Commentary: UC Davis Is Applying the Lesson to the Wrong Incident and Wrong Time

Proud Boys shirt

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

UC Davis – UC Davis perhaps needs to update its playbook.  Their response to the incident on Tuesday shows they have taken in the lessons of the 2011 Pepper Spray and the 2017 Milo event, but they may need to update their playbook when it comes to the modern reality of the Proud Boys.

In 2011, attempts to use the police to clear an otherwise peaceful protest in the quad backfired as images of Lt. John Pike pepper spraying seated protesters went viral across the community and across the nation.

The lesson they learned from that incident was to not engage the protesters unless absolutely necessary.

Meanwhile in 2017, when right wing agitator Milo Yiannopoulos had his event canceled due to the protests, the university came out hard in favor of free speech.

The statement the university put out on Tuesday night reflected that lesson as well, focusing on the event cancellation and the right of the right-wing group, Turning Point USA to exercise their right to free speech on campus.

In light of the violence by the Proud Boys, I believe the university has largely dropped the ball in their response.  While the right to free speech is paramount in our community as well as our nation, the threat posed to democracy by right wing violence is a rising threat that should not be ignored or downplayed.

In an updated statement, in response to questions from the Vanguard and others, the university defended their lack of police response.

“We have heard people ask why the police were not deployed last night,” the university stated.  “The UC Davis police were on site, following the safety plan they had developed before the event in conjunction with Student Affairs.”

The university explained, “They set up the perimeter around the building so event attendees could enter the building safely. They brought in private security to manage building access. This front-line security protected the scene throughout the evening.

“As is the UC Davis Police Department’s practice, they worked with Student Affairs to monitor the protest in real time and make decisions quickly. They were on stand-by when fighting broke out, but the situation de-escalated on its own, eliminating the need for the police to engage. No serious injuries were reported.”

While I think this is often a wise course of action—and some of the protesters noted that they actually did not want police officers on the scene, fearing that they would be arrested rather than the Proud Boys—I wonder if UC Davis recognizes how grave a threat is posed here.

We cannot ignore just how much the world has changed since those early days of 2017 when the left would often clash with university officials, but there was no right wing presence seeking to target and provoke street fighting.

Things have changed.  The new world that we live in is going to face an increasing threat of political violence that will escalate.

While Trump is out of power for the moment at least, the forces that his presidency unleashed are continuing.

In recent weeks we have seen the anti-Semitic message on the UC Davis overpass.  The Kanye West comments.  The banners on the 405.  And now an escalating situation on the UC Davis campus.

Realize that I have been covering protests since 2006 in Davis and it has only been very recently that you see right-wing counter-protesters showing up looking for trouble.

Fortunately, they were outnumbered and the situation calmed down.

“I would just say that the fact that the Proud Boys showed up and pepper sprayed people and assaulted them was an entirely predictable outcome of this event,” Anoosh Jorjorian, who was also at the event, told the Vanguard.  “Whenever you have right wing events like this, it’s going to attract right wing extremists and it puts the entire community at risk.”

Jorjorian added, “This is not my first Proud Boys rodeo.”

Dillan Horton noted that this represented an escalation.

“My thing is I feel like we’ve gone through this, at least in the time that I’ve lived in Davis a bunch of times where there’s been like, Oh, Proud Boys are going to show up at this place,” Horton explained.  “And in my experience, it’s usually overblown. Either no Proud Boys actually show up, or it’s like two dudes in a baseball cap and who don’t do anything by it.”

Horton said, “So this is the first time I’ve experienced them coming in, more than five in numbers, and just immediately willing to turn to violence.”

The concern now is that the presence of groups like the Proud Boys agitating at local events will continue to escalate.

Jorjorian said, “This is our world now.  The Proud Boys obviously came to our school board meetings and they came to the Woodland drag show.  They have been showing up at drag story times at libraries.  They had their annual Straight Pride event in Modesto.”

Jorjorian added, “This is our life now.  “They want the world to be a certain way. They want to make it in the image that they want it. And this is what they’re willing to do to try to make it so,”

I get it, the university looks at this as successful.  They see no serious injuries.  They apparently had police on standby.  But they are missing a crucial factor here—they were lucky.  The Proud Boys were vastly outnumbered.  And they were testing the waters again.

Next time, they are likely to bring larger forces and escalate further testing to see what the response will be.  The university gets a freebie here, but they have to plan for a much more serious confrontation because it will happen.  Where this ends, not sure, but the forces unleashed by Trump are only getting bolder.

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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1 Comment

  1. Jean-Jacques Surbeck

    This is a good presentation of the prevailing narrative: bad Proud Boys show up and engage peaceful demonstrators. But there are inconsistencies you have papered over a little too fast.

    1. There was first a larger contingent of “demonstrators” overtly protesting the speaker, a noted conservative voice. Who were they? Not a word. The few video clips on news channels briefly show the unmistakable attire of Antifa. Antifas are no more choir boys than the Proud boys, but how come no one has mentioned their role? It’s not hard to imagine that what really happened, as they are known to have done in many other places, is that they engaged the Proud Boys and egged them into a direct confrontation.

    2. Reminder: the speaker was a conservative voice, and as far as I know, there are not too many Antifas around that support conservative speakers. On the contrary, they are in the habit of hounding them (see Yannopoulos and Coulter in Berkeley). So why on earth would the Proud Boys, who are not exactly on the liberal side (which forgives anything the Antifas do) sabotage a conservative speaker? That makes no sense.

    The campus police should have been much more forceful in making clear that they would tolerate no violence wherever it came from. Had they done that, maybe we would know for sure who started the confrontation.

    That said, you are partly correct when you says “Next time, they are likely to bring larger forces and escalate further testing to see what the response will be.”, except that you’re looking at the wrong culprit, and next time the Proud Boys will not be tricked into a fight they didn’t start only to end up being the accused party. Maybe the Campus police should contemplate seriously stopping the Antifas before they start making trouble.

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