UC Davis Pepper Spraying Officer: A Clear Case Of Brutality

If you want to know which of your friends or neighbors believe in a free and humane society and which ones believe in a police state, show them the now gone viral video of a riot-gear-clad University of California-Davis police officer dousing a peaceful group of Occupy protesters with pepper spray as they sat, arms linked, in the campus quad. Most of us react in horror at what we saw, and at the absurdly dishonest explanations from the campus police chief. But some people think the protesters got what they deserved and even called for heavier-handed tactics.

Police officials – and these days, campus security guards have gained the power of full-fledged police officers, complete with those massive pensions and all the usual protections from accountability – claimed that the officer felt that his life was in danger when he methodically walked down the line of protesters and assaulted them with the spray. “If you look at the video you are going to see that there were 200 people in that quad,” said Chief Annette Spicuzza, who was placed on leave (i.e., additional paid vacation) Monday after backlash against the brutality. “Hindsight is 20-20 and based on the situation we were sitting in, ultimately that was the decision that was made.”

That’s what police always say no matter the situation. But in this age of video, we can see for ourselves that the officers were in no danger. Multiple officers effortlessly moved in and around the protesters. The burly officer who sprayed the kids strutted slowly in front of them in a way that belies any sort of danger, real or perceived. He, too, was put on administrative leave after the video went viral, along with another officer. Without the video, you know what would have happened – nothing. The lies would have become the official record. This is why police officers have become zealous in their confiscation of video cameras and arrest of people who record them doing their jobs.

Such brutality is par for the course for today’s militarized police and campus security departments. What’s really disgusting is the natural instinct of so many conservatives to stick up for the police. They don’t like the Occupy protesters, so they willingly back brutality against them, without considering the possibility that conservatives at some point might be on the receiving end of this aggression. Then again, this common, vulgar form of modern conservatism almost always sides with the state, even as it champions the empty words of limited government.

A blog called Extreme Conservatives wrote the following, “Sorry libs… You can quit your squawking and take your leftie-indoctrinated butts back to class. The UC Davis pepper spray incident was standard police procedure. On Friday a group of UC Davis students blocked the campus walkway with arms linked and started chanting, ‘From Davis to Greece, F*ck the police!’ Moments later the little darlings were doused with pepper spray. This was only after several attempts by campus police to get them to move. Of course, the liberal media only played the part where the students were sprayed down.  But after two days of leftist outrage we find out that this was standard police procedure.”

The idea that this is “standard police procedure” is exactly what makes the video so horrifying. It doesn’t make it acceptable behavior. That’s why so many viewers were offended by it. The cop struts in front of the students and sprays them with massive amounts of pepper spray. He’s not in any danger. This is just standard procedure, ma’am. We treat everyone that way!

According to Rick Hahn from Accuracy in Media, the problem here was, of course, the liberal media, which failed to provide proper context. Hahn, who is identified as having worked for the FBI for 32 years, made the usual law-enforcement case that the cops were really in danger: “Many of the protesters were seated with arms interlocked. This means police would have had to physically engage them. The fact that the protesters were seated leaves police trying to disengage them from one another at a balance disadvantage. The cops have to bend over or crouch down to try to physically disengage any one individual, bring him or her to their feet and affect the arrest. The fact that the protesters had interlocked their arms was surely an effort to avoid any one individual being removed for arrest. There’s no way of knowing how strongly the protesters would have fought disengagement, but the fact is, they were inducing, baiting if you will, physical confrontation from the police.”

Scott Spiegel, writing in Conservative Outpost, joined a growing chorus of conservatives who seemed to want the police to behave even more brutally toward these “animals” and who have a rather authoritarian view of the world: “When cops say move, you move – even if you’re curled in a fetal position on the ground with flowers in your hair listening to Cat Stevens and nursing orphaned kittens. The UC Davis police could have acted a lot more brutally, including prodding or beating protesters with batons.  The occupiers should consider themselves warned: Trust fund brat refuses to move, trust fund brat gets spray tanned. Protesters in the UC Davis videos can be heard chanting ‘Shame on you!’ at police after the incident.  Actually, shame on patsy mayors like Michael Bloomberg and Jean Quan for not empowering police to clear out these animals ages ago.”

For insight into the modern conservative rabble, one ought to read FreeRepublic. It’s beyond irony. One commenter expressed disbelief at the sight of police backing away rather than engaging the protesters: “Do you get a chill up your spine like I do when you see the police slowly back away as if they are backing down from an impending violent stand-off?” Others seemed eager to see violence: “A billy-club to the ribs would have been just as effective at removing the bums and we would be hearing all this crying about pepper-spray!” Granted, these are anonymous commenters, but they reflect widespread sentiment.

I disagree with most of what the Occupy protesters are saying, quite obviously, but when I see lines of riot-gear-clad officials standing in front of these unbathed wretches, my heart goes out to the wretches. They need a lesson in economics and politics. The policies they advocate – to the degree that many of them have any well-defined grievances – range from the silly to the disastrous. They are inconsistent, foolish and hypocritical. Many of them are lazy freeloaders. Such is life. They do create filth and chaos in public parks, but if one cannot protest in a public park, there are not many places to have a protest. It’s in everyone’s best interest for the authorities to provide as much latitude as possible for protesters of any political persuasion. We still do pretend to live in a free society, right?

Whatever the bigger picture, this was a clear case of abusive and heavy handed behavior by the campus police. The president of the university was right to call for an investigation and the officer and the chief need to be removed from their positions, not just given meaningless and indefinite paid leave. And now it’s time for Californians to take a closer look at issues of police conduct and secrecy. In recent years, Democrats and Republicans have made those issues off limits thanks to their close association with the police unions.

Maybe the Occupiers can become productive and lead a real movement for civil libertarian reform. I know it won’t happen, but who can live in California without embracing a little wishful thinking?

(Steven Greenhut is the Editor-in-Chief for CalWatchdog, where this article was first posted. Greenhut was deputy editor and columnist for The Orange County Register for 11 years.)


  1. I disagree with this article. Police did NOT go too far. The force they used was miniscule to what they could have used.

    • When police officers make a reasonable request repeatedly, followed by warnings that failure to comply will result in forceful action on their part, anyone with a modicum of common sense would comply. What these mush heads haven’t learned is that if we allow this behavoir to continue, we’re on a slippery slope to anarchy! I applaud the officers actions and believe that the administration and faculty in our state university and college system need to wise up and start practicing adult leadership. I’m ashamed of the wimpy diatribes I have heard from people who are supposed to be setting an example and shaping young minds. It pains me that we are pouring tremendous amounts into a system run by idiots who are out of touch with the real world. And yes I’ve been there and have a degree together with a tour in the Marine Corps. I believe one of the first things these young people should learn is a little discipline and respect for authority. If they have problem with police officers there are remedies through the court system. In the meantime comply with requests by law enforceme officers.

    • I’m not convinced that was in fact real pepper spray. I have used and been hit with it. The protesters did not react as though they had been sprayed. Anyone who uses it and been hit with it knows what its like. And for those who think officers enjoy using the stuff, …not true. It gets in their sinuses and uniforms as well. Having to make the physical arrest afterwards and transport those who have been sprayed is never something any of them look forward to.

      • I agree completely, FC! There was no reaction even close to resembling a toxic spray. the lead in article said something about a “police state.” Get real! There was, nor is, no such thing. Hyperbole does nothing but build on paranoia.

  2. They were asked to leave numerous times in the proper manner, they got exactly what they deserved.

  3. The liberals are trying to call this excessive force. Absolutely no truth in that. First all officers know what it feels like because they have had to experienced it themselves in training. They are lucky they didn’t get shot with my pepper spray. Kimber pepper blaster II, 4 million Scoville and last about 45 minutes to an hour. This stuff is absolutely killer. mine is the reloadable type.It is way worse than going into a teargas filled room which I have experienced.

    IMPEACH OBAMA NOW! ! ! ! ! ! !

  4. Perhaps the immature protesters should learn how to protest. Stop harming others, breaking laws, and comply with lawful orders from law enforcement. They deserved worse.

  5. Has anyone seen the video that shows the students surrounding the police and refusing to allow them to leave? The police warned them that if they did not allow the police to leave they would be pepper sprayed.
    I would say, since the students did not back down, they invited the pepper spraying – they deserve to take some responsibility for their own actions.

  6. That stuff the cops were using is the lowest strength, about equal to what Taco Bell uses on their Mexican food! This article is out and out propaganda and it is fostering a move toward anarchy. This Occupier group has links to the Obama Administration which is hell bent on driving us toward Socialism! Now the occupier group is advocating a shutdown of all west Coast Ports. What do you think that is going to do to the economy. About 90 percent of the stuff we get comes by ship!! Go figure for a change!

  7. James V. Lacy says

    I agree with the comments. While I think a strong case could be made for using tear gas to disburse the crowd instead of pepper spray, which disables the crowd, this was not legally “unreasonable force” when all the circumstances are considered, including the officers being surrounded. However, I think this was a tactical screw-up, and I do think the UC Davis Chancellor should resign or be fired for the tactical bungle; but I do not think the officers should be disciplined.

  8. Greg Dorris says

    There is always two sides to each story, and these people got what they deserve, and we all know that the leaders always back down once something like this is set into motion with the media

  9. I have worked in a jail setting and that spray that the cops used had to be watered down as my experience was a shot of peppar spray from 50yds away and it still wasnt very nice, if that had been full force they wouldnt have been still sitting there. they go what the deserved.

  10. Elizabeth Kelly says

    The students were obstructing a police officer in his appointed duties. To whit: the removal of some protesters that had been arrested.
    Immediately before this happened, the crowd demanded that they free those arrestees and the students sat down across the road to block the police cruiser.
    Then the crowd encircled the campus security which I believe showed they were threatening the officers.
    The campus police acted prudently. and made sure that if violence DID erupt, these people wouldn’t be a part of it. a sound tactical decision.
    Any time you threaten an officer, he and the rest of the force can go up a notch.
    Kid Rock has a learning video “How not to get your ass kicked by the police’. The solution is ‘Obey the Law’ If you choose not to do that, then you have to suffer the consequences.
    Now everyone is boo-hooing. What a bunch of wimps. Tear gas is not much different. I’ve been tear gasses and so has my husband and our four sons. We were all in the military, and there was no crying after wards. The OWS needs to grow up and get on with life, and stop expecting other people to care for them.

  11. Think they should have done more to get the cry babies to move. Go back to your mothers basement.

  12. Jaime Cancio says

    The last knowledge I had of police procedures included that once a police officier gives a lawful command(s) – the perpetrators have 1/2 second to respond. After that they are violators of the law subject then to actions of the police to the level and degree of force necessary to enforce the command.

    Far as I am concerned personally, if these students are not attending class and course work, they are not there to get an education. Kick them out of the university system and let other more deserving and wanting students attend.

    Also, I wished the police there had disbursed the entire crowd, made lawful arrest, detained law breakers until their arraingment, and let them face retribution of the court system for violations. This to include making sure the students arrested had the arrest detail in the NCIC crime files. And those arrest records will follow them into every employer those persons apply to for work. When, by their own actions, they find employers will not hire them because the inclusion on that data base; guess what, they will legtimately have something to complain about. Ohhh, and send them all a bill for the total cost of police actions they caused. They created the problem let them pay for it.

    Stop coddling these idiots, what is in store for America’s future is much more important.

  13. The real force was not shown by any on the videos I have seen. The one where the police are surrounded by students with their arms locked creating a barrier that would have required police to injure many to extricate themselves.

    I have been hit with pepper spray in tests, Those kids appear to have been dusted with cinnamon powder, not pepper spray. And regardless, they should count their lucky stars that pepper spray is used these days, rather the the night sticks and rubber bullets of the past. Never have I seen such a bunch of whiners!

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