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Lt. John Pike Goes Viral (2)

Seems safe to say that, as I noted in my first post on this subject, without the videos and still photographs of Lt. John Pike, the campus policeman at UC Davis who was documented on Friday, November 18, pepper-spraying peacefully seated Occupy-movement protesters, we’d have had none of the international uproar that’s ensued, nor the pandemic photocollage response to his act. So lens-derived imagery has played a crucial dual role here: first by providing undeniable evidence of an event, and then by enabling spiraling critical commentary on that event and its instigator, plus satire thereof. Such as my own new YouTube video, “Megyn Kelly’s MK-9 Pepper Spray for Kids!” — produced via one of my alter egos, the performance-art persona known as The Derrière Garde:

Megyn Kelly's MK-9 Pepper Spray for Kids! YouTube video

On a more serious note, clearly the story has legs, what with assorted investigations, firings, resignations, civil lawsuits, and possibly criminal prosecutions en route. This won’t go away anytime soon. Every new development will add fuel to the fire, and provide new inspiration for more collages. Pike will end up wishing that the Warholian 15-minute time limit applied to his time in the spotlight.

Still from video of Lt. John Pike pepper-spraying peaceful protesters at UC Davis, 11/18/11

Still from video of Lt. John Pike pepper-spraying peaceful protesters at UC Davis, 11/18/11

The smart money’s saying that Pike, and the other unnamed suspended officer, will be gone by New Year’s Day. The “citizen journalist” still and video images in whose creation Pike collaborated with the witnesses to his sadistic attack on unarmed, seated students won’t get lived down or gone past by UC Davis until they’ve left the house.

Furthermore, UC Davis Police Department Chief Annette Spicuzza will depart rapidly as well, according to Vegas oddsmakers. Spicuzza has lied repeatedly to the press in describing the situation as “volatile” and her officers as under siege. According to a substantial, lengthy report, “UCD police chief placed on administrative leave,” posted on November 20 by Cory Golden at the website of the Davis Enterprise, “Spicuzza, who observed the chaotic events on the Quad, said immediately afterward that she was ‘very proud’ of her officers. ‘This was a tough scene to walk into,’ she said. ‘This was 50 people and before you knew it, it probably grew close to 200. When you encircle a group of officers that are just trying to do their jobs, it’s kinda scary, but they did a great job.’” No one anywhere in the world viewing and commenting on the still images and video footage has agreed with Spicuzza that the situation threatened the participating officers in any way. Indeed, the students involved were all pledged to nonviolent tactics.

UC Davis Police Chief Annette Spicuzza

UC Davis Police Chief Annette Spicuzza

Not only that, but Spicuzza has asserted on the record that “both [suspended] officers were trained in the use of pepper spray as department policy dictates, and both had been sprayed with it themselves during training,” according to an ABC News report. Clearly that “training” was entirely inadequate, for which Spicuzza has only herself to blame. Spicuzza has since denied that she authorized the use of pepper spray, but videos of the event — like this one posted by BrioCloud (go about 3:30 minutes into it) — clearly show Pike and at least one other officer speaking repeatedly into handheld phones immediately before deploying the spray, then conferring with each other. If not consulting with Spicuzza, to whom were they speaking? Pizza delivery? About what? Choice of toppings?

The use of force at Davis violated UC’s University-wide Police Policies and Administrative Procedures. And here’s a federal court ruling from 1997 which appears to indicate not only that this pepper-spray incident was in violation of the activists’ constitutional rights, but that Lt. Pike and his fellow officers (and their commander) would be unable to hide behind “qualified immunity” in any court proceeding, and would thus be subject to suit as individuals. Spicuzza had a legal and professional obligation to know those regulations and laws and inculcate those in her troops. Her failure to do so put at risk not only the students but the officers under her command.

Lt. John Pike in Philippe_Halsman's "Dali Atomicus," 1948. Anonymous photocollage.

Lt. John Pike in Philippe_Halsman's "Dali Atomicus," 1948. Anonymous photocollage.

Pike will lose his cushy job — which consists primarily of monitoring on-campus bike theft — and his base salary of $116,454. That’s last year’s figure; worth noting that more than 40% of his 2010 salary came from fees paid by the very students whose representatives he assaulted. Spicuzza (paid $140,000 last year) will take early retirement, if she’s lucky to get off that lightly. No self-respecting police force will hire any of them hereafter.

The cops who get the boot will likely face civil actions, if not criminal charges (Spicuzza included). Given their conspiracy to violate university regulations and federal law, it seems unlikely that the institution will cover their legal expenses. Ouch . . . that’ll sting even worse, and much longer, than a point-blank dose of pepper spray. Should they manage to avoid jail time, they’ll join some private security force that encourages casual brutality, having demonstrated amply their willingness to use excessive force. They’re becoming darlings of the right wing, which always takes care of its heroes. If they don’t band together to start their own outfit, Xe Services LLC (better known by its former names, Blackwater USA and Blackwater Worldwide), will snap them up.

Linda Katehi, UC Davis Chancellor, still from "Walk of Shame" video, 11-20-11.

Linda Katehi, UC Davis Chancellor, still from "Walk of Shame" video, 11-20-11.

And what of Chancellor Linda P. B. Katehi? Will she exit close behind them? Katehi, I must say, has begun to act honorably. Unlike Pike, his fellow officers from that patrol, and their commanding officer, UC Davis Police Chief Annette Spicuzza, Katehi has consistently faced the music, starting with her meeting with student representatives and the subsequent silent “walk of shame.” She’s affirmed that the buck stops with her, taking full responsibility for the actions of those below her on the chain of command. She’s stated that they specifically violated her written and verbal orders in using pepper spray and physical coercion, which presumably she’ll document for the several investigating committees. She told San Francisco’s KQED public radio station on Nov. 21 that police “were not supposed to use force. It was never called for. They were not supposed to move the students.” She added she “was filled with outrage and sadness.” She’s apologized in public for what took place, promising that it won’t ever happen again. She’s even brought Thanksgiving lunch to the current round of protesters.

Despite that, the Board of the UC Davis Faculty Association has called for her resignation, a demand supported by numerous UC Davis departments at their own sites, as well as by the Council of UC Faculty Associations, of which the Davis Faculty Association is a constituent. Individual faculty and others involved have made the same demand, perhaps most notably and eloquently Nathan Brown, Assistant Professor, Department of English, Program in Critical Theory at UC Davis, in his “Open Letter to Chancellor Linda P. B. Katehi” of November 18. As of this writing, over 100,000 people have signed a petition based on this demand for her resignation as posted at Change.org. The UC Board of Regents chair, Sherry Lansing, has said she was “shocked and appalled” by images of police actions, and expressed solidarity with the students. Clearly there’s Katehi’s blood in the water.

Lt. John Pike in Robert Capa's "Death of a Loyalist Soldier," 1936. Anonymous collage.

Lt. John Pike in Robert Capa's "Death of a Loyalist Soldier," 1936. Anonymous collage.

To what extent her motives in her efforts at damage control (and spin control) are self-serving I can’t say. She took office at UC Davis a little over two years ago, salaried at $400,000 per year plus benefits. Certainly she has a lot to lose, especially since, if she leaves under this cloud, she’s unemployable from now on by any North American university that values its reputation. What then for her? Does she either hire on at a post-secondary institution in some authoritarian country like Singapore or go into the consultancy biz? She seems genuine in her deep remorse for what took place on her watch. If redemption figures in the resolution to this crisis, it’ll come for her, but I wouldn’t hold my breath on that. The fact that this happened on her watch may make it impossible for Katehi to salvage her credibility with the students and faculty.

For an index of links to all posts related to this story, click here.

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