Tell the University of California: Ban the use of chemical agents and physical violence against peaceful protesters.
Last week at the University of California at Davis, campus police dressed in riot gear sprayed nonviolent protesters with chemical agents. A dramatic video captures the scene. The protesters kneeling. Arms linked. They posed no threat to the officers. The officers standing above them. Dousing them with pepper spray.1
Social movements in this country have a long tradition of using civil disobedience to challenge injustice. Protesters with a deep commitment to social change peacefully disobey an order to disperse and the police must make mass arrests in order to end the protest.
What the authorities at the University of California have done is employ the use of chemical agents to stop protesters from exercising their First Amendment rights. They clearly fear that the size, commitment and growing power of the Occupy protests is so great that they will fill up their jails — not on one day, but every day — if they want to put a stop to the movement.
Tell Mark G. Yudof, president of the University of California, and Sherry Lansing, chairperson of the University of California Board of Regents, to protect protesters' First Amendment rights to peaceably assemble, and ban the use of chemical agents and/or physical violence against nonviolent protesters on all University of California campuses.
Outrageously, the chancellor of the University of California at Davis, Linda P.B. Katehi, initially defended the actions of the officers but today finally placed the chief of the campus police on administrative leave pending a review. The UC Davis faculty association is calling for Katehi's resignation. 2
This is not just happening at the campus in Davis. In Berkeley, Robert Hass, a 70-year-old former poet laureate of the United States and Pulitzer Prize winner, described how he and his wife were beaten by police while peacefully assembling in solidarity with campus Occupy protesters.
In an op-ed piece in the New York Times, Hass notes that the violent actions against peaceful protesters on the Berkeley campus are thrown into particularly high relief as the protests there are taking place where the Free Speech Movement was launched almost 50 years ago, quoting Mario Savio's famous call to action: "There is a time ... when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at