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Commentary: Civil Disobedience and Overreaction on Campus



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(Sacramento, CA)
Friday, November 25, 2011

To camp, or not to camp, in the UC Davis quad?  That has become the question for protesters.

To allow camping, or not to allow camping?  That has become the question for UC Davis administrators.

Overnight camping is against university policy. It is not a right protected by First Amendment guarantees of free speech and peaceable assembly. 

So when tents went up, it was an act of civil disobedience. Campus police were within their rights to order them taken down. Students removed most of the tents themselves, and police took down the rest without incident.

But what came next was neither necessary, nor acceptable. As students sat peacefully on the ground, an officer pepper-sprayed them at point-blank range. That's treatment usually reserved for violent resistance.

Protesters opting for civil disobedience expect they may be arrested, but they also hope to provoke authorities into overreaction. Campus police certainly obliged last Friday.

Speakers and signs have alluded to issues behind the protests: increasing student fees, courting of corporate funding for research; and excessive administrator pay.

But these have gotten lost in this pitched battle over camping on the quad. That's the downside of this episode of civil disobedience and overreaction.

 

Pia Lopez writes for The Sacramento Bee opinion pages.

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