11 April 12

Four Months Later

After the Pepper Spray Incident on November 18, 2011, which exposed sleepy Davis uncomfortably to a searing international spotlight, things slowly calmed down. The inevitable reports were delayed, almost as inevitably, by lawsuits.

But they were released today. In summary, egregious errors were made by university administration and the police force, including not ascertaining the makeup of the protesters on the Quad; use of weapons on the part of the police for which they weren’t trained and aren’t approved by university policy; miscommunication; failure to learn from errors that had been made on sister campuses just days before. But the best part, for my money, is this:

“The Task Force recommends The Office of the President should review provisions of the Police Officers’ Bill of Rights that appear to limit independent public review of police conduct and make appropriate recommendations to the Legislature. The Task Force did not have access to the subject officers. This limitation does not serve the police or the public. When information necessary to understand and evaluate police conduct is unavailable to the public, the public has less confidence in the police and the police cannot perform their duty without public confidence.”

Justice Reynoso and the Task Force panel had a hard time of it today in Freeborn Hall, but they have done their job in less than optimal circumstances. It now falls on the University to implement the report’s recommendations. My advice? Start soon.

Posted by at 05:33 PM in Politics | Link | Comment

20 November 11

1,010,361 and Counting

That’s the number of views on YouTube of the video of students at UC Davis being pepper sprayed at a non-violent demonstration on Friday as of this moment. We’ve made international news: here’s a story on the BBC front page. This isn’t the sort of acclaim one wishes of one’s university; we may have now eclipsed Penn State on the campus hall of shame billboard.

There are many, many excellent pieces and comments on the incident on Friday, and I have spent hours reading these. Here are some that have risen to the top for me.

This MetaFilter thread was posted yesterday afternoon and continues to be lively.

The “Wall of Shame” video. This hasn’t gotten quite as much attention as the first video above, but it may be equally powerful. Yesterday afternoon Chancellor Katehi held a press conference but excluded the students. When she left the building a couple of hours later the students were seated arms linked, allowing her a path from the door to her vehicle. The students say nothing as she goes past, shaming her with silence. She looks shell-shocked. (Linked on BoingBoing).

Glenn Greenwald writes in Salon about the roots of the UC Davis pepper spraying, setting the incident in the broader context of the history of police violence.

The Davis Wiki is providing continual on-the-ground coverage as events unfold.

In the above MetaFilter thread, one member of the MetaFilter community who is a professor somewhere shares the following letter he wrote to the President of UC, Mark Yudof:

Dear Chancellor Yudof,
Having familiarized myself with the details of the pepper-spray assault carried out against peaceful, nonviolent student demonstrators at UC Davis on Friday by Lt. John Pike and other officers under the orders of Chief Anette Spicuzza and, ultimately, under the responsibility of Chancellor Linda P. B. Katehi, and having watched the several videos of the incident in question that have been widely disseminated, and having heard the nonsensical explanations and excuses proffered by Katehi, Spicuzza, and other Davis spokespeople, I have come to the conclusion that a serious crime was committed by UC Davis police, and ordered and abetted by their superiors. It is unconscionable that a university in the United States would deploy such disproportionate use of force against its own students for acts of conscientious civil disobedience that were completely non-violent in spirit and execution.

As an academic myself, I resolve to do no business of any sort with any branch of the University of California system until
a) Chancellor Katehi is fired or resigns
b) Chief Spicuzza resigns, is fired, or faces significant discipline
c) Officer Pike and any others who used pepper spray in the above-described incident are fired and/or severely disciplined, and criminally charged if appropriate
d) Students who were assaulted receive apologies and compensation for their injuries

Until these things happen, I won’t serve on any UC dissertation committees, I will not act as a tenure referee for any UC system tenure cases, I will not recommend any students for graduate programs in the UC system, and I will not give any talks or attend any conferences at any UC campus (which means, among other things, canceling an upcoming talk at [UC Campus XXX]). Nor will I review any manuscripts for UC press or its journals. Many of my colleagues at [XXXXX university] and around the country are considering similar stances. It is incumbent on the UC system administration to take vigorous control of this situation, require Chancellor Katehi’s resignation, investigate promptly, discipline all the perpetrators of this assault, and apologize to the victims of this assault as well as compensate them fairly (including expunging any arrest records related to this protest).

Sincerely, etc.

Other academics across the land are reacting with outrage as well. Cathy N. Davidson, who is a neuroscientist and former vice-provost at Duke University, writes on Why this is a Gettysburg Address moment for higher education.

President Yudof steps up to the plate. His statement released this afternoon pleases me. Of course what the UC Office of the President says and does are two different things, but it sounds like there will be substantial pressure coming down from the top.

Given that last statement, my hunch is that Chancellor Katehi will end up having to resign, though I doubt immediately. Her leadership may just too be compromised at this point for her to manage the den of ants that is a university campus.

More important is will any reforms emerge concerning the practice of policing at the University of California. It would be all too typical bureaucratic behavior to throw a couple of bad actors in the police department under the bus, make a minor procedural change or two, and declare the matter done. This solves nothing since the problem is a matter of deep culture within the police department.

Next up: there will be a rally and general assembly on the quad at noon tomorrow. Chancellor Katehi is planning to address the students at that time.


Updated 8:20 AM, 22 November 2011

I attended a bit of the rally yesterday. The crowd was ebullient, the energy positive. This concluding paragraph from “Jonathan Eisen’s post” on the event sums up my feeling as well:

Overall the day was exhausting. But exhilarating too. I did not agree with everything everyone said or did. But that was not the point. The power and the passion of the protestors and the people of the University. That was the point. I left feeling good about UC Davis again. Not sure what will happen tomorrow. But the people on campus have risen above the pepper spraying. They have shown strength beyond what I could have ever imagined. The world is certainly watching now. But I am not too worried. I like what I see.

And I was particularly thrilled by the balloon! My geography grad student colleagues Michele Tobias and Alex Mandel used a helium balloon as a lifting platform to take aerial photographs from high above the crowd. Michele’s research involves using kite-aided photography to study beach vegetation, so this was a variant on her basic platform.

The connection of Chancellor Katehi to events at Athens Polytechnic in November 1973 has taken a deeply troubling turn. She was a student at that university when the regime used military force to suppress campus dissent, killing many students. The backlash from this event led to the fall of the regime some months later. Katehi referenced Athens in her brief speech to the crowd, saying “I was there”.

Buttthis post at Crooked Timber from today is revelatory. A couple of excerpts:

Among the legacies of the uprising was a university asylum law that restricted the ability of police to enter university campuses. University asylum was abolished a few months ago, as part of a process aimed at suppressing anti-austerity demonstrations. The abolition law was based on the recommendatiions of an expert committee, which reported a few months ago…

Among the authors of this report – Chancellor Linda Katehi, UC Davis. And, to add to the irony, Katehi was a student at Athens Polytechnic in 1973.

Posted by at 08:51 PM in Politics | Link | Comment [1]

18 May 11

Ground

When the noise of
rapes and gropes and
men in power
(and men not but
wanting it SO MUCH)
gets too loud

I dig.
In earth
softened by
unhoped-for rain,
earthworms teeming
in a second spring,
tilling improbable loads of
well-seasoned manure
in through loam
and silt. Dig.

Mocked blackbirds and
squabbling swallows swirl as
mud gloms on to my
boots and barrow-wheel.
Dig in grief
for women
silenced by fear.
Fork the rage
into the earth,
go gentle.
Dig: invite
all to sit
at an ancient,
wormeaten table,
sharing the harvest.

Posted by at 06:50 AM in Politics | Link | Comment [3]

14 October 10

Gerrymandering

Tuesday we went to see the movie Gerrymandering, a documentary about the practice of redrawing legislative districts for political advantage. Admittedly the factor that got us to the showing was that Pica’s cousin Susan did the sound production on the movie, but the topic is a good problem in geography. The film focused on the passage of Proposition 11 two years ago in California, an voter initiative to transfer the power of redrawing districts from the legislators themselves to an independent commission. This proposition narrowly passed, and in the finest manner of the carnival that is California initiative politics, there are dueling propositions on the upcoming November ballot to repeal it (Proposition 27) or expand its powers (Proposition 20). The movie was tautly edited, with many animated sketches of the cartographic absurd districts all over the country produced by gerrymandering.

That legislative districts should be at least somewhat cartographically compact is a principle acknowledged by the courts, though rarely seen in practice. I wonder though if there are any sort of “natural” boundaries that can be used to constrain how one draws legislative districts, the problem being that there are an infinite number of ways one can draw lines on a map. After pondering this for a bit I came up with counties, the one set of political boundaries below the scale of individual states that is fairly stable over the years. Of course county boundaries rarely align with population density, and to ensure equal representation some counties would have to be lumped into multicounty districts. By contrast, highly populated counties (for instance Los Angeles County in California) would not be geographically split into separate districts; rather voters would elect several representatives at once from this “superdistrict”. The film interviewed legal scholar Lani Gunier, who it turns out has had ideas along these lines, but the film didn’t go into such alternative ideas. Maybe they fell in interview bits that were left on the cutting room floor.

Posted by at 09:42 PM in Politics | Link | Comment [1]

19 November 09

Incident at Mrak Hall

The headline news in the paper today is “UC headed to huge fee increases”, the story beginning “The financially hobbled University of California moved Wednesday to boost student fees by $2,500 as students staged raucous demonstrations across the state against the higher costs.” A couple times during the day through my office window I heard the sounds of marching students. It was evident when I rode by Mrak Hall, the campus administration building, in the evening to pick up the newspaper from the paper lock box that the excitement was just beginning. Lots of protesters outside the building, news crews, a helicopter overhead, and large numbers of police. Riding south from there I saw two police paddy wagons from the Yolo County Sheriff’s office poised to go into action. I listened to the campus radio channels over the course of the evening. Many arrests were made, but the violence seemed limited to one case of battery and several police cars getting their tires slashed.

The student fee situation is pretty horrible. This evening everyone was very good at their respective roles. The police were being business-like, the students being loud and demonstrative. Somehow though I think this energy needs to be directed elsewhere: blame the populace of California that has on the whole supported the cause of tax reform (read starve the government) ever since the passage of Proposition 13 in 1978. We could start by repealing that damned proposition.

Posted by at 10:53 PM in Politics | Link | Comment [1]

20 January 09

And The Heavens Smiled

Obama party If not the heavens, at least we all were smiling this morning at the inauguration party hosted by our friend Barbara. Bagels, orange juice, and champagne made up for a yummy breakfast. A couple of people in my office were at the actual event; I’m glad I at least made it to the televised version.

Posted by at 10:24 PM in Politics | Link | Comment [2]

5 November 08

Onion Soup

my presidential vote Following an election night tradition she learned from Arthur Goldhammer, Pica made and brought onion soup to an election party we had over at Mary’s this evening. We’re all verklempt at the result.

Posted by at 12:08 AM in Politics | Link | Comment [4]

3 November 08

Slogging Through the Rain

Numenius was in San Francisco two days this weekend, so I decided to spend Saturday walking precincts in West Sacramento. My job was to put a reminder to vote on the doorhandles of people who have been identified as Obama supporters but who have a low propensity to vote. It suggested who to vote for downticket and how to vote on propositions, of which there are the usual poorly written baker’s dozen for California.

It was raining. Warm, lovely, hard rain. I was soaked before I left Davis. Jeans-up-to-the knees soaked. The lists I had of addresses in a part of West Sacramento I’d never been to (demographic: heavily immigrant, lower-middle class, lots of Yes on 8 signs) were soaked too. I had foreseen this and made photocopies so I could turn in something legible.

GOTV GOTV GOTV, they say. Get out the vote. I don’t like doing this, it puts me way outside my comfort zone. But if Obama can stand in the rain urging people to get out the vote, then go and do it again in the next town, and the next — for all these days and weeks and months he’s been doing this — I can put up with a little going outside my comfort zone and get soaked. Nothing a change of trousers and a cup of chai couldn’t sort out.

I arrived back at Davis headquarters, a bedraggled thing, with my sopping-wet map and a smile. Crinkled fingers. I did it. They welcomed me with a smile and their own stories of a wet day.

This campaign has been so well-organized it’s frightening.

Hope. The world is watching, hoping…

Posted by at 06:03 PM in Politics | Link | Comment [9]

31 October 08

Angie's

I’ve hurt my back, a minor but occasionally stop-in-my-tracks tweak that has me reaching for Ibuprofen, doing cat stretches on the floor at work, and generally walking like Frankenstein. Washing my hair was going to be out of the question, so I went last night to the hairdresser across from the Coop for a quick wash and trim.

Angie owns the place. She is Mexican — Angelina — and so are most of her staff. I’ve been going there since we moved to Davis — it’s cheap, it’s a perfectly fine cut for a long-haired greylag like me, and it’s the one place where I get a good solid chunk of time to speak in Spanish.

I asked last night whether they’d voted. No, they said. I recommended getting to the polling booths early on Tuesday because a record turnout is predicted in California: they’re expecting 80% participation, way higher than ever, including Reagan’s two landslides in the 1980s. Obama has a 25-27 lead in the polls here, but a heartening (and almost tearful) phone call from a friend yesterday with reports of lines of students at the Memorial Union to vote may be indicative of an even higher margin. (The big issue in California is Prop. 8, the gay marriage ban initiative, VOTE NO and please donate.)

Oh, but what can he do, said Angie. Look at this mess. Business has been dead for three weeks. She’s worried — they all are. Las que tenemos y las que no tenemos. Ana María’s husband had a stroke three weeks ago; her daughter is pregnant. Health care is a huge issue for them. They are frightened and despondent. (But they will stand in line to vote.)

The Republican self-destruct machine would be something to rejoice over if they hadn’t pulled us all in to the mire — in California, in the US, in the world. Voting them into the dustbin is only the first step in a long, painful process of potential recovery. And it’s going to take all of us working hard to do it — no quick fixes.

Roll up your sleeves…

Posted by at 05:42 AM in Politics | Link | Comment [7]

13 October 08

A Busy Sunday

It is the UC Davis Centennial this year, and a weekend-long series of events and street parties filled the windblown streets of Davis. We worked registering voters until we were told to move on by some officious gal who said Yolo Unite had only paid for one booth. (Registering voters is a civic act and we should have argued with her, but we’ll know next time.)

We took ourselves off to see Religulous which was funny and irreverent and serious, deadly serious in the end. Oddly enough, the Catholics came off as the most rational of the religious groups Bill Maher spoke with.

Barbara now tells me that a priest in Fresno has been fired for opposing Prop. 8, an attempt by the right-wing religious to overturn same-sex marriage laws in California.

Right. That’s it.

Obama will win California, but these guys, funded by the Mormon Church, have given Prop. 8 a serious chance of passing. I’m campaigning, from now until the election, against Prop. 8. Please join me, or please consider donating. This isn’t a religious issue, it’s an issue of human rights. If you’re Mormon or Baptist and Catholic and gay and think it’s a sin to get married, don’t do it. Fine by me. Otherwise, get your religion out of my state and THE state.

Posted by at 05:59 PM in Politics | Link | Comment [4]

Previous