DAVIS, Calif (Reuters) - More than 1,000 demonstrators rallied at a University of California campus on Monday to protest police use of pepper-spray on students in an incident captured on video footage circulated widely on television and the Internet.
The incident last Friday, which led to suspensions of the campus police chief and two officers, thrust the normally quiet, conservative and largely apolitical UC Davis campus to the forefront of anti-Wall Street “Occupy” protests nationwide.
Several student leaders and faculty members addressing the rally called for UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi to resign, saying her mishandling of the school’s response to campus protests led to excessive use of force by campus police.
Katehi, made to wait in line behind a parade of speakers openly criticizing her, took to the stage herself about an hour into the rally, telling the crowd: “I‘m here to apologize. I really feel horrible for what happened on Friday.”
“You may not believe anything I say today. It’s my responsibility to earn your trust,” she said, drawing scattered boos and jeers. When she added, “I don’t want to be the chancellor of the university we had on Friday,” she was answered by cries of “Resign!”
She left the stage after about a minute, looking shaken, and was hustled by security personnel to a waiting car, followed by a throng of media and a cluster of students yelling, “Don’t come back!”
As on other campuses around the country, UC Davis demonstrations started out focused on issues such as economic inequality, education cuts and sharp tuition hikes.
But Monday’s rally was spurred by last week’s pepper-spray dousing of protesting students who were sitting on the ground, and an earlier confrontation at UC Berkeley in which police jabbed students with night sticks.
There was no visible police presence at Monday’s gathering, which remained peaceful and was attended by well over 1,000 people.
“Before, students didn’t see how (the Occupy movement) affected them, but I think watching the video ... they see how it affects them,” said Cole Sawyer, 19, a freshman from Long Beach, California.
Sawyer, studying Latin American history, said he was from a working-class family, adding, “If tuition is raised anymore, the working class won’t be able to get an education.”
Professor and UC Davis alumnus Beth Slutsky, 32, attended the rally with her husband and two young children and said she was “outraged that this pepper-spray incident could happen at a public university.”
“I teach history, so I’d like to think that this does not happen anymore. But it clearly does,” she said.
Hours earlier in Oakland, a hot spot of anti-Wall Street activism in recent weeks, police in the largely working-class city on the east bank of San Francisco Bay swept away the last of the town’s protest camps.
Police moved in at about 12:30 a.m. local time and ordered the removal of 20 to 30 tents from Snow Park, the only remaining Oakland camp still standing after another park and an adjacent vacant lot were cleared on Sunday.
Oakland police spokeswoman Johnna Watson said the tents were cleared out without incident, and there were no arrests.
“As we speak, there are no tents and no camps,” she added. “We are enforcing no camps and no camping equipment anywhere in the parks. And that will be enforced throughout the city.”
Oakland has been a flash point of the anti-Wall Street movement, helping rally support nationwide for demonstrations launched in New York in September to protest excesses of the financial system, bank bailouts and high unemployment.
Miles away at the University of California at Berkeley, police last week cleared out a small tent city that had sprouted there in the aftermath of a clash days before in which campus police used batons to drive back a crowd.
Attention over the weekend shifted to UC Davis, about 50 miles to the north, where the pepper-spraying incident was captured on a videotape footage that went viral, stirred a torrent of outrage already brewing over the Berkeley clash.
UC President Mark Yudof placed two UC Davis officers on paid administrative leave on Sunday and launched a review of police procedures at all 10 university campuses.
Katehi said on Monday that the campus chief of police also had been suspended. In addition, she asked the Yolo County District Attorney’s office to investigate the use of force by campus police and said she would create a task force to conduct a campus review and report recommendations in 30 days.
Additional reporting by Greg Lucas and Lauren Keiper; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Greg McCune