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Two officers suspended over pepper-spraying of peaceful protesters

Shocking video shows University of California Davis campus police liberally dousing students with pepper spray during a non-violent protest. Two officers have been suspended and an investigation ordered – however the university’s chancellor has refused to step down over the incident.

Image: i.imgur.com via Louise Macabitas

TWO CAMPUS POLICE officers in California have been suspended from duty after footage showing peaceful student demonstrators being dosed with pepper spray went viral over the weekend.

The chancellor of University of California Davis, Linda Katehi, has accepted responsibility for the incident but has resisted calls to step down. Katehi said that she was ”appalled” at images and plans an assessment of law enforcement procedures on all 10 campuses.

The shocking video shows two campus police officers spraying thick streams of the chemical irritant into the faces of a group of students staging a passive, sit-down protest. The demonstration was connected to the Occupy movement sweeping the globe.

As the officers apply the chemical spray, the crowd chants: “Shame on you.”

Pepper spray is a chemical mixture, usually used to incapacitate individuals who are behaving violently, and is classed as an offensive weapon in many countries. Along with tasers, it is seen as a relatively ‘safe’ method for law enforcers to immobilise a person, however the effects of the spray can vary widely.

As a 2004 paper by health reserachers at the University of North Carolina and Duke University points out: “inhalation of high doses of some of these chemicals can produce adverse cardiac, respiratory, and neurologic effects, including arrhythmias and sudden death”.

On Sunday, UC President Mark G Yudof released a statement in response to the spraying of students sitting passively at UC Davis, saying: “Free speech is part of the DNA of this university, and non-violent protest has long been central to our history. It is a value we must protect with vigilance.”

UC Davis officials refused to identify the two officers who were place on administrative leave but one was a veteran of many years on the force and the other “fairly new” to the department, the school’s Police Chief Annette Spicuzza told The Associated Press. She would not elaborate further because of the pending probe.

Katehi set a 30-day deadline for her school’s task force investigating the incident to issue its report.

The incident comes just days after an 84-year-old woman and a pregnant teenager were pepper-sprayed at a march an Occupy Seattle march.

Dorli Rainey, 84, is helped by fellow-activists after being hit with pepper spray during an Occupy Seattle protest on Tuesday, 15 November 2011 at Westlake Park in Seattle. A pregnant teenager and a priest were also pepper-sprayed at the protest. Image: AP/seattlepi.com/Joshua Trujillo

On Friday, about 500 students gathered outside the Surge II campus building, where Katehi was attending a conference to address the incident. Students – including those who were victims of the attack – were barred from entering the building by university officials, Blue Devil Hub reports. Officials said there was a lack of space to accommodate the students.

The conference was halted after some students managed to push their way into the building, demanding inclusion. Although the conference was cut short, students refused to leave the area.

Hours later, Katehi exited the building to walk past hundreds of eerily silent protesters.

Additional reporting by the AP

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