Pepper spray and free speech


On Friday, police in riot gear hit student protestors in the face with pepper spray. Told explicitly by UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi that violence should be avoided at all costs,  officer John Pike is seen nonchalantly spraying students as they sat on the ground blocking the sidewalk.

Chancellor Katehi told a student assembly yesterday that “Because encampments have long been prohibited by UC policy, I directed police only to take down the tents,” she said. “My instructions were for no arrests and no police force.”  Officer Pike has been placed on administrative leave.

Caught on video by a number of bystanders, the casual use of pepper spray for students who posed no physical threat to police is frankly an embarrassment and an affront to our nation’s belief in free speech.  I don’t agree with the Occupy protestors – but I support their right to express their point of view. I’m offended by Westboro church members protesting military funerals – but they have the right to do so (at a distance).  The list goes on and on.  Escalating into violence, however, is not acceptable from any side.

I appreciate the freedom for me not only as a blogger, but a public official, to be able to express MY views and not worry about being executed for disagreeing with the “powers that be.”   Freedom of speech is a fundamental right for all human beings. It is not bestowed by government, but we must be ever-vigilant in safeguarding it – all of us.

See for yourselves the pepper spray incident – and tell me what you think. Even if you disagree. 🙂


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20 Responses to “Pepper spray and free speech”

  1. Roger Scanland Says:

    If Chancellor Katehi’s comment at the student assembly — “I directed police only to take down the tents” — was the only guidance the police were given, then clearly Officer Pike went beyond the instructions. If that was only part of what they were told, then you wonder what the additional instructions were, and how much leeway the officers have in interpreting the instructions. That’s the only “back door” I can see. The video speaks for itself.

  2. Rob Says:

    Nice post, Holly.

  3. Frank Staheli Says:

    I have several friends who think the police were completely justified in what they did. Why? Because my friends disagree with what the protesters were protesting about. Nothing more. How sad.

    The policeman who pepper sprayed should be fired and brought up on criminal charges.

  4. Landis Says:

    I always think about the phrase, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

    What happened at UC Davis and other locations around the country is shameful. Remember when the armed Teabaggers were pepper sprayed, then arrested during their demonstrations? Yeah, me neither.

  5. Tommy Knowlton Says:

    The protesters moved in such a way as to encircle the police, after some students were arrested, which was after repeated warnings by the police that they were assembling unlawfully in violation of specified sections of the penal code. Then, after moving to deliberately encircle the police, they began shouting “if you let them go, we’ll let you leave”.

    I wasn’t there, and I have no doubt there is far more to the story than was recorded in the videos I’ve seen, but I have seen enough to believe that the police were deliberately put into a situation where they needed to forcibly open an egress for their own safety as well as the safety of the protesters. Need we try to imagine what the emboldened protesters might have tried next, and what level of force may have been necessary at that point, for the police to protect themselves? I believe that pepper spray was the least force necessary, and that the police acted completely within their duty, with the caveat that they were forced to retreat without accomplishing their assignment to remove the tents.

  6. Ronald D. Hunt Says:

    Police action in several places with regards to the occupy protests has been excessive. Pepper spray, rubber bullets which critically injured a Vet, Massive entrapment on the New York bridges.

    The mass availability of devices with video recording capability has truly changed the face of peaceful protest. Many of the methods for breaking up protests from the past simply won’t work any more, And in fact will backfire and create greater public sympathy for the protesters and serve to increase their numbers.

  7. Robert Merrill Says:

    Peaceful protests are a key function of our national discourse. Continued abuses like this, and others related to the occupy movement will sadly disenfranchise Americans even more away from due process and toward violence. Shame, shame on us if we can’t even listen to ourselves.

  8. Robert Merrill Says:

    Holly, PS, I hope you opposed SOPA though you’re not in THAT house (yet), but please, tell your followers why it’s so evil

  9. Tommy Knowlton Says:

    @Robert, I agree peaceful protests are key to representative government. Like, you know, the protests and rallies that the Tea Parties managed last year. No filthy shanty towns or tent villages illegally erected in public spaces, endangering the health and safety of protestors and the rest of us. No “peaceful” deliberate provocations of law enforcement. Just voices demanding to be heard, in compliance with the laws.

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  11. jbt Says:

    Those who support the right of free speech of the protesters and the other rights granted to U.S. citizens by the first 10 Amendments to the Constitution, also know as the Bill of Rights might be interested in joining and supporting the organization founded to protect those rights.

  12. Richard Warnick Says:

    Chancellor Katehi’s apology will be accepted along with her resignation.

    I am very proud of our fellow citizens who have upheld our right to peaceful free speech in the face of verbal and physical attacks. In fact, the ferocity of the response from the establishment shows how afraid they are of democracy.

  13. Tommy Knowlton Says:

    Lawlessness is not democracy. We all should be afraid of lawlessness.

  14. Ronald D. Hunt Says:


    Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

  15. Tommy Knowlton Says:

    Robert, that’s non-sequitur. It does not follow that disapproval of lawlessness gives unrestricted license to law enforcement. I think that if you’re going to claim excessive use of force by police, UC Davis last week is an exceptionally weak case to try to make.

    Watch the sundry youtube videos out there for the 15 min leading up to the so-called excessive use of force. Those kids were deliberately goaded into a physical confrontation by those who encouraged them to move to encircle the police, and then to chant “if you let them go, we’ll let you leave”.

    The adverse effects of pepper spray disappear more quickly than a bruise. It was the least use of force necessary for those police to open an egress; then they made a few additional arrests, and retreated.

  16. jbt Says:

    In the context of the topic of this discussion the “lawlessness” Tommy encourages everyone to be afraid of was passive and peaceful resistance to authority.

    That non-violent means of protest was met with unnecessary and excessive force on the part of the campus police in this incident who were at no time physically threatened by the demonstrators.

    The fact that the officer easily stepped over the sitting protesters in order to spray their faces dispels the argument that they were in fact denying egress to anyone who wanted to pass.

    The First Amendment to the Constitution guarantees all citizens the right of free speech and assembly. The loss of these rights at the hands of an overly aggressive hamfisted police force is the practice that is the appropriate object of our fears.

  17. Richard Warnick Says:

    Of course, pretending that it’s all about law and order is a way of avoiding the real issue: 99 percent of Americans are not represented in Washington.

    Just this morning, Rep. Jason Chaffetz was on TV talking about the “crisis” facing Social Security… 35 years from now! He is representing Wall Street billionaires who want to get their hands on tevery last bit of our retirement money.

    Meanwhile, where are the jobs-jobs-jobs promised by Republicans in the last election?

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