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Lt. John Pike Goes Viral (4)

In an earlier post, I moved up the University of California food chain, considering the likely outcome of the crisis generated by the Nov. 18 pepper-spraying of peaceful students for Lt. John Pike and his fellow officer on the UC Davis Police; UC Davis Chief of Police Annette Spicuzza, who reports to UC Davis Chancellor Linda P. B. Katehi; and Katehi herself.

Pike and his comrade, I’m convinced, will get the boot, then deal with a variety of serious legal problems. Spicuzza, I’ve predicted, will take early retirement, and possibly face both civil and criminal charges. Katehi, in turn, will likely get forced to resign, though she’s fighting hard for her professional life here.

UC President Mark Yudof

UC President Mark Yudof

Katehi, in turn, reports to Mark G. Yudof, President of the entire University of California system. His official biography at the UC website describes him as “a distinguished authority on constitutional law, freedom of expression and education law who has written and edited numerous publications on free speech and gender discrimination.” Respectable credentials, surely. Yet, on his watch (he took office June 16, 2008), several high-profile physical attacks on protesters by UC police have occurred on several of system’s campi. The man — salaried at $800K — has got some explaining to do.

So far, Yudof has said only that he was “appalled by the images” of the event. Nonetheless, Yudof, I’m sure, will dodge the bullet somehow, as no evidence presented to date suggests that he had any foreknowledge of or direct involvement in the aggressive police response to the Occupy movement on Nov. 18th. (His office is in Oakland, CA, an hour’s drive from the Davis campus.) Yudof’s making all the predictable executive moves, some smart, some less so:

Lt. John Pike in Joe Rosenthal's "Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima," February 23, 1945. Anonymous photocollage.

Lt. John Pike in Joe Rosenthal’s “Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima,” February 23, 1945. Anonymous photocollage.

• He commissioned an investigative report on the pepper-spray incident from former LA Police Chief William Bratton. According to a Nov. 28 press release, “Bratton, who also led the New York City police department, now heads the New York-based Kroll Security Group consulting company as chairman. He is a renowned expert in progressive community policing.” Given Bratton’s hard-line attitudes, the word “progressive” is certainly arguable as a descriptor. (See this recent interview with Bratton in London’s Daily Telegraph.) Consequently, Yudof’s decision has raised an outcry from many quarters. (See “UC faculty group decries Bill Bratton leading pepper spray probe” by Carla Rivera, from the November 24, 2011 Los Angeles Times. And here’s the Nov. 27 letter to Yudof on this subject from the Council of UC Faculty Associations, detailing Kroll conflict-of-interest problems with taking on this commission.) Andrew Price of The Atlantic wrote, “Picking a company with Kroll’s corporate entanglements to conduct the investigation is incredibly tactless at best.”

• Yudof appointed UC General Counsel Charles Robinson (who enjoys a UC compensation package of close to a half-million dollars annually), and UC Berkeley School of Law Dean Christopher Edley, Jr. (whose salary was $350,000 in 2010, without including benefits), “to lead a systemwide examination of police protocols and policies as they apply to protests at all 10 UC campuses. The review is expected to result in recommended best practices for policing protests across the 10 UC campuses,” according to the Nov. 28 press release. These are hardly neutral figures. Robinson would lead UC’s defense in the likely event that pepper-sprayed protesters decide to sue, while Edley is a staunch supporter of notorious attorney John Yoo, who remains in good standing on the Berkeley law school faculty — he enjoyed a 2010 salary of $210,000, plus benefits — despite his service to the George W. Bush administration as author of portions of the PATRIOT Act and the primary rationalizer of torture as a tactic. Yudof’s choice of this clearly compromised pair has raised red flags among those concerned with the need for a truly independent review of the situation.

Lt. John Pike in Donald L. Robinson's "Ali Defeats Liston," May 25, 1965. Anonymous photocollage.

Lt. John Pike in Donald L. Robinson’s “Ali Defeats Liston,” May 25, 1965. Anonymous photocollage.

• He’s convening meetings of all 10 chancellors of all 10 UC campi, “to engage in a full and unfettered discussion about how to ensure proportional law enforcement response to non-violent protest. To that end, I will be asking the chancellors to forward to me at once all relevant protocols and policies already in place on their individual campuses, as well as those that apply to the engagement of non-campus police agencies through mutual aid agreements. Further, I already have taken steps to assemble experts and stakeholders to conduct a thorough, far-reaching and urgent assessment of campus police procedures involving use of force, including post-incident review processes.” (Per the Nov. 20 press release.)

• And, on Nov. 28, Yudof announced the appointment of former California Supreme Court Justice Cruz Reynoso to chair a task force formed to address the pepper spraying of the UC Davis students. “Formed by Yudof at Katehi’s request,” according to that days’s press release, “the task force will consist of a cross-section of students, faculty, staff and other UC community members. Reynoso is the first member named to the task force. The task force will review the report [from Bratton] and make recommendations to Katehi on steps that should be taken to ensure the safety of peaceful protesters on campus. She will present her implementation plan to Yudof.”

Lt. John Pike in Alexander Gardner's "A Harvest of Death," 1863. Anonymous photocollage.

Lt. John Pike in Alexander Gardner’s “A Harvest of Death,” 1863. Anonymous photocollage.

With all that, it seems possible — especially given the appointments of Bratton, Edley, and Yoo to conduct the university’s own investigation of this matter, especially given the recent pattern of police use of excessive force on UC campi — that this blot will remain permanently on the escutcheon of Yudof’s administration, tattering his reputation as a first-amendment maven.

In any event, the actions of these protagonists in this situation won’t ever be forgotten; there’s been way too much press and, most importantly, the video and still documentation by “citizen journalists” bearing witness will come up on Google and other search engines whenever their names get entered.

Lt. John Pike holiday cake.

Lt. John Pike holiday cake.

But the behavior of the administrators ultimately responsible in this situation, no matter how reprehensible or questionable, did not manifest itself visually in a resonant way. Pike, lowest man on this totem pole, has outdone them all in that regard, rising overnight to global celebrity by becoming an internet meme, the instantly recognizable symbol of the callous, doughnut-heavy, authority-abusing white cop. The proliferation of Pike collages cheers me considerably, demonstrating as it does that the pillory — as a function that empowers the citizenry to mock and shame those who violate the social contract — endures. And it’s an expandable concept, as this Pike-themed holiday cake demonstrates.

Pike will have to live with this defining moment for the rest of his life — and I consider that a good thing. By the time this is over Pike will not only have inflicted undue pain and suffering on several dozen people but will have caused the resignation or firing of at least three people (himself included). There’s now talk of disbanding the UC Davis Police Department, which consists of some 80 sworn and unsworn officers, even of dismantling the entire UC police force, comprising some 400 members. Watch the thin blue line crumble as they fall all over each other to save their own jobs by leaving Pike to twist slowly in the wind on his lonesome.

Lt. John Pike, UC Davis Police officer

Lt. John Pike, UC Davis Police officer

Beyond that, Pike will have caused the embarrassment and loss of reputation of a major university, the incalculable economic costs thereof, and the eventually calculable costs of the inevitable lawsuits. We’re talking millions of dollars as the price for his one-minute spree. And that’ll come on top of the $240K he cost the university in 2008 as settlement in a 2003 racial and sexual discrimination lawsuit resulting from his alleged homophobic slurs directed at an openly gay Asian-American fellow officer. That’s one pricey hire. Perhaps the omnipresence of visual proof of his acts will help to keep Pike’s “wilding” impulses in check henceforth, in whatever line of work he pursues next.

Predictably, right-wing spokespersons like Brent Bozell and John Hawkins have leaped to the defense of Pike and his accomplices, enthusiastically endorsing their blatant violations of University of California regulations and federal law. Typically, though they claim respect for the law, putting the hurt on anyone from the left trumps the state’s abiding by the law. When UC Davis sails Pike off the back porch like a dead Easter chick, he’ll surely find a support base in the Tea Party. Maybe they’ll put him and Joe the Plumber on the same ticket.

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

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