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Protesters force UC Davis chancellor to halt news conference

November 20, 2011 | 10:06 am

The embattled UC Davis chancellor, Linda P.B. Katehi, had to stop a news conference prematurely Saturday night after protesters angry that police had used pepper spray on Occupy demonstrators disrupted the event.

Hundreds of students surrounded the building where Katehi was speaking, and police were called in. 

A video of a Friday incident posted on the Internet showed a police officer dousing the protesters with a canister of pepper spray as they sat huddled on the ground. The police had been attempting to clear the university's Quad of tents and campers.

Faculty and students reacted with outrage. Nathan Brown, an assistant professor of English, said in an interview that the episode was the latest example of "the systematic use by UC chancellors of police brutality" to suppress protests.

PHOTOS: Occupy protests around the world

In an open letter, he wrote: "Without any provocation whatsoever, other than the bodies of these students sitting where they were on the ground, with their arms linked, police pepper-sprayed students. Students remained on the ground, now writhing in pain, with their arms linked."

Katehi initially did not criticize the police, but she said Saturday that she had since watched the video and reviewed more accounts from the scene.

"It left me with a very bad feeling of what went on," Katehi said in a telephone interview. "There was enough information to show that we need to take a serious look at what happened."

Geoffrey Wildanger, a graduate student in art history, said he was sprayed "in my ears and my nose. It hurts a lot. You feel like your whole body is on fire."

He said the police overreacted. "The cops weren't threatened in any way."

Two students were treated at a hospital and released, and several others were arrested, officials said.

The Davis Faculty Assn. issued a letter Saturday demanding that Katehi step down. "The Chancellor's role is to enable open and free inquiry, not to suppress it," the association wrote, calling Katehi's approval of police force to remove the Occupy Davis tents a "gross failure of leadership."

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-- Paul Pringle and Sam Quinones

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