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Documenting police beating, pepper spraying, and arresting students at UC Davis

November 20, 2011
Policeman casually pepper spraying students at UC Davis

A policeman casually pepper sprays students protesting peacefully at the University of California, Davis, November 18, 2011 (click to see YouTube video)

Citizen journalists photograph, video, and stream police actions at the University of California, Davis, November 18, 2011 (click to see YouTube video)

Note: For updates on this story, follow Lee Fang (@lhfang) on Twitter, and check his blog regularly.

On 18 November, 2011, Nathan Brown, Assistant Professor in the Department of English at the University of California at Davis, wrote an “Open Letter to Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi“, for three reasons:

1) to express my outrage at the police brutality which occurred against students engaged in peaceful protest on the UC Davis campus today

2) to hold you accountable for this police brutality

3) to demand your immediate resignation

The police actions that prompted this letter, and many other expressions of outrage, were well documented by the staff, students, and others, who gathered in the university quad that day to peacefully protest against tuition increases and the police brutality that took place earlier in the week.

The information accompanying the YouTube video, from which the stills above were taken, explains that, during the peaceful protest by the Occupy Movement,

police came in to tear down tents and proceeded to arrest students who stood in their way. Once students peacefully demanded the release of the arrested, a police officer unnecessarily pepper sprays the students to open a path for the rest of the officers.

The name and contact details of the officer who sprayed the students is also provided.

A search for “occupy cal” on Youtube shows 377 videos that have been uploaded over the past week. Many of these have already been viewed by thousands of people, with the most popular clip attracting 14,457 views and 396 “Likes” within 24 hours. There are more than 5,300 archived Ustream “occupy” videos, which were streamed live to anyone who wanted to follow the play-by-play. Of these, 95 videos relate to “Occupy Cal,” 21 of which were streamed and archived within the past few days. The fact that all of this work has been done by citizen journalists shows that, as well as occupying significant physical spaces, the protesters and their supporters are creating and occupying new communication spaces online. Like the flow of capital between institutions and nation states, the protesters’ message moves easily and quickly, crossing national borders and bridging cartesian space and cyberspace. However, unlike capital, the Occupy message is multiplied and amplified as it spreads. And all of this without needing to attract the attention of traditional media outlets. In addition to chanting “We are the 99 percent!”, they could also claim, “We are the media!”.

Update (Nov. 22): The Atlantic Wire reports (12:39 PM ET, Nov. 21) that: “Although UC Davis has decided to put its police chief and two pepper-spraying officiers on leave, the school’s chancellor says she’s not going to budge — despite silent and not-so-silent calls for her resignation”.

The video, “UC Davis Chancellor Katehi walks to her car”, which is embedded in a short story on the npr site , was shot by Lee Fang, and has been viewed on YouTube nearly 630,000 times, attracting over 2,000 comments so far. His discussion of the silent protest is interesting. Equally interesting is the way that his video of this event has travelled through various media outlets, and the discussions that it has seeded in these different sites. Lee Fang explains why he calls his blog “The Second Alarm“:

I named this blog The Second Alarm after a Revolutionary War newsletter that led to the Boston Tea Party. Called “The Alarm,” the pamphlet warned colonists that the British and the East India Trading Company would ruin America by sucking the wealth from its citizens and ruling over us in the pursuit of profit. I think a similar dynamic exists today, but instead of the East India Trading Company, lobbying groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and multinational banks like J.P. Morgan Chase pose an existential threat to America’s democracy, and to our greatness as a nation.

Pepper-spray images are now moving through the media like an aerosol, dropping seeds that spawn new stories that then circulate in their own information ecologies. “Casually Peper Spray Everything Cop” images have spread far and wide. They have already become so popular that the Mashable social media site has issued a “New Meme Alert“. The news and images travel via email lists (like Stephen Downes’ “OLDaily“), and through Twitter (check out the increasingly-used “#pepperspray” hash-tag). Sites like the “Pepper Spray Chronicles,” which is devoted to this increasingly used chemical weapon and image of this now-famous (or infamous) police officer, are now popping up like weeds after a heavy rain.

Although events at UC Davis are not as dramatic as what is currently unfolding in Syria and elsewhere, there are similarities in the actors, the dynamics, and the flow of information in each of these sites. The feedback loop (and sub-loops) created by the event, reports about the event in the media (online, offline, and the loop between them) is both entertaining and instructive. It is a fractal dance with hula hoops. These loops (and hoops) are developing, and reconfiguring, more and more quickly as the distance (geographically and temporally) between the event and media reports about the event, collapses. The half-life of the loops and hoops is also getting shorter. Soon, event and media will comprise a single experience, and it will be impossible to separate the event from the reports and documentations about the event. The medium not only carries and comprises the message, it has merged with, and now contains, the event itself. The medium is the experience.

One Comment leave one →
  1. November 26, 2011 8:44 am

    If you did not show photos I would not believe this. What fools are some people to answer with pepper spray when students ask questions. This school is not very kind to students.

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