Mic check stops a police riot at UC Davis

By now you’ve probably seen the video of UC Davis police pepper spraying peaceful protesters who were simply sitting on the gorund. But have you seen what happened next? Police were forming up with weapons raised surrounded on three sides by protesters, when someone yelled “Mic check!” Follow this link. Or, if you want to see it starting with the pepper spraying:

The one with the two pepper spray cans appears to be the same police lieutenant who pepper sprayed the protesters. As the protesters say through the human microphone that they are willing to let the police just walk away, even after the police had assaulted them with pepper spray, that same lieutenant motions to the police, who lower their weapons and back away.

Here’s the police version of the incident:

“Students were given warnings to leave their tents [pitched on campus] by 3 p.m.”, it said. “The protest initially involved about 50 students”, Annette Spicuzza, UC Davis’ police chief said. “Some were wearing protective gear and some held batons”.
Well, if by protective gear she meant scarves to keep out pepper spray….

And this:

“Officers were forced to use pepper spray when students surrounded them”, adding, “There was no way out of the circle”.
Really? The police lieutenant who sprayed the students walked around them from behind to get where he could spray them more easily. Even after that, as you can see, the students mic checked the police to tell them they could go.

That evening even more students went further. They saw silently along the walking route while the UC Davis Chancellor walked to her car. They sat in the same position as the students who were pepper-sprayed. Someone asked the Chancellor:

Chancellor, do you still feel threatened by the students?
That was the police excuse for the police attack on peaceful students, which she ordered. This time she answered “No.”

Here’s the video:

Zack Whittaker wrote for ZDNet 20 November 2011, UC Davis: Official ‘spin’ crumbles in the face of “too many videos”,

UC Davis’ pepper-spray videos have gone viral around the web, proving citizen journalism can allow us to form our own views of raw footage collected in the thick of it.

In the run-up to last weekend, students at the University of California, Davis told the world through a deafening silence how to hold a peaceful, arguably beautiful protest. In so many cases, its underlying message can be drowned out by the rage of violence, disruption and civil disorder.

Students have long been portrayed in a particular way, as lay-about good-for-nothings, with little interest in anything beyond their own politics, causing disruption for anti-fur movements and sleeping in until late afternoon. Not to mention, these ‘leeches’ continue to put strain on the financial system they seem to complain about.

But the university students at UC Davis, disaffected by decisions made by the state, the university and those who they thought they could trust, taught the world one important, crucial lesson in post-modern principles of today’s reporting.

The truth will out.

You are the media.

With results. There’s the near-term petty kind of results in this statement Sunday from the Chancellor:

As indicated in various videos, the police used pepper spray against the students who were blocking the way. The use of pepper spray as shown on the video is chilling to us all and raises many questions about how best to handle situations like this.

To this effect, I am forming a task force comprised of faculty, students and staff to review the events and provide to me a thorough report within 30 days. The task force will be chosen this week and convene immediately to begin their work. As part of this, a process will be designed that allows members of the community to express their views on this matter. In addition, I will hold a series of meetings and forums with students, faculty and staff to listen to their concerns and hear their ideas for restoring civil discourse to the campus. In the interim, two UC Davis police officers involved in the incident have been placed on administrative leave following their use of pepper spray.

She explicitly acknowledges the videos, and she says a couple of police have been put on leave, while she seeks a bureaucratic solution. And she’s even put the police chief on leave. That wouldn’t have happened without those videos. And that item was reported this morning by CNN, at the heart of the corporate media which have mostly spun previous incidents as “protest turns violent” when actually it was “police violently attack peaceful protesters”. That change in the media wouldn’t have happened without those videos.

Then there is the larger issue raised in the Washington Post by Phlip Kennicott yesterday, UC Davis pepper-spraying raises questions about role of police

A half-century ago, many parents told their children to ask a cop for help in case of trouble. With police forces now defining their role as more military than civilian, viewing citizens with suspicion and often treating them with hostility, that has changed. Saying the wrong thing to a cop, asking for a warrant before a search, throwing a snowball at an unmarked cop car, legally taking a picture of an official building, questioning a Capitol police officer about why a public area has been closed can lead to threats of arrest, or worse. But on university campuses, the police are often seen as they generally once were: your friend.
And if even campus police have been militarized tot he point of casually attacking peaceful students sitting on the ground, it’s time for a change.
Even if it is determined that the police followed proper procedures, the video might have lasting power for outrage, tapping into growing concerns not that police are abusing standard policies, but that our policies might need to be revised. Indeed, the disjunction between how the UC-Davis police read this video (they see an officer doing his job) and how many others read this video (they see a man in a uniform causing great and unnecessary pain to unresisting students) indicates that we have reached a kind of intellectual impasse about what kind of police we want and what limits should be placed on their power.
And not just for the police to change:
Video can be as easily manipulated as photography, but multiple videos from multiple perspectives, arriving within hours or minutes after an event, require a different kind of skepticism. The repeated claims by officials that our eyes are lying begin to seem more and more incredible.
So if the protesters aren’t lying, who is? Could it be the officials, and the 1% who employ them?

As E.D. Kain wrote for Forbes yesterday:

My hope is that the revelations of police excesses lead to an addition to the conversation about economic inequality. We need to talk about the state of our criminal justice system in this country just as badly. The War on Drugs, the massive prison population, SWAT teams — these are problems that are at once tied to poverty and which exacerbate it, helping further divide us by class and race and region in a country already too bitterly divided along too many lines.
That’s the power of Occupy Wall Street: not petty recrimination against individuals; not even against individual institutions. Not recrimination at all. Active participation towards a better world. A better world is possible.