The University of California has reached a $1 million settlement with UC Davis students who were pepper sprayed at an Occupy-inspired Nov. 18 demonstration to protest rising tuition. UC will pay student plaintiffs $30,000 each, and the American Civil Liberties Union will pocket up to $250,000. Everything that is wrong in California resides in this story.
For $30,000, I’ll get pepper sprayed.
Students think tuition costs too much, so what do they do? Sue the university; it has deep pockets.
This episode began because students know that if they stood around smoking pot and demanding more money from Sacramento, the administration would be tickled pink. UC brass and students are in complete agreement on this issue. Thus, if students want to get arrested and bask in their fictional oppression, they must set up tents in an illegal encampment or lock arms so that police cannot do their job.
That’s what happened at UC Davis. Students surrounded campus cops, who warned students that if they didn’t disperse, they would be subject to the use of force and pepper spray.
They stayed. They videotaped. They sued. That’s how so-called civil libertarians conquer. They break rules designed not to squelch free speech but to protect everyone’s right to public space. Then they sue, secure in the knowledge that state officials will settle with them.
UC spokesman Steve Montiel explained that the university “estimated it would cost more to take it to trial.” It’s a class action suit, so other parties cannot sue.
I see the point. I also believe that UC inevitably will buckle in any case with a “social justice” element. Remember how, lest famished or parched activists fall from a tree, UC Berkeley delivered energy bars and water to tree-sitters who trespassed on campus for two years? At the University of California, there’s always a safety net for protest — lawful or otherwise.
These students chose to get arrested — and the pepper spraying was memorialized on camera. Still, UC spent close to $1 million investigating the episode. A task force concluded that the pepper spraying incident “should and could have been prevented.”
The campus police chief and two officers no longer work for UC. Eleven students were treated for the ill effects of pepper spray. The Yolo County district attorney announced last week that no officers will be prosecuted, because guilt could not be proved “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
In a statement announcing the settlement, the ACLU announced it will use the money “to advocate for free speech rights and other fundamental civil liberties.” In other words, university solons have managed to feed the ACLU money to fuel the next legal complaint based on a manufactured violation of free speech rights.
ACLU attorney Michael Risher counters that the students were breaking a campus rule, not a criminal law. Some suffered “excruciating pain,” and they should “get some compensation for that.”
The $30,000 payments are close to what it costs to attend UC Davis for a year, Risher added. He rather would have a system in which culpable officials pay damages instead of taxpayers, but “unfortunately, that’s not the law.”
It might be that UC students have to work to get arrested, he added, but “the folks at segregated lunch counters, they were working to get arrested,” too.
No, those civil rights heroes were fighting for equal rights. They had real grievances. African-Americans were targets whether they chose to be or not. They weren’t privileged recipients of a top-notch university education partially subsidized by California taxpayers.
Risher told me that the lawsuit will improve university policies so that “something like this never happens again.”
Of course, it will happen again. UC academics encourage students to think of protest as an integral part of a college education. As a result, some students clearly are more interested in a long-term gratifying protest experience than mastery of rich academic content.
UC President Mark Yudof even assigned a university associate vice president to implement a different report on how UC should manage protests. That’s her full-time job for a year.
As part of the settlement, Chancellor Linda Katehi will send these students written apologies. Spokesman Barry Shiller wants you to know that Katehi has been apologizing ever since the incident and that she’s very sincere. Why wouldn’t students see themselves as blameless victims who were entitled to break campus rules? There’s a $1 million payday to prove it.
For the next UC settlement, I think the ACLU should demand that the offending yet craven UC biggie has to clean the protesters’ dorm rooms.
Email Debra J. Saunders at firstname.lastname@example.org.