There is an interesting debate going on at Tarheel Red with Nick from Poison Your Mind about the pepper-spray incident at University of California-Davis. The video images of the pepper-spray incident at UC-Davis do not look good. Apparently, they are so ugly that the University is firing people over the incident. As the left relishes what seems to be a propaganda coup, it is important to step back and analyze the facts.
In any protest, there is an inherent tension between freedom and security. First Amendment rights are paramount in this country, and the state ought to protect and respect them. That said, the United States is a nation of laws for a reason. Certain laws and regulations exist to ensure that the exercise of my rights do not prevent or harm the exercise of yours. As such, there inevitably is a balancing act between these two goals.
On the one hand, the protestors at UC-Davis have every right to express their views. On the other hand, other UC-Davis students have a reasonable expectation of access to campus facilities and physical safety while at the university. Their parents have a right to demand the safety and security of their children on campus. This reason is precisely why the University has regulations that stipulate limited times for protests on school property. According to Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi‘s “Message to Protesters on the Quad” on November 18th (emphasis mine):
“…[W]e also have a responsibility to our entire campus community, including the parents who have entrusted their students to us, to ensure that all can live, learn and work in a safe, secure environment without disruption. We take this responsibility seriously. We are accountable for what occurs on our campus. Campus policies generously support free speech, but do include limited time, place and manner regulations to protect health, safety and the ability of students, staff, and faculty to accomplish the University mission. If an unfortunate incident occurs as a result of violations of these limited regulations, we are all responsible.
We are aware that many of those involved in the recent demonstrations on campus are not members of the UC Davis community. This requires us to be even more vigilant about the safety of our students, faculty and staff. While we have appreciated the peaceful and respectful tone of the demonstrations to date, the current encampment raises serious health, safety and legal concerns, and the resources we require to supervise this encampment cannot be sustained, especially in these very tight economic times. Our resources must support our core mission to educate all of our students.”
So, it is clear that the protestors, many of whom were unknown outsiders, were putting a strain on the university’s resources and were disobeying legitimate local rules and regulations. As such, UC-Davis authorities had legitimate authority to remove the protestors.
That begs the next question. What about the means?
Put yourself in the position of a police officer charged with clearing the Quad. The protestors’ arms are locked in a human chain. The University Chancellor has warned them in a written statement that if they don’t stop violating UC Davis rules and regulations, the police will remove them from the site at a prescribed date and time.
Decades ago, security personnel would have been armed with nothing but clubs, high pressure water hoses, tear gas, and guns. The most cost-effective method of breaking up an illegal protest would have been to use clubs, and the most humane would have been to use water hoses. Today’s police have a tool that is both effective and economical — pepper spray.
As you can see in the video above, one of the cops explicitly warned an organizer that if the group did not decamp, the police would use pepper spray on the protestors. The protestor’s response seemed giddy and excited, for he knew he would likely acquire the mantle of victimhood he so desired. He says, “No, that’s fine, that’s fine,” and then starts laughing.
Instead of viewing this video through an irrational emotional lens, one should view it rationally. The key question is: Did the police use a minimum of force to achieve a maximum of effort?
I believe they did.
As one watches the video, the police calmly apply pepper spray to the faces of protestors who have ignored repeated warnings that they violated local law. This tactic effectively disrupts the human chain, allowing police to separate protestors from one another without serious injury such as the breaking of limbs. No one is permanently harmed, and the police accomplish their mission in a matter of minutes.
Furthermore, as someone who has been gassed repeatedly during military training, I know roughly what being pepper-sprayed feels like. It stings. It is uncomfortable, but it certainly is not permanent.
For those who are outraged by what I feel are perfectly legitimate and efficient methods, requiring a minimum use of force and causing no permanent damage, how could police have accomplished this mission any more peacefully?
And no, the answer is not that they should have left protestors in place. As a California tax payer, I am not a bottomless pit of money to support police protection for a group of smug, entitled, seemingly aimless vandals to disrupt normal campus activities.
Again, I ask, if the mission were to clear the park, how could authorities have done it in a more peaceful manner?
The silence is deafening.