Reading The Pictures is dedicated to the analysis of news photos and media images.
November 22, 2011

Was the UC Davis Pepper Spray Attack Just Waiting to Happen?

Sac Bee Picnic Day Police Chief

The question is, was the UC Davis pepper spray incident almost predictable based on a standing green light to law enforcement to take a hardline with students?

If you listen closely to the interview Chancellor Katehi gave to the campus station, Aggie TV, on Sunday, she couches her solemn regret for what happened in the context of a heightened vigilance over security. After citing worries about “outside elements” potentially exploiting the Occupy encampment, she fleetingly makes reference (at the 11:31 mark) to another concerning element, “the incident” this past March at Picnic Day.

Picnic Day is a very large and long-standing student run celebration and open house at Davis, where the university hosts events and exhibitions for the public. The entire city joins in and the event has also been been known for public drinking and carrying on. As a result of a particularly disorderly event in 2010, this year’s Picnic Day saw an intensified police presence with a much greater number of arrests. Paradoxically, and in spite of the heightened security, the day was marred by the death of a recent Davis graduate, a former star on the school baseball team, who fell and hit his head at a party, allegedly while intoxicated. I’m not sure, but I imagine this is the incident Katehi was referring to.

Screen shot 2011 11 22 at 10 13 47 AM

(link/video)

In any case, the increased police presence and the harder hand was — at least to students and locals — was the overriding Picnic Day take-away. This editorial from the Davis Vanguard, for example, concludes that the security strategy “worked too well” and ruined the atmosphere.

How much did the event this past April serve as a telegraph for what happened in the Quad at UC Davis last week? It was enough to form the dominant theme running through a Sacramento Bee photo gallery of the event. What the lead photo conveys is a schism between cops and students, implying the cops had turned their backs on the students given that obsequious students were going to have their way when the Chief wasn’t looking. The caption states:

City of Davis Police Chief Landy Black with his officers at the corner of Second and E Streets in downtown Davis during Picnic Day – UC Davis’ open house. Last year’s Picnic Day was marred by drunken violence and debauchery. There were twice the number of arrests and emergency calls from prior years. University officials threatened to cancel the century-old event unless things changed, so this is a make-it-or-break-it year. The city recently established increased fines downtown for offenses such as public urination and possession of open containers of alcohol.

Certainly, its been a make-it-or-break-it year.

(photo: Manny Crisostomo/sacbee.com)

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