The Undergraduate Council issued a statement condemning the use of pepper spray on student protesters at the University of California-Davis in a statement released on Sunday November 20.
The statement came two days after a video surfaced on YouTube showing police officers pepper-spraying a group of seated students who were part of the Occupy movement.
The presence of Harvard’s own Occupy movement on campus was the main motivation behind the statement, according to UC Student Initiative Committee Chair Nicholas W. Galat ’13. Although the UC has not taken a stance on any portion of Occupy Harvard’s platform, the statement called for “the continued support of the right of students to peaceful protest without violent response by the Harvard administration.”
“We ultimately were compelled by the fact that there are protests ongoing at Harvard, and that’s what makes them directly relevant to us as students here,” UC President Senan Ebrahim ’12 said. “The history of violent crackdowns here at Harvard made it even more compelling that we do something now, preemptively, to say that whatever the political views of these protesters are, we support their right to protest nonviolently.”
Ebrahim was primarily referring to the student takeover of University Hall in 1969, when administrators called in city and state police and violence ensued.
However, Ebrahim said that he does not see any immediate danger of history repeating itself.
“I think that the inclination of Harvard police in general is to protect students, not to beat them with batons or spray pepper spray in their faces,” Ebrahim said.
Occupy Harvard member Summer A. Shafer, a student at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, graduated from University of California-Berkeley in 2008 and spoke out against the controversial use of police force at both the Berkeley and Davis campuses.
“I thought it was a complete collapse of responsibility on the part of the campus police,” Shafer said. “It was appalling, and it was something that you never think can happen at your school.”
However, Shafer also said that she thinks the highly-publicized incidents could ultimately be beneficial to the movement.
“It’s one of those events that catalyzes public opinion in favor of the student protests, and so in a way what those students took was kind of a sacrificial stance in order to boost support nationwide around student protests,” Shafer said.
UC-Davis has since announced that the November 18 incidents are under review and has placed the police chief and two officers on administrative leave, according to press releases.
Ebrahim said that he thought it was telling that the UC’s vote on whether to issue the statement was unanimous, with three abstaining.
“It’s very rare that we take a unanimous stance on something like that,” Ebrahim said. “I think it just shows that across all political ideologies and people of all different backgrounds can agree that this incident was really horrifying and shouldn’t ever be repeated at any college campus, at Harvard or anywhere else.”