Pepper is apparently the new weapon of choice on UC campuses. Tight on the heels of the pepper spray incident at UC-Davis, campus cops last week shot peaceful protesters at UC-Riverside with pepper ball projectiles. The students were protesting increased tuition costs at a meeting of the UC Regents taking place on the Los Angeles-area campus.
It remains unclear why campus police elected to fire pepper balls at the students, although police did claim that the students were using metal barriers as weapons against them. According to the Riverside Press Enterprise, the protest was peaceful:
“Early in the day, activists dislodged the regents from their meeting room by initiating a boisterous sit-in. The tactic delayed the meeting for a little more than an hour and prompted the regents to expel most of the public from the remainder of the day’s proceedings.”
But the students would not retreat. Instead, they began waving signs, shouting and beating drums from an outdoor walkway near the building. Lindsay Cristofani spoke for the students: “Imagine you can’t afford to send your kids to college,” she said to the regents. “I want you to silently imagine that.” She then let her one minute speaking time lapse in silence.
Later, in the style of the Occupy movement, Ms. Cristofani laid out the students’ demands:
“We the students,” Cristofani shouted, as other students quickly repeated her words, “ask that the regents open their meeting to a public forum.”
The students also sought a series of items from the Regents and state government: a millionaires’ tax, changes in Prop 13, and a tax on oil producers. Money from these initiatives would purportedly go to support higher education in California and thereby reduce the burden of increasing tuition on students and their families.
Later, 30 Riverside county sheriff’s deputies arrived to support the 100 campus police, and the confrontation turned violent with shots of pepper balls fired from paint ball guns. Campus police chief Michael Lane said the pepper balls were used:
“to protect a fellow officer from getting seriously injured…It’s unfortunate we had to deal with a situation like that. We tried to be patient and restrained. In a difficult situation the officers did a great job when they faced that kind of active aggression.”
A fascinating series of comments appended to the Press Enterprise article took on an aggressive negative tone toward the protests. One respondent even argued against higher education:
“What a waste of time and money. A bunch of babies. They should be working or volunteering. Education is way over rated. Experience in the field is what counts now days. Too many college educated idiots on the market. I have turned down many MBA's for jobs because they just lack good judgment and people skills.”
Others argued in favor of the protest, noting:
“Of course the students aren't ‘overly aggressive’. They are reacting to the 400% increase in UC tuition.”
Whatever one's opinions, it appears that pepper remains a staple on UC campuses.