The video of police shooting pepper spray directly into the faces of seated, peaceable protesters last week at the University of Califoria at Davis is, in a word, chilling.
You can hear the cries from protesters and the surrounding crowd, pleading, "You don't have to do this!" to no avail.
The seemingly senseless brutality of the police toward the Occupy demonstrators led to calls for UC Davis chancellor, Linda Katehi, to resign. Two police officers invovled in the pepper spraying incident were placed on leave over the weekend, but so far Katehi herself has refused to resign. She told ABC's "Good Morning America" today that she was "confident" she was still needed at the schoo. "There are so many critical issues to be addressed and we really need to start the healing process and move forward," she said.
Late Friday afternoon, UC Davis campus minister, the Rev. Kristin Stoneking, was in the car driving with her family from Davis to the American Academy of Religion gathering in San Francisco when she received a phone call from a campus administrator. Katehi was "trapped" inside her office at the university administration building, where a large crowd of protesters had gathered outside, flanking both sides of the sidewalk in front of the building's entrance. The chancellor was afraid to leave on her own and asked Stoneking to come mediate her exit with students.
Stoneking was running late, having missed a few of the AAR's sessions already, and was reluctant to heed the call. She called one of the students involved in organizing the Occupy protests on campus and learned that, "students were surrounding the building but had committed to a peaceful, silent exit for those inside and had created a clear walkway to the street." So she turned the car around and drove back to the university.
In an utterly compelling post on her CA House blog, Stoneking recounts what happened next.
Three hundred students had assembled, peacefully, outside the Katehi's office, lining both sides of a walkway leading away from the building.
Stoneking entered and was joined by the student organizer (whom she purposefully does not name out of respect for the Occupy movement's culture of eschewing recognized "leaders") for a discussion with Katehi that lasted about an hour. The campus minster learned that Katehi had promised not to call the police for assistance, that she had committed to meeting face-to-face with students this week (today and tomorrow) to hear their grievances, and that the students who were waiting outside had assured the chancellor's safe exit from the building. Still, Stoneking says, some campus officials were concerned that not all of the protesters waiting outside would honor thei commitment to remain peaceful and nonviolent.
With the student organizer, Stoneking went outside to talk to protesters, who agreed to move to one side of the walkway and be seated while the chancellor walked past. Then she went back inside the building to talk again with Katehi before they ventured out together.
"Before we left, the Chancellor was asked to view a video of the student who was with me being pepper sprayed. She immediately agreed.Then, he and I witnessed her witnessing eight minutes of the violence that occurred Friday. Like a recurring nightmare, the horrific scene and the cries of, “You don’t have to do this!” and students choking and screaming rolled again. The student and I then left the building and using the human mike, students were informed that a request had been made that they move to one side and sit down so that the Chancellor could exit. They immediately complied, though I believe she could have left peacefully even without this concession.
"I returned to the building and walked with the Chancellor down the human walkway to her car. Students remained silent and seated the entire way."
Katehi was never in any real danger, Stoneking says. The "threat" against her was perceived, not real. The student protesters were peaceful and committed to remaining calm and not sparking any renewed violence on campus. It's clear from the post where Stoneking's sympathies lie, yet in her role as a representative of Christ on campus, she stepped up, literally, to walk in peace and provide comfort to Katehi who was afraid, whether she had real reason to be or not.
"Why did I walk the Chancellor to her car? Because I believe in the humanity of all persons. Because I believe that people should be assisted when they are afraid. Because I believe that in showing compassion we embrace a nonviolent way of life that emanates to those whom we refuse to see as enemies and in turn leads to the change that we all seek. I am well aware that my actions were looked on with suspicion by some tonight, but I trust that those seeking a nonviolent solution will know that 'just means lead to just ends' and my actions offered dignity not harm.
"The Chancellor was not trapped...but, in a larger sense, we are all in danger of being trapped. We are trapped when we assent to a culture that for decades, and particularly since 9/11, has allowed law enforcement to have more and more power which has moved us into an era of hypercriminalization. We are trapped when we envision no path to reconciliation. And we are trapped when we forget our own power. The students at UC Davis are to be commended for resisting that entrapment, using their own power nonviolently. I pray that the Chancellor will remember her own considerable power in making change on our campus, and in seeking healing and reconciliation."
Thank you, Rev. Stoneking, for being a peacemaker and a comforter. Thank you for standing up for justice and mercy. Thank you for walking with grace.
May we all remember that Jesus calls peacemakers blessed and commands us to love our neighbors as ourselves.
Watch video of Stoneking and Katehi leaving the unversity administration buliding on Friday below:
Cathleen Falsani is Web Editor and Director of New Media for Sojourners. Follow Cathleen on Twitter @GodGrrl.