Six of the 12 students facing charges for bank blocking in the Memorial Union were either pepper sprayed or arrested on November 18, according to one protester involved in both incidents. By itself, this could simply mean that the same people involved in the bank-blocking incident were heavily involved in the November 18 protests.
The students, however, believe otherwise, that the bank-blocking prosecution is simply an extension of the pepper-spray incident and is the university’s retribution for their involvement on the Quad.
In a press release sent out on Wednesday, they write: “Just months after UC Davis police pepper sprayed seated students in the face during a protest against university privatization and police brutality, Chancellor Linda Katehi’s administration is trying to send some of the same students to prison for their alleged role in protests that led to the closure of a US Bank branch on campus.”
The press release argues, “Whereas the District Attorney declined to file charges against protesters then, this less publicized prosecution seems to be an attempt to punish the dissenting students, perhaps in retaliation for their pending ACLU lawsuit against the university.”
“We might not think of this as violence, because there aren’t broken bones or pepper spray or guns – it’s not as explicit – but sending someone to jail, holding them for a day, let alone 11 years, is violence,” said Andrew Higgins, a graduate student in history and representative of the UC graduate student union.
The Vanguard inquired with UC Davis spokesperson Barry Shiller as to how many of the students who were in the initial six names, that were forwarded to the DA’s office, were involved on November 18. Mr. Shiller did not immediately know the answer.
On April 27, 2012, 12 protesters – including one professor – will face criminal charges, as filed on March 29 by the Yolo County District Attorney’s office.
District Attorney Jeff Reisig is charging campus protesters with 20 counts each of obstructing movement in a public place, and one count of conspiracy. If convicted, the protesters could face up to 11 years each in prison, and $1 million in damages.
According to the press release, “The charges were brought at the request of the UC Davis administration, which had recently received a termination letter from US Bank holding the university responsible for all costs, claiming they were ‘constructively evicted’ because the university had not responded by arresting the ‘illegal gathering.’ “
The release adds, “Protesters point out that the charges against them serve to position the university favorably in a potential litigation with US Bank.”
However, a university spokesperson told the Vanguard on Thursday that this is simply a way for the university to deal with protests without the type of confrontations we have seen in the news on the UC Davis campus such as the November 18 incident, or as have occurred on other UC campuses.
The press release continues: “Three of the protesters had received summons from UCD Student Judicial Affairs in mid-February, and it was only after US Bank announced that it had permanently closed its doors that the UCD administration requested that the DA bring criminal charges against the 12.”
“Supporters argue that the university is targeting the dozen in order to limit its liability to US Bank and that the university is effectively using public funds (through the DA’s office) to protect a private corporation’s right to profit from increasingly indebted students at an increasingly expensive public university.”
This theme played out on Wednesday as students spoke out in the hearing of the task force’s report.
Some students reacted positively to the report.
Fatima Sbeih, one of those pepper sprayed and involved in the lawsuit, told reporters that she was shocked and pleased to see the report so critical of the police action that day.
“My heart stopped. I was like, oh my God, they actually admitted it,” she said.
On the other hand, Elizabeth Lara, arrested but not pepper sprayed on November 18, expressed disappointment in the lack of force behind the recommendations, in particular that the police force will not face complete overhaul.
“The report is pretty thorough. But the recommendations fall short,” she told reporters.
Geoffrey Wildanger was one of the people pepper sprayed and is currently being prosecuted for the bank blocking protests. He noted that they were, ironically enough, pepper sprayed with military-grade pepper spray, but pepper spray has been banned under the Geneva Convention as a chemical weapon.
He noted that, following the incident, there was a large mobilization for people who wanted Katehi to resign “because Katehi as chancellor of the university bears ultimate responsibility for what happens on campus.” He added, “The delay and delay and delay of the report has effectively dispersed a lot of this energy and a lot of this anger and caused a situation in which” they have been repeatedly told to be patient as there are ongoing investigations.
He asked, “Why when the reports are being delayed are we still being harassed by the same administration… and the same police force and now being prosecuted and arrested by them?”
He expressed his frustration because, as he said, this wasn’t the first time these types of incidents have occurred and he argued, in each protest, he has been beaten up by the police and has the bruises to show for it.
Dan Dooley, Senior Vice President in the UC Office of the President responded, “The report acknowledges both in the findings the mistakes that were made…” He continued, “With respect to the police department,” he said they asked the same question as earlier, why was this weapon available that was supposedly not authorized and the officers untrained on, “how can this happen? The bottom line is, we think, there needs to be a complete review from top to bottom of the police department, of the training that’s required, the procedures and protocols…”
He said that their objective is “a university public safety operation that is a model for university campuses around the country and not one that is designed around the… [traditional] model .”
Another commenter who was pepper sprayed and is also facing charges at the bank protest asked, “If the police are not trained, why are they still walking around with their weapons on this campus?”
She added, “Why are these police officers still around – that’s unacceptable.” She asked if they took recommendations, then said, “Then why did you ignore over 100,000 people who called for the resignation of Chancellor Katehi?”
“This report has done its work, right, it was to buy Katehi time and let this uproar die away, now there are no mechanisms to hold her accountable despite the contents of the report. These same administration and these same police are now prosecuting some of the pepper spray victims and trying to imprison them for up to 11 years,” she continued.
“This report should have changed something, it hasn’t changed anything, how can this be?” she asked.
Cruz Reynoso noted that President Yudof asked the task force not to make recommendations about punishment.
The commenter responded, “Because no one gets punished then.”
Cruz Reynoso indicated that they would be meeting with the chancellor to go over the mistakes that were made and the lack of judgment.
But the commenter was clearly frustrated by the delays in this process, which Cruz Reynoso acknowledged were outside of their control, and he again laid the delays at the hands of the lawsuit and the police bill of rights.
“We called these things are we saw them and we’re not apologetic about it,” Mr. Reynoso said.
She responded, “And on April 27, I’ll meet with the District Attorney’s Office, so the same violence against me of this university, and nobody is being held accountable for that.”
One of the students on the task force said bluntly that, while most of what the student said was true, the employee contracts did not permit them to make those kinds of findings.
However, the student on the task force said, “Katehi’s not going anywhere. She is our chancellor and she will remain our chancellor unless she does something horrendously illegal. As it stands right now, that’s not what happened.”
So, the student on the task force added, “The answers that you’re looking for are not going to be found on this task force report because we’re not allowed to do those things.”
“Our job was to point fingers and say what happened; we can’t really do more than that,” that student added.
Another female student came forward and spoke on behalf of someone not allowed to speak up, “The majority of the people who were pepper sprayed that day are now, as you all well know, unable to comment on this report because they’re being pursued, prosecuted by the university for the very same thing, but by the Yolo County Court.”
“They no longer have a voice,” she said. “The majority of the people cannot even comment on the Reynoso report because on April 27 they’re being called to the Yolo County Superior Court to appear for protesting the privatization of the University.”
One thing that is clear is that the report and recommendations are not going to go far enough for many of those intimately involved in this event.
And while Cruz Reynoso made it a point to say their job was not to recommend discipline and outcomes, a day later speaking to the Sacramento Bee, he expressed his personal opinion that Chancellor Katehi should not have to resign.
“She should not resign. The balance is that she has done a lot of good despite this drastic poor judgment,” Justice Reynoso told the paper.
While the justice may be right, the likely result is that students will be further separated from this process and the result is, rather than achieving reconciliation and moving forward with a consensus, that this may actually polarize the process and frustrate those most intimately involved.
—David M. Greenwald reporting