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The Sacramento Bee


Should UC Overhaul How Campus Police Handle Student Protests?

April 19, 2012

By Ben Boychuk

THE ISSUE: A special task force led by former California State Supreme Court Justice Cruz Reynoso last week condemned UC Davis campus leaders and police for their response to student protesters. The task force blamed the university administration for poor leadership and communication, and a "dysfunctional" police force for disobeying orders and needlessly escalating force.

Should UC overhaul how campus police handle student protests?

Ben Boychuk: No

Want to guarantee future disorder on University of California campuses?

Then by all means, follow the recommendations of the Reynoso Task Force on last November’s pepper-spray debacle.

Video of a campus police lieutenant nonchalantly spraying a group of students protesting rising tuition costs became an Internet sensation in November and sparked the sort of outrage that only a special commission could possibly address.

Predictably, the Reynoso report lays heaps of blame on a feckless administration – especially Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi – and incompetent cops. They can give you a gun, a badge, and a can of pepper spray – or a Ph.D. for that matter – but they can’t give you good judgment.

The students who refused to leave the quad, however, come out looking just fine.

From the report we learn that campus police were unsure of the legal authority behind the order to clear the quad. The rules ban overnight camping, but the police were sent to dismantle the Occupy campsite in the midafternoon.

The report dismisses the campus administration’s rationale for dispersing the camp and urges appeasement. "Delaying the deployment of police to remove the tents for even a few days would have provided campus administrators more time to carefully evaluate the nature and scope of the problem," the task force argues, adding that campus leaders should have taken "more time for discussion, negotiation, and mediation with the protesters to attempt to defuse the situation."

What was there to negotiate? It was obvious what was happening at UC Davis.

Occupy Wall Street encampments had already sprung up across the country.

Some remained in place for weeks or months, costing millions of dollars in police overtime and damage to public and private property.

Katehi should have simply said it wouldn’t be in the best interest of students or the university to let the campus quad turn into Zuccotti Park West. Some students would have hated her, but it would have been the right call.

Instead, she issued conflicting and unclear orders, and here we are.

The task force offers a series of recommendations, such as extolling the Davis Leadership Team to "devote itself to healing processes for the university community, including steps to operationalize the Principles of Community, and that the administration consider Restorative Justice among other tools to address behavior that negatively impacts the campus climate."

"Operationalize," eh? Sounds expensive – and frivolous. The university doesn’t need more oversight committees and "dialogue." University officials could better "impact the campus climate" by concentrating limited resources on its core academic mission.

Not to worry. A little "Restorative Justice" is nothing a future tuition increase couldn’t pay for.

Pia Lopez: Yes

Ben, you oddly miss the main recommendations of the Reynoso Task Force, instead choosing to single out "campus healing" for derision and deliberative decisionmaking as "appeasement."

University campuses have a long history as places for people to exercise First Amendment rights to speak, assemble and petition for redress of grievances. University of California campuses are well-known sites for political expression and protest.

This country also has a long history of civil disobedience – where protesters deliberately violate laws, aiming to get arrested and draw authorities into an overreaction.

None of this is new. So why have UC campuses been so flummoxed – and so Keystone Cops-like in their responses?

While they seem to call on each other for help with particular incidents – 18 campus police officers from UC Santa Cruz, UC Berkeley and UC San Francisco were at the UC Davis incident – they do not seem to have developed a systemwide response for the current protest climate.

UC Davis is a case study that should help the UC system craft better policies. The Reynoso report points to some basics.

Recommendation No. 1 is to define "nonviolent" vs. "active resistance" and "violent" protests – and clarify use of force for each. In the UC Davis incident, administrators made extreme assumptions of an Oakland-style event, where thugs threw bottles at police and defaced property. But, inexplicably, they had no plans or procedures for that kind of event – much less for removing a 35-tent encampment.

That has to change – and not just at UC Davis.

Clarity prevents a lot of trouble. UC Davis officials never adequately distinguished between legal First Amendment activity – such as daytime speech and assembly – and illegal activity such as overnight camping, that would draw an arrest for civil disobedience. So the Reynoso report recommends that campus officials clearly communicate the legal basis for the university’s response to a protest or civil disobedience – and consequences for violations. That’s common sense.

The incident clearly revealed an isolated administrative leadership, cut off from relevant facts and feedback. So the Reynoso report recommends that campus leaders actually engage with faculty, staff and students, early and often. That, too, is common sense.

It is not too much for Californians to expect their UC campuses to respond with deliberation and professionalism in handling protests – and not to fall into the trap of overreaction or allowing disruptive forces to get the upper hand.

Many cities and universities have cleared tent occupations without incident or use of force – while allowing for robust public expression in public spaces. Surely, UC can learn something from them.

The choice is not between acting as if every protest is a riot and doing nothing.

Original Source:



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