LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The University of California, Davis said on Saturday it would launch an investigation over video footage that appeared to show campus police using pepper spray against seated student protesters at close range.
YouTube video footage of a policeman in riot gear using pepper spray on a group of roughly a dozen student protesters in the university’s quad area spread quickly over the Internet, sparking outrage among some university faculty members.
“Yesterday was not a day that would make anyone on our campus proud,” UC Davis Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi wrote in a public statement.
“As indicated in various videos, the police used pepper spray against the students who were blocking the way,” she said. “The use of pepper spray as shown on the video is chilling to us all and raises many questions about how best to handle situations like this.”
Student protesters at Davis had set up an encampment in the university’s quad area earlier this month as part of the nationwide Occupy movement against economic inequality and excesses of the financial system.
Their demonstrations, which had been endorsed by a faculty association, included protests against tuition increases and what they viewed as police brutality on University of California campuses in response to recent protests.
The students had set up roughly 25 tents in a quad area, but they had been asked not to stay overnight and were told they would not be able to stay during the weekend, due to a lack of university resources, Katehi said.
Some protesters took their tents down voluntarily while others stayed. The pepper spray incident appeared to take place on Friday afternoon, when campus police moved in to forcibly evict the protesters.
Katehi said on Friday she was “saddened” by the manner in which protesters were removed from the quad, and on Saturday announced a task force of faculty, students and staff to investigate the incident.
She said she had also instructed the school to reevaluate whether university policy on encampments offered students sufficient “flexibility to express themselves.”
The move announcing the task force came after Katehi came under criticism from members of her own faculty.
“You are responsible for the police violence directed against students on the UC Davis quad on November 18, 2011,” an assistant professor of English, Nathan Brown, wrote in an open letter to Katehi on Friday.
“I am writing to hold you responsible and to demand your immediate resignation on these grounds,” said Brown, who described himself as a faculty organizer who had supported the protests.
UC Davis police could not immediately be reached for comment.
Writing by Mary Slosson; Editing by Cynthia Johnston