It's almost Thanksgiving, and at my folks’ house that means a couple of things. It means family, it means turkey and Dad's smashed potatoes, and it means Arlo Guthrie. We'll tune the radio to KFOG and wait for Alice's Restaurant to come around on the guitar so we can sing along. Can you imagine? Can you imagine a dozen people sitting around the table singing a bar of Alice's Restaurant? You might think it was a family. And that’s what it is.
But that's not what I logged on to tell you about. I want to talk about police brutality and the UC Davis protest.
Now this all started a week ago, a week before thanksgiving. A group of students were camped out on a college campus protesting a variety of issues from hikes in tuition to the recent use of violence against protesters on their sister campus in Berkeley, when the chancellor of the university called the police. The students maintained that they were exercising their first amendment rights to freedom of speech and peacefully assembly. The police maintained that the students were illegally camped in a non-designated area, illegally blocking a sidewalk, and that they had the right to use "reasonable force" to remove them. Legally speaking, they each have valid points.
Now, friends, there was only one of two things that could have happened when the chancellor called the police. The first was that the police could have said, "Gee, would you please move?" and the students could have said, "Oh, sure thing," and then they could have all skipped off and had cookies together.
This wasn't very likely and the chancellor shouldn't have expected it.
The second was that it could have resulted in some kind of a standoff that got some media attention, which was pretty likely and should have been expected.
It turns out that there was a third possibility that no one counted upon.
The students were doused with pepper spray to effect their removal. A quick google search will easily provide you with twenty-seven 8x10 color glossy photographs with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one explaining what each one was to be used as evidence against players involved.
It's that "reasonable force" bit that brings us to where we are today.
The upshot of all this is that people who weren't hurting anyone got hurt, so, friends, something unreasonable happened here, and the town, and the country, and anyone with an internet connection is in an uproar about it.
I want to tell you about the town of Davis, California where this is happening. It's a smallish college city where your neighbors frown at you for not thoroughly sorting your recyclables and where they hold city council meetings to discuss the impacts of planned road improvements on the common frog population. I once heard that UC Davis was the only school in the UC system to have not protested during the Vietnam War. I've since learned that this is untrue, but it's close. The fact that the campus police, who generally spend their time writing tickets for bicycling too fast, even had riot gear surprised the hell out of me.
Stuff like this doesn't happen here.
And now we have to figure out what to do.
I've heard outcries on the police action that vary from "those damn kids were asking for it" to "we want the chancellor's head on pike." I'm going to overlook both of those reactions as being extremism fueled by passion or ignorance (both curable, by the way). These suggestions, from where I'm standing, aren't helpful or logical, and not to mention messing up a perfectly good pike.
So before we all pile into our red VW microbus with shovels and rakes and implements of destruction, let's talk a bit more.
It has been postulated that the chancellor authorized the use of pepper spray on her students. I'm going with false on this one. She is not commander-in-chief of the police forces nor do I think she's likely the wicked witch in disguise, cackling in her castle and sending forth her flying monkeys. And she's not dumb. I won't go so far as to say that she's smart, but anyone's who has gotten to her station isn't dumb. And if she had anticipated all the resulting actions from her decision, we can safely assume she wouldn't have proceeded along the road she now finds herself on.
Like I said, not dumb.
Does that make her innocent in all this? Not by a long shot. I just want to make sure we're laying out the right accusations. So far as I can see it, Chancellor Katehi is responsible for calling the police to begin with, and with handling the resulting mess extremely poorly.
With regards to the police, clearly a bad judgement call in this case. But shouldn't we be able to assume that police can handle a crowd with respect? Generally speaking, aren't these guys supposed to be the good guys? This is a college campus, with the problems all college campuses have. Things like theft. Things like rape. And when these things happen, don't we call the police to help us? To protect and serve? And generally speaking, isn't that what they do?
And then in the midst of the mess that resulted from abused students, the chancellor handled the situation with all the expected grace of a politician. She weedled, she backpeddled some, and then she appointed a task force.
So do we fire her? Why? So we can replace her with another bureaucrat with a different haircut and the same suit? Honestly, I'd rather sit her down the way I would my kid if he made a horrific mess of the living room. "Look, you made a disaster in here. I imagine you didn't mean to, but here it is, so now, you get to clean it up." In essence, it’s time for you to pick up the garbage you left in the snow, kid.
And the police? I've heard the idea floated that UC campus police departments should be disbanded. That they should be replaced with private security. (And who's going to pick this security? Another task force? Those are working out so well for us right now...)
Look, this thing that has happened here? It isn't confined to UC Davis. It's not confined to just UC campuses, or just college campuses. Cities all across the country from Oakland to New York are dealing with this right now. This is bigger than one sidewalk. This is about how are police forces are permitted to handle protesters. When force is authorized and when it's not.
The power we've placed in the police, particularly with regards to crowd control, needs to be examined. Intelligently. These are just folks too. Not evil henchmen twirling their mustaches waiting for a chance to beat another poli-sci major who has it coming. We know these folks. They're our neighbors and brothers and friends. We need to be able to trust them to do their jobs and they need the power we give them to do it. But the balance needs to be restored here.
And the folks out there shouting out threats to the chancellor and posting the cops' addresses on twitter? You guys need to back the fuck off, because, hey? Not helping. The students continue to protest this peacefully. Follow their example. Thanks.
We need to do this without hurting each other. What we need is an anti-massacree movement. We need to talk, and listen, and think.
So tomorrow is Thanksgiving. We'll all gather around tables. Folks in shelters and folks in mansions, cops and administrators, professors and students. Folk. Folk like you and me. We'll all sit around tables from sea to shining sea and eat remarkably the same meal.
Let's do our best to remember that we're all just human beings on planet earth. And let's raise a glass to the anti-massacree movement. All of us. Can you imagine? Millions of people all across the country? Friends, they might think it's movement.
And that's what it is.
And all you’ve got to do to join is to sing it the next time it comes around on the guitar.