For days now, the story surrounding last Friday’s protest at UC Davis has saturated national media headlines. Video of the pepper spraying of peaceful protestors has left many questioning how campus police could use such force, and has led to UC Davis Police Chief Annette Spicuzza and two officers being placed on administrative leave.

Meanwhile, University of California administrators, including UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi and UC President Mark Yudof, have issued statements saying they are “deeply saddened” and “appalled,” respectively. Katehi has called for a task force to review the circumstances around the incident, and Yudof convened the chancellors of all 10 campuses on Monday, asserting that they must do everything possible to protect the rights of students, faculty and staff to peaceful protest.

But the question on everyone’s mind, and one that has gone unanswered by UC administrators, is who is ultimately to blame? While administrators may like blame placed on the now on-leave officers, the truth is evidence shows such use of force on students ‘peacefully’ protesting has been condoned by the University of California in the past.

In November, 2009, the UC Board of Regents held a three day meeting at the UCLA campus. Among the agenda items was an historic 32% hike to student fees, which was approved by the board. In response to the board’s vote, angry protestors swarmed the UCLA campus, as well as the campuses of other UC institutions, including Davis. As word of the vote spread through the crowd outside UCLA’s Covel Commons, the crowd became more active, throwing objects at police and rocking against police barricades. In response, UCLA police, supported by police officers from other UC campuses, deployed battons, pepper spray and tasers, among other methods, to control the crowd and restore order.

In the days after the event, reports surfaced of individuals claiming to have been the victims of excessive force. Among the accusations was that police pepper sprayed seated peaceful protestors, much like the situation at UC Davis. While some of these accusations were fueled by first-hand accounts, evidence surfaced of other incidents, including photos and a video of a student tasered in the chest while lying on the ground in protest, as well as a student being pepper sprayed by police while standing outside a building.

In the aftermath of the 2009 protests, and the complaints that came in, UCLA Chancellor Gene Block launched an independent panel to examine circumstances surrounding clashes between police and students, much like the review Yudof is calling for now in response to the UC Davis incident.

In December, 2010, 13 months after the UC Regents protests, Block released the findings of the report. The principle finding of the report found

“no persuasive evidence of excessive uses of force or other overreactions by the police.”

Beyond this main point, one very interesting issue was addressed when the report looked at UCLA PD’s use-of-force regulations. This issue was that among the factors to be considered in determining the reasonableness of force is “whether the suspect is actively resisting arrest or attempting to evade arrest by flight.”

This is the very issue that is at the heart of last Friday’s incident at UC Davis. Were the students sitting linked arm-in-arm peacefully protesting, or actively resisting police? Were campus police within their rights to deploy force to disperse them?

At UCLA at least, here’s what the report finds:

“It appears from interviews and correspondence that many students and faculty members were under the impression that…locking arms with others to block a pathway would be regarded by police as passive and peaceful resistance not justifying the use of force. In fact, demonstrators who stand, sit, or lie down with arms locked to one another are engaged in ‘active resistance’ as UCLA and other police departments understand that phrase…”

Beyond the declaration that protestors sitting arm-in-arm are actively resisting, the report calls for further review of use-of-force tactics across its 60+ pages. With Yudof himself regularly reminding the public that UC is one university with 10 campuses, one has to ask, did President Yudof really never see this report? Or, if he did, did he think use-of-force concerns wouldn’t be an issue on other campuses? Why are are officers and administrators at other UC campuses, especially those like Davis that were sites of similar protests in 2009, still uninformed on their own policies for handling such protestors?

It’s easy to blame the officer involved, but if he was acting within protocol – which it appears he would have been had this incident occurred at UCLA – we have to ask, can UC administrators really plead ignorance?

In the face of media scrutiny this week, President Yudof issued a statement saying “We cannot let this happen again.” To that I say, Mr. Yudof, you already have.


Article Author

Seth Odell

Founder and Advisor


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  • Kathy Lisiewicz

    However, it’s also worth remembering that not all of the protesting at UCLA was peaceful, and some of the violence and vandalism was directed at campus departments that support students, rather than at the administration and/or police. That doesn’t justify the use of force against people who are protesting peacefully–but there were UCLA protesters who took their dissatisfaction out against groups that were, essentially, bystanders.

    I think there are parallels to UC Davis, but they need to be drawn carefully in order to focus on the problem without distractions.

    • Anonymous

      Certainly agree Kathy. I thought I had made clear reference to the action of protestors by citing their throwing items at police, rocking barricades, and linking above to such videos as If your read of it is that I wasn’t clear on that point, I’ll definitely reiterate it by saying that some protestors definitely turned to violence. 

      The issue I’m trying to highlight is that in 2010 a report was issued that did two key things:
      1) Cited that protestors sitting arm-in-arm are actively resisting. 
      2) Called, repeatedly across 60 pages, for further review of campus police policies related to use-of-force. 

      While President Yudof is calling for the formation of a committee to review the Davis situation now, he is ignoring the fact that had the UCLA report from this previous committee been acted upon appropriately UC Davis never would have happened in the first place. 

  • Anonymous

    UC police take direction from campus chancellors: Fire UC Berkeley Chancellor Birgeneau.

    Discrimination against Californians by University
    of California Berkeley Chancellor. Chancellor Robert J
    Birgeneau ($450,000 salary) displaces Californians qualified for public
    university education at Cal.
    for a $50,600 payment by a foreign student.


    The need for transparency at UC Berkeley has never been so
    clear. UC Berkeley, # 70 Forbes ranking, is not increasing enrollment.  Birgeneau accepts $50,600 foreign students at
    the EXPENSE of displaced qualified instate Californians (If amortization of
    fixed assets funded by Californians are included in foreign and out of state
    tuition calculations they would pay more than $100,000+  and would NOT 
    subsidize instate tuition)


    UC Regent Chairwoman Lansing and President Yudof both agree
    to discriminate against Californians for the admission of foreigners.
    Birgeneau, Yudof, Lansing
    need to answer to Californians.


    Opinions make a difference; email UC Board of Regents

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