."

Students, unhappy with her decision and subsequent victim blaming, held a vigil outside of a press conference by Katehi and campus police officers. Katehi first claimed she was "afraid" of the students and attempted to paint them as a violent mob. When she finally left the building that evening, the students were still outside waiting and stood silently on either side of the sidewalk that led to her car. They forced her to take a walk of shame and face the very people she'd ordered attacked. The video is after the break.

Check out this eloquent and firm open letter to Chancellor Katehi by Nathan Brown, an assistant English professor. His call for Katehi's resignation should be emulated by every staff member on the campus.

18 November 2011

Open Letter to Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi

Linda P.B. Katehi,

I am a junior faculty member at UC Davis. I am an Assistant Professor in the Department of English, and I teach in the Program in Critical Theory and in Science & Technology Studies. I have a strong record of research, teaching, and service. I am currently a Board Member of the Davis Faculty Association. I have also taken an active role in supporting the student movement to defend public education on our campus and throughout the UC system. In a word: I am the sort of young faculty member, like many of my colleagues, this campus needs. I am an asset to the University of California at Davis.

You are not.

I write to you and to my colleagues for three reasons:

1) to express my outrage at the police brutality which occurred against students engaged in peaceful protest on the UC Davis campus today

2) to hold you accountable for this police brutality

3) to demand your immediate resignation

Today you ordered police onto our campus to clear student protesters from the quad. These were protesters who participated in a rally speaking out against tuition increases and police brutality on UC campuses on Tuesday--a rally that I organized, and which was endorsed by the Davis Faculty Association. These students attended that rally in response to a call for solidarity from students and faculty who were bludgeoned with batons, hospitalized, and arrested at UC Berkeley last week. In the highest tradition of non-violent civil disobedience, those protesters had linked arms and held their ground in defense of tents they set up beside Sproul Hall. In a gesture of solidarity with those students and faculty, and in solidarity with the national Occupy movement, students at UC Davis set up tents on the main quad. When you ordered police outfitted with riot helmets, brandishing batons and teargas guns to remove their tents today, those students sat down on the ground in a circle and linked arms to protect them.

What happened next?

Without any provocation whatsoever, other than the bodies of these students sitting where they were on the ground, with their arms linked, police pepper-sprayed students. Students remained on the ground, now writhing in pain, with their arms linked.

What happened next?

Police used batons to try to push the students apart. Those they could separate, they arrested, kneeling on their bodies and pushing their heads into the ground. Those they could not separate, they pepper-sprayed directly in the face, holding these students as they did so. When students covered their eyes with their clothing, police forced open their mouths and pepper-sprayed down their throats. Several of these students were hospitalized. Others are seriously injured. One of them, forty-five minutes after being pepper-sprayed down his throat, was still coughing up blood.

This is what happened. You are responsible for it.

You are responsible for it because this is what happens when UC Chancellors order police onto our campuses to disperse peaceful protesters through the use of force: students get hurt. Faculty get hurt. One of the most inspiring things (inspiring for those of us who care about students who assert their rights to free speech and peaceful assembly) about the demonstration in Berkeley on November 9 is that UC Berkeley faculty stood together with students, their arms linked together. Associate Professor of English Celeste Langan was grabbed by her hair, thrown on the ground, and arrested. Associate Professor Geoffrey O'Brien was injured by baton blows. Professor Robert Hass, former Poet Laureate of the United States, National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize winner, was also struck with a baton. These faculty stood together with students in solidarity, and they too were beaten and arrested by the police. In writing this letter, I stand together with those faculty and with the students they supported.

One week after this happened at UC Berkeley, you ordered police to clear tents from the quad at UC Davis. When students responded in the same way--linking arms and holding their ground--police also responded in the same way: with violent force. The fact is: the administration of UC campuses systematically uses police brutality to terrorize students and faculty, to crush political dissent on our campuses, and to suppress free speech and peaceful assembly. Many people know this. Many more people are learning it very quickly.

You are responsible for the police violence directed against students on the UC Davis quad on November 18, 2011. As I said, I am writing to hold you responsible and to demand your immediate resignation on these grounds.

On Wednesday November 16, you issued a letter by email to the campus community. In this letter, you discussed a hate crime which occurred at UC Davis on Sunday November 13. In this letter, you express concern about the safety of our students. You write, "it is particularly disturbing that such an act of intolerance should occur at a time when the campus community is working to create a safe and inviting space for all our students." You write, "while these are turbulent economic times, as a campus community, we must all be committed to a safe, welcoming environment that advances our efforts to diversity and excellence at UC Davis."

I will leave it to my colleagues and every reader of this letter to decide what poses a greater threat to "a safe and inviting space for all our students" or "a safe, welcoming environment" at UC Davis: 1) Setting up tents on the quad in solidarity with faculty and students brutalized by police at UC Berkeley? or 2) Sending in riot police to disperse students with batons, pepper-spray, and tear-gas guns, while those students sit peacefully on the ground with their arms linked? Is this what you have in mind when you refer to creating "a safe and inviting space?" Is this what you have in mind when you express commitment to "a safe, welcoming environment?"

I am writing to tell you in no uncertain terms that there must be space for protest on our campus. There must be space for political dissent on our campus. There must be space for civil disobedience on our campus. There must be space for students to assert their right to decide on the form of their protest, their dissent, and their civil disobedience--including the simple act of setting up tents in solidarity with other students who have done so. There must be space for protest and dissent, especially, when the object of protest and dissent is police brutality itself. You may not order police to forcefully disperse student protesters peacefully protesting police brutality. You may not do so. It is not an option available to you as the Chancellor of a UC campus. That is why I am calling for your immediate resignation.

Your words express concern for the safety of our students. Your actions express no concern whatsoever for the safety of our students. I deduce from this discrepancy that you are not, in fact, concerned about the safety of our students. Your actions directly threaten the safety of our students. And I want you to know that this is clear. It is clear to anyone who reads your campus emails concerning our "Principles of Community" and who also takes the time to inform themselves about your actions. You should bear in mind that when you send emails to the UC Davis community, you address a body of faculty and students who are well trained to see through rhetoric that evinces care for students while implicitly threatening them. I see through your rhetoric very clearly. You also write to a campus community that knows how to speak truth to power. That is what I am doing.

I call for your resignation because you are unfit to do your job. You are unfit to ensure the safety of students at UC Davis. In fact: you are the primary threat to the safety of students at UC Davis. As such, I call upon you to resign immediately.


Nathan Brown
Assistant Professor
Department of English
Program in Critical Theory
University of California at Davis

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Peaceful demonstrators should never be pepper sprayed. That is an act of violence, an assault and should be treated as such. And the police were bold enough to do it right in front of the cameras, police strength pepper spray and in large quantities. Demonstrators could easily have been killed or severely injured, especially those who have asthma. While the non-violence training of the protestors is obviously lacking the level portrayed by the demonstrators in the 1960s, and their cause seems more than a little fractured, they still need to be left alone to do their thing and not impeded. Hopefully, they will eventually morph into an organized group that will eliminate the power of the Teaparties.

I wish the Walk of Shame would be picked up by more protesters, as it is wise and very effective. It's inherently non-violent and better still, it is visually non-violent. It's extremely difficult to spin the portrayal of a vigil of two silent single file lines as a mob or "potential mob". Better still, it thwarts the normal immediate reaction of a small number of police in riot gear, which is to push against one side of a tightly packed group of people. Another advantage a dual, silent, single file line of solemn observers visually signifies that they are individuals, not a single mass that can be written off with a single label.

Bil, thank you for posting this.

Angela Brightfeather | November 21, 2011 2:17 PM

Shades of Kent State... and the same feelings are in the air.
This incident and ones like it show exactly how far students embrace peace today and have progressed, as compared to how little the campus security and those who direct them have not progressed.
The question long will it be before people are called on to die for their beliefs, before administrations and politicians understand that, in America, dying for your beleifs is something that we must and will do to survive in a free society? Must they always be so stupid that they push us to that point of no return and remorse for those who are willing to express themselves aganist tyrants and bullys?

I have to give the students major props for how they have handled this whole situation. I watched the initial pepper spray incident yesterday and it made my blood boil. All it would have taken is one student to throw something at those cops and that situation would have lit on fire- shades of kent state, indeed.

That the students did not respond to violence with more violence is so impressive. In addition, that they came up with a silent protest, and then had the discipline to keep it silent- wow.

Go UC Davis.