US university probes pepper spray video

Video has surfaced online showing a police officer at a California university calmly pepper-spraying a line of sitting protesters, who flinch and cover their faces but remain passive with their arms interlocked as onlookers shriek and scream out for the officer to stop.

The chancellor of the University of California described the video images as “chilling” and said she was forming a task force to investigate even as a faculty group called for her resignation because of the incident Friday.

“The use of the pepper spray as shown on the video is chilling to us all and raises many questions about how best to handle situations like this,” Chancellor Linda Katehi said in a message posted on the school's website on Saturday.

The protest was held in support of the overall Occupy Wall Street movement protesting economic inequality and in solidarity with protesters at the University of California, Berkeley, who were jabbed by police with batons on November 9.

The video images, which were circulated on YouTube and widely online, prompted immediate outrage among faculty and students, with the Davis Faculty Association saying in a letter on Saturday that Katehi should resign.

“The Chancellor's role is to enable open and free inquiry, not to suppress it,” the faculty association said in its letter.

It called Katehi's authorisation of police force a “gross failure of leadership”.

Katehi was expected to speak at a news conference later on Saturday.

Images of police evictions have served to galvanise support during the Occupy Wall Street movement, from the clash between protesters and police in Oakland last month that left an Iraq War veteran with serious injuries to more recent skirmishes in new York City, San Diego, Denver and Portland, Oregon.

The forcible Oakland protest eviction, the first of its kind on a large scale, marred the reputation of the city's mayor and police department while rallying Occupy encampments nationwide beset with their own public safety and sanitation issues.

Police chiefs and mayors held conference calls to discuss containment strategies in the days after the October 25 Oakland eviction. the use of rubber bullets and tear gas dropped off, though police departments have turned to pepper spray when trying to quell large crowds.

Some of the most notorious instances went viral online, including the use of pepper spray on an 84-year-old activist in Seattle and a group of women in new York. Seattle's mayor apologised to the activist, and the new York Police Department official shown using pepper spray on the group of women lost 10 vacation days after an internal review.

In the video of the UC Davis protest, the officer, a member of the UC Davis police force, displays a bottle before spraying its contents on the seated protesters in a sweeping motion while walking back and forth. most of the protesters have their heads down, but at least one is hit in the face.

Some members of a crowd gathered at the scene scream and cry out. the crowd then chants, “Shame on you,” as the protesters on the ground are led away. the officers retreat minutes later with helmets on and batons drawn.

Ten people were arrested.

University spokeswoman Karen Nikos said nine people hit by pepper spray were treated at the scene. another two were taken to hospitals and later released.

Nikos declined to release the identity of the officer in the video.

US university probes pepper spray video


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