UC Davis: Perfectly Reasonable, Completely Wrong

As day follows night, explanation follows outrage. And the pepper spraying of students brought UC David Police Chief Annette Spicuzza to the podium



Spicuzza said Friday that about 35 officers from UC Davis and other UC campuses as well as the city of Davis responded to the protest about 4 p.m., wearing protective gear.


Spicuzza said officers were forced to use pepper spray when students surrounded them. They used a sweeping motion on the group, per procedure, to avoid injury, she said.


“There was no way out of that circle,” Spicuzza said Friday. “They were cutting the officers off from their support. It’s a very volatile situation.”

If you don’t think too hard, this makes perfect sense.  If you perform perfunctory analysis, the flaws in the reasoning become immediately apparent.

1.  The students have a constitutional right to assemble and protest.  It doesn’t matter whether you like what they’re protesting, or agree with them, but this is one of those freedoms we all possess. You know, the “freedom isn’t free” stuff that’s put on bumper stickers and for which young American men and women put themselves in harm’s way.

2.  By virtue of the exercise of their rights, the police are called in to “respond.”  Whether they’re wearing protective gear, which some might better characterize as riot gear, or short and a t-shirts, the key is that police were directed to address a group of students exercising their constitutional rights. 

3.  Students surrounded them.  This is less fact than characterization, as the police moved into the area, and had the complete ability to position themselves, assuming they had any business being there at all, wherever they felt it would be most advantageous.  What they decided to do was to move in as a group on the students engaged in the exercise of their constitutional rights, So rather than claim that students surrounded them, the more accurate characterization is that they pushed themselves into the midst of students.

4. There was no way out of that circle.  Well, this is preposterous.  If the officers wanted to be on the perimeter rather than in the middle, they need only have walked to the outside.  There was no one stopping them from moving to the perimeter.  There was no one who could have stopped them from doing so, since they were the only armed force present.  What Spicuzza means to say is that the officers had no intention of inserting themselves in the middle, in front of the students exercising their constitutional rights, and moving to the outside of the circle, while at the same stop preventing others from being where they were.

5. They were cutting off the officers from their support.  Support for what?  This wasn’t the seige of Leningrad.  There was no mass of officers off in some nether region attempting to reach their beleaguered brethren.  And what did they need support for?  I suppose they could get hungry if they stood there long enough. Or perhaps a wrist could be sprained if they were to do something risky to wrists, and require immediately medical aid.  But to experience the exercise of constitutional rights by students shouldn’t require support.

6. It’s a very volatile situation. Only if one turns it into a volatile situation.  Otherwise, it’s a very banal situation, with a bunch of unarmed students peaceably sitting on the ground protesting. When they get done protesting, the get up and go back to their dorms.  Nothing volatile about it.

Or, perhaps what UC Davis Police Chief Annette Spicuzza neglected to mention was that her officers were ordered to stop students from peacefully exercising their constitutional rights to assemble and protest, and if they should fail to comply with the officer’s verbal orders, to use such force as is necessary to compel them to cease exercising those unfree freedoms, without putting any officer at risk of any potential physical harm or unpleasant and disrespectful retort.

Nothing volatile about it, unless you consider a challenge to the authority of police to give orders to people who are exercising their constitutional rights volatile.  I mean, to the people being ordered, not to the cops who are incapable of controlling their emotions when their authority is challenged.

Only then does this become a volatile situation.  Defiance of authority, of course, always has the potential to be volatile, but the cops can’t blame the students for their own lack of self-control.

To note that the oath taken by most police officers is to protect and defend the Constitution misses the point.  They are happy to do so, as long as people exercise their constitutional freedoms in accordance with the police’s instructions.  As so many Americans believe, this isn’t too much to ask if you’re a real patriot.  But that’s only because they accept the premise that the exercise of constitutional rights is a gift permitted by those in power.  Only then is it perfectly reasonable.

If you believe that the Constitution establishes our freedom, then it’s completely wrong.



8 thoughts on “UC Davis: Perfectly Reasonable, Completely Wrong

  1. John Neff

    I guess it is possible to declare that a group is an unlawful assembly and order them to disperse. But in this case it was not an unlawful assembly.

    We had a similar situation during the Viet Nam war protests where all of the charges were dismissed because they could not prove the assembly was unlawful.

  2. SHG

    Some assume that any assembly without official approval must, somehow, be unlawful. It’s a curiosity, the desire by some for official approval of the exercise of constitutional rights.

  3. Shawn McManus

    Much as I hate to agree with you (and really… In a world that makes sense, I’d disagree more often with you), Spicuzza’s explanation is the typical cowardly screed of panty wasted idiots.

    If she had said that the protestors refused to move to the edges of the sidewalk, or were preventing someone from making a timely appearance at a fencing tournament, or even chanting, “Lt Pike has an ugly dog,” I might have given them some credence.

    “Officers felt threatened” is a euphamism for “uniformed chickens”.

  4. Howard Quivers

    Being pepper sprayed by cops is pretty bad, but I still think it’s much better than being clubbed in the face by them just for exercising your right to freedom of assembly: [Edit. Note: Link deleted per rules.]

  5. SHG

    This isn’t a competition about whose injury is worse. The reason this incident has received such enormous attention is that the image is so clear and striking, not because it’s the worst thing that ever happened.  There are thousands of videos of abuse and misconduct, and tens of thousands of photographs. Few, however, have the impact that this one does.

    So would you muddle the point by internal argument over whether my abuse is worse than your abuse? Apparently so.

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