The Bill of Rights took a beating over the last several days, serving as a reminder that the rights we take for granted are the rights that go missing when we need them the most.
The most recent assault on the 1st and 4th Amendments came at the hands of University of California campus police as they responded to peaceful students sitting with their arms locked and heads bowed on the quad of the Davis campus.
Captured on video (scroll down to see video) that has gone around the world over the weekend, the Lieutenant in charge of the UC Davis Campus Police riot detail stepped forward and held up a can of pepper spray, then proceeded to calmly spray the faces of the passive students, walking down the row of students with the professional demeanor of an exterminator spraying bugs.
The students who witnessed the pepper spray assault began to chant “Shame on you!” while maintaining their distance.
The video is disturbing to watch as the imbalance of power unfolds and riot police use pepper spray to “coerce” passive students who are sitting on the ground. Then an amazing thing happens, the witnesses begin to chant “Shame on you!” to the riot police who find themselves with no plausible opponent. Their power fails them.
As the police shuffle backwards, the witnesses conduct a “mic check” relay and echo the words of a speaker who announces “You can go!” The officer in charge stands with red cans of pepper spray in both hands, backed up by riot police with crowd control shotguns, and as the students give them permission to put down their weapons and leave, the riot police back up and depart.
The outrage was immediate yet the UC Davis Chief of Police, Annette Spicuzza, told the Sacramento Bee that police used the pepper spray after they were surrounded. “There was no way out of that circle,' Ms Spicuzza said. 'They were cutting the officers off from their support. It's a very volatile situation.”
Chief Spicuzza’s recount of the incident was immediately contradicted by the video. She has since been put on administrative leave pending an investigation, along with the two UC Davis police officers who were captured on video pepper spraying the passive students.
UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi reportedly ordered the campus police to remove approximately a dozen tents that had been erected on Thursday in support of the Occupy movement and in protest of the heavy handed police treatment at other Occupy encampments.
Outrage over Katehi’s handling of the Occupy UC Davis camp resulted in calls for her resignation but none as powerful as the silent treatment that she received from hundreds of Davis students who simply sat quietly along the sidewalk as she walked to her car after a press conference.
The police action included riot police from other UC campuses as well as the City of Davis which begs the question, “Where on earth would students express themselves if not on the quad of their University?”
It also begs the question, “Who is training the riot police who operate on college campuses as if the schools are sovereign nations outside the law?”
The United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit, ruled in 2002 that the use of pepper spray on nonviolent passive protesters was plainly in excess of the force necessary under the circumstances, and no reasonable officer could have concluded otherwise.
Apparently Chancellor Katehi had no “reasonable officers” at her disposal.
The United State Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit, ruled in 2011 that the use of pepper spray and baton on a person who did not present a safety threat or flight risk was excessive under the 4th Amendment.
In both cases, the court held that the law enforcement officers were not entitled to “qualified immunity” because their conduct was unconstitutional.
The State of California is the employer of record for the UC Davis Police Department which makes everybody in California responsible for speaking up, not just as spectators or witnesses, but as the owners of the asset that these officers are charged with protecting.
The incident map for UC Davis indicates that the most common crime on campus is “bike theft” with “petty theft” running a close second. It is against this Mayberry background that the University of California as a whole must justify the presence of riot police on its campuses throughout the state.
Five years ago, the University of California paid out $220,000 to a student who was the victim of a Taser attack that was also captured on a cell phone in a video that went viral.
The UCLA police officer responsible for the Taser attack had previously shot and wounded a homeless man in a campus building, choked a man with his baton in front of a Fraternity house, been suspended from the UCLA police force and fired from the Long Beach Police Force.
Lest anyone think that the University of California is operating a simple security service, it should be noted that the UC Police starting salary is $65,556 while the LAPD starting salary is $48,462.
The UC Davis riot police actually get paid 35% more than the LAPD for a duty that typically consists of providing a uniformed presence on campus with occasional bike theft investigations, “elevator phone check” patrols and other community policing duty.
Calls to the City of Davis Police Department were met with immediate instructions to call the UC Davis Police Department, in spite of repeated requests to file a police crime report. Sgt. Frank Penedoro was quite specific in his refusal to accept a criminal complaint against the UC Davis officer responsible for the pepper spray assault.
The deferential treatment given to campus police is not unique to the small town of Davis and is actually quite common. For example, the LAPD has a memorandum of understanding with the campus police at USC that includes a division of duties and authorizes the USC campus police to respond to crimes in the surrounding community.
UCLA has a student, staff and employee population of 75,000 which means that the UCLA campus police are responsible for 25% more people than the City of Davis.
The University of California Police Force is not a small town force but is actually well-funded in contrast to the surrounding police departments. It also operates with inappropriate autonomy as is evidenced by the City of Davis Police Department’s refusal to respond to a report of a crime committed by a UC Davis police officer.
The same request to report a crime was rejected by the UC Davis PD Watch Commander, Sgt. Beerman, who simply repeated “I’m not going to take a criminal complaint.”
The people of California should be outraged that the lieutenant responsible for the pepper spray attack had a base salary of $116,454 last year while the cost of attending the University of California has more than doubled since 2005.
The UC Regents recently voted to approve tuition increases of 18% over last year’s rate due to a budget crisis but they contradicted that austerity commitment by approving large pay raises for University executives.
Our communities and schools are occupied by uniformed police departments that operate with autonomy, independently of local municipal oversight, and with riot gear that collects dust and provides overpaid and underchallenged officers with an incentive to “protect” themselves from peaceful demonstrators who simply exercise their 1st Amendment rights.
It is imperative that the people of Los Angeles take this opportunity to advise the City of LA on the appropriate procedures for honoring the 1st and 4th Amendment rights of the protesters who are part of Occupy LA.
The City of LA has a very expensive track record when it comes to handling protests. The City of LA paid out millions of dollars after the Democratic Convention when the LAPD was charged with “an orchestrated police riot.”
More recently, the LAPD came under attack for the “May Day Mêlée” which resulted in charges of excessive force from victims that included a National Lawyer's Guild observer and members of the press. The LAPD settlement was reported to cost $13 million.
Since then, the LAPD has earned accolades for its commitment to community policing and for its unique approach to the Occupy LA movement that includes passive observation and unobtrusive presence.
This peaceful occupation of City Hall should not be taken for granted.
It is imperative that the people of Los Angeles speak clearly and loudly to the Mayor, the City Council, and the Police Chief if they want the City of Los Angeles to fully support the 1st and 4th Amendment rights of those who petition their government, of those who protest, and of those who embrace peace while speaking out against injustice.
It was just last year that a city employee sat before the City Council and explained “the City of LA has no purview over the 1st and 4th Amendments, these are federal issues.” Not one member of the City Council said “Wait a minute...” Instead, this misinformation was allowed to stand unchallenged and a resolution in support of 1st and 4th Amendment rights was rejected.
The irony here is that even poll workers in Los Angeles are required to take a Loyalty Oath, committing to support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America and the Constitution of the State of California.
It is imperative that the people of Los Angeles take time from their busy schedules to pay attention for just long enough to remind the Mayor, the City Council, and the Chief of Police of their sworn oath of office and to let them know that in Los Angeles, we fully expect them to honor the Bill of Rights and to protect the people who exercise their constitutional rights.