Legislature to hold hearing on UC Davis pepper-spraying
University of California officials will be on the hot seat Wednesday as state lawmakers hold a joint legislative hearing into university and police responses to recent student demonstrations, notably the controversial pepper-spraying of student protesters last month at UC Davis.
A video of the incident, in which campus police sprayed the chemical irritant in the faces of nonviolent, seated protesters, went viral on the Web, sparking nationwide outrage and becoming a rallying point for the Occupy movement. Lawmakers are also concerned about a demonstration at UC Berkeley last month at which police wielded batons against protesters, including former U.S. poet laureate Robert Haas.
Scheduled to testify Wednesday are UC President Mark G. Yudof and UC Davis Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi, who has apologized for the response and said she did not authorize police to use the pepper spray in the manner shown on the video. The UC Davis police chief, as well as two officers involved in the spraying, have been placed on leave.
“Something is wrong with a system where our children and students, struggling peacefully to have their voices heard, are answered by the spray of chemical weapons and the sting of a truncheon,” said state Sen. Alan Lowenthal (D-Long Beach), chairman of the Senate Education Committee, in a statement. “It is imperative that we have a unified policy on the appropriate response to peaceful campus protests and on the use of force by campus police.”
The University of California has launched an independent investigation into the UC Davis incident, hiring former Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton to lead the inquiry. The university system is also conducting a separate review of its police policies in handling student protests at all 10 UC campuses.
Also scheduled to testify at Wednesday’s hearing are California State University officials, law enforcement experts and representatives from student groups.
-- Michael J. Mishak in Sacramento
Photo: Video image shows a UC Davis officer using pepper spray on Occupy protesters. Credit: Thomas K. Fowler / Associated Press