While UC Davis and the Davis community patiently await the findings from the report investigating the November 18 pepper spraying of students on the Quad on the UC Davis campus, a report emerged last week that threw gasoline on the situation at Berkeley.
The author himself acknowledged that his findings are controversial, while protesters dismissed the report, stating: “This is isn’t an analysis, it’s propaganda. It sounds like a tactical handbook for warfare against students.”
Jeff Young, Assistant Chief of Police at the UCLA Police Department, in a report written to Mitch Celaya, UC Berkeley’s Chief of Police, acknowledged that “some of these findings will be controversial from the start. This is unavoidable. This is based on the fact that there is no way to reconcile the divergent and passionately held beliefs of the groups of the UC Berkeley community representative of the people I interviewed.”
He also noted, “All parties involved in this event have a share of the responsibility in how tragically it ended and the devastation to the relationships that still linger to this day. There were misjudgments on all sides.”
Furthermore, “Many were inevitable due to the built-in lack of communications between key organizers and the officials from campus administration and the police department.”
He writes, “Protestors, beginning at the 3:00 demonstration, expected to commit their acts of civil disobedience and then be arrested.”
However, “The police had no intention of making mass arrests. Their goal was to prevent the establishment of an encampment or to dismantle any tents that were erected.”
He noted, “Neither party knew the others’ intentions. The traditional relationships and information-sharing systems were not in play for this event. This fact alone probably doomed it for tragedy.”
All of this seems rather reasonable. However, Mr. Young admonishes UC Berkeley’s Chancellor Robert Birgeneau for prohibiting the use of pepper spray – a move he later said was prescient in light of what happened at the UC Davis campus.
He would tell faculty, “Unfortunately, we did not at the same time discuss the use of the baton.”
However, it was later discovered in emails released by the ACLU that he had responded to news of the use of the batons: “This is really unfortunate… However, our policies are absolutely clear. Obviously, this group wanted exactly such a confrontation.”
“It is critical that we do not back down on our no encampment policy,” the chancellor wrote later. “Otherwise, we will end up in Quan land.”
Mr. Young would admonish the chancellor writing, “Removing any available force options that officers are equipped for and trained to use, prior to deployment, limited the police response options and was inappropriate.”
He continued: “By receiving an outright ban on the use of OC spray, officers were limited to few force options. They could have stood there and done nothing, retreated or used their batons, the action taken. Having such a limited number of options is inappropriate for crowd management and takes away several very effective options that most of the officers are trained to use.”
Most notably he suggested that the use of pepper spray would be “the most appropriate for this situation.”
“This would have been especially effective at the most contentious point of conflict during the afternoon protest. A few focused applications on the crowd that blocked the officers near the row of bushes would likely have cleared that area very quickly, with few additional baton strikes,” he wrote.
Given what happened at the UC Davis campus, that suggestion probably will not go over well. But the two situations were very different, with the UC Davis protesters largely passively seated when the pepper spray was applied.
A spokesperson for the university, Janet Gilmore responded that while the report raises “important issues…regarding pepper spray, there are different points of view regarding (its) use,”
UC Berkeley Police Chief Mitch Celaya cited advantages and disadvantages to the use of pepper spray. “The biggest problem is cross contamination because it spreads quickly through the air and doesn’t allow officers to target only the person not cooperating with police.”
“The advantage of pepper spray is you don’t typically get injuries. It makes people run away or stop what they are doing,” said Chief Celaya.
On the other hand he said that a baton is better for crowd control. “With the baton, I can target individuals. I have some control of where I am directing my baton strike. There are no cross contamination issues.”
Despite being critical of the denial of the use of OC spray, in general he found police actions “in compliance with policies and procedures.”
“The videos that I reviewed did not confirm any allegations of excessive uses of force on the part of UCPD personnel. The crowd control techniques used, specifically the use of baton strikes and jabs, were within current UCPD policies,” he writes.
He notes, “The protestors can be seen with interlocked arms, tensing their muscles (granted, a natural reaction to a baton strike), grabbing at officers’ batons and moving to block officers from going around the crowd. By definitions previously discussed, these actions are active resistance.”
He adds, “The videos viewed do not show any intentional baton blows to prohibited parts of the protestors’ body.”
The full report can be read here.
—David M. Greenwald reporting