The Eeriest Protest (Or Is It A Shaming?)

First some background. As you have likely seen by now, on Friday police pepper sprayed students at UC Davis:

In response to that, one blogger suggested pepper spraying is torture. Do you think so? Also an assistant professor in English at the school, Nathan Brown, wrote an open letter to the Chancellor Linda Katehi.

Linda Katehi wrote the following letter in reply to the pepper spraying in the video above:

And here the chancellor walks to her car being silently protested:

Many thanks to Dana for links and Miles670 for the link to the last video.

Your Thoughts?

About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • Ramel

    An interesting protest, although the journalists did a good job of ruining the mood.

  • miles670


  • Pierce R. Butler

    Case study in weasel wordage:

    … violated regulations designed to protect the health and safety …

    If something in the Occupy encampment had actually endangered anyone’s health or safety, why didn’t the good Chancellor say so?

    Did she not dare to run the risk that the Occupiers would have addressed and resolved such problems, leaving the state bureaucrats and their goon squad with no recourse but (gasp!) negotiation?

  • Paul Weaver

    “Health and safety” is the excuse being given to break up lawful protests around the country – it’s a bullshit excuse, and should not be tolerated. There is no risk to either health or safety from people sitting and speaking.

  • aporeticus

    Students were attacked and harmed in the name of health and safety. From what I can see police were easily stepping over them and could have removed the tents with little effort if that’s what they really wanted to do. How does this make sense?

    Then, after waltzing around with no fear or respect, pepper spraying the students, they gather up into formation and retreat methodically as if they were in mortal danger. It looks completely ridiculous.

    The eerie silent shaming was brilliant and way more powerful than shouting or chanting.

  • sunsangnim

    Great tactic.

  • kantalope

    We are pepper spraying the students to keep them safe? And some of them probably weren’t even students anyway.—wuh?

    I hope that students will quietly get up and leave the next time she tries to speak at any event.

  • Daniel Schealler

    Haven’t had a chance to watch the videos yet. Currently at work.

    That said – I also find the use of the phrase “health and safety concerns” to be extremely weaselly.

    What concerns? Specifically?

    What specific threat or threats to health and safety were being imposed by the peaceful protest such that it justified the use of force and infliction of pepper spray?

    I’m not entirely sure about calling pepper spray a form of torture… On one hand, it feels a bit like it trivializes the use of the term ‘torture’. On the other – well, you’re using the deliberate infliction of pain to produce a desired change in behavior.

    It hinges on whether or not the use of pepper spray was justified in the context as a form of self-defense or in the defense of another.

    In this context… No, I don’t think that it’s use has been justified.

    Perhaps there is a justification – I’m open to the possibility. But if there is such a justification, it has not yet been provided. Veiled references to obscurantist ‘health and safety concerns’ does not a justification make.

    Pending adequate justification for the use of pepper spray, methinks the label of ‘torture’ is hyperbolic but justified.

  • joshuawhite

    I that that there might be an analogous legal situation that might be used here.

    Isn’t the legal reality for cities that have had protests and parades by organizations like the KKK, that they can’t deny them the ability to get the permit based on costs of security? I seem to remember a situation where they tried to prevent someone from having a protest because of the expense of the security.

    Surely they have an obligation to provide health and safety support because they get public funds! They cant deny a protest unless they give up public funds and become a private university. The only alternative is to support the healthy needs of the protestors.

    At the very least they should be required to detail the specific nature of the health and safety problems to allow the protestors to come up with solutions.

  • DR

    1. Pepper spraying becomes torture when it’s done to force compliance, as opposed to being in self-defence. There’s certainly no self-defense that can be made by the police here.

    2. OC Spray is rated at between 5 and 15 million scoville units, up to an order of magnitude more intense than that hottest peppers in existence.

    3. The effects of extreme doses of capsaicin, such as those received by the protestors at UC Davis, have not been studied properly. But anecdotal evidence suggests that there may be permanent damage caused, and a US military study on the use of OC spray concluded described “[m]utagenic effects, carcinogenic effects, sensitization, cardiovascular and pulmonary toxicity, neurotoxicity, as well as possible human fatalities. There is a risk in using this product on a large and varied population”.

    So yes, Pepper spraying, unless used in direct self-defence, is torture.