Pepper Spraying Jesus

The iconic shot of a UC Davis cop and his pepper spray became an instant Internet meme. But will it help galvanize support for the Occupy movement?

The Occupy movement has already generated numerous iconic images. But none has been as powerful or promises to be as long-lasting as the shot of UC Davis police Lieutenant John Pike casually, and brutally, pepper spraying student protesters as they sat peacefully, linked arm-in-arm. The image so perfectly captured a moment in time that it immediately went viral on the Internet, prompting amateur web editors to photoshop Pike into classic works of art — from him spraying the screamer in Edvard Munch’s famous painting to nailing Jesus with pepper spray in The Last Supper.

Pike and his spray struck a chord in the popular consciousness because the image seemed to define law enforcement’s over-the-top response to the Occupy movement. From police in Oakland showering thousands of mostly peaceful protesters with tear gas and other less-than-lethal weapons to UC Berkeley cops and Alameda County Sheriff’s deputies hitting peaceful student protesters with their batons on the Cal campus, law enforcement has repeatedly met nonviolence with violence during the Occupy protests. At times the images have been reminiscent of white authorities in the South turning fire hoses on black students during the early-Sixties.

Those iconic photographs helped launch the Civil Rights Movement and galvanized support for it. Indeed, nonviolent protesters peacefully challenging the status quo has always been a successful tool for bringing about societal change. When authorities overreact and turn violent against protesters, the protesters immediately become the public’s favorite underdog while the authorities become objects of ridicule. As Gandhi famously said, “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”

Still, it remains to be seen whether the Pike photograph and the nonviolent actions of student protesters will prompt the same kind of results for the Occupy movement over the long haul. In the short term, UC Davis officials put Pike and another cop on leave, along with Police Chief Annette Spicuzza. Students, faculty, and protesters also called on UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi to resign. Katehi resisted, but UC President Mark Yudof, her boss, said he was “apalled” at what had happened and appointed former Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton to conduct an investigation.

Katehi, meanwhile, told the Sacramento Bee that Pike and other campus police officers had disobeyed her direct instructions to not use force against Occupy protesters. “We told them very specifically to do it peacefully, and if there were too many of them, not to do it, if the students were aggressive, not to do it,” she said, referring to instructions she said her office gave to police about removing Occupy tents and protesters on campus. “And then we told them we also do not want to have another Berkeley.” The last comment referred to the earlier incident at Cal involving police and their batons. According to Katehi, Spicuzza said the decision to pepper spray protesters was made by Pike.

Regardless, the pepper spray scandal is sure to bring lawsuits. The San Francisco Chronicle reported that Pike and other UC Davis cops appear to have violated the law. The newspaper noted that the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 2000 that police can only use pepper spray to prevent harm to themselves or someone else. And no evidence has surfaced so far that the nonviolent protesters at UC Davis posed a threat to anyone. Still, legal experts say that if the protesters sue, it will be up to a jury to decide whether UC Davis cops broke the law, and juries often side with police officers in use-of-force cases.

In Berkeley, meanwhile, Chancellor Robert Birgeneau apologized to the protesters. But that wasn’t enough to quell calls for his resignation as well. On Monday, the Cal Academic Senate planned to take up a no-confidence vote of Birgeneau and other campus leaders, the Bay Area News Group reported. In addition, Occupy protesters temporarily shut down a UC regents meeting on Monday that was being held via videoconference in four California cities.

Shop Local, Shop Telegraph

The Shop Local movement is gaining traction in cities throughout the nation, but patronizing small, independent retailers will be more important than ever this year along Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley. The commercial strip has suffered numerous blows over the years, but none were likely as substantial as the recent fire that gutted an apartment building and destroyed several businesses, including Cafe Intermezzo, Raleigh’s Bar and Grill, and Thai Noodle II.

The blaze at the Sequoia apartment building was the largest in the East Bay since the 1991 hills fire. It burned for seventeen hours, and left the building red-tagged and permanently uninhabitable. The city also had to close portions of Telegraph during and after the fire, forcing retailers to shutter as well. Berkeleyside reported that Amoeba Music lost $20,000 worth of business during the weekend of the fire. “This is a hideous development to an already totally beat-up Telegraph,” Amoeba owner Marc Weinstein told the website. “We are lucky nobody got hurt. This is another hit in the face for the avenue.”

Built in 1916, the Sequoia apartment building may have to be demolished. And the city and Telegraph merchants are urging East Bay residents to spend their money locally this holiday season. “The message we want to put out is that most stores on Telegraph are open for business,” Dave Fogarty, Berkeley economic development project coordinator, told Berkeleyside. “We would like to encourage shopping on Telegraph because of this terrible blow.”

Over the past twenty years, Telegraph has suffered numerous setbacks. Directly across from the Sequoia is a vacant lot that used to be home of the Berkeley Inn, which burned down two decades ago. The Cody’s building across Haste Street from the Sequoia remains empty after the famous bookstore closed in 2006. And earlier this year, Blake’s on Telegraph, one block away, closed after being in business for more than a half-century. Finally, last week, after the fire, the new owners of Andronico’s supermarkets announced that they plan to close their store at Telegraph and Derby Street as well.

Three-Dot Roundup

Several wealthy Californians — members of the One Percent — are pushing plans to raise personal income taxes on the rich in the state. The Sacramento Bee reported that one of the proposals, which is backed by Molly Munger, the daughter of billionaire investor Charles Munger, would raise $10 billion a year specifically for K-12 public schools in California. … And Lawrence Berkeley Lab officials have put off making a decision about where to locate the lab’s second campus until early next year.


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