Americans’ constitutional right to exercise free speech and to debate controversial policies and decisions is most narrowly circumscribed, and a university is experiencing first-hand and at a very personal level the repercussions that can come from overt and excessive police attempts to stifle that right.
As noted in a recent media account, a stand-off situation occurring at the University California-Davis (UC-Davis) in November 2011 “drew worldwide attention” when police officers pepper-sprayed UC-Davis protestors demonstrating against Wall Street excesses point-blank in their faces in an attempt to get them to disperse.
Ten protestors were arrested, although the local county attorney’s office ultimately declined to file criminal charges against any of the Occupy Wall Street protestors encamped on the university’s Quad.
And then the backlash began, with widespread criticisms of the university targeting what appeared to be that institution’s attempt to quell free speech on campus. In an official statement from the UC-Davis Board of Regents, campus officials state that their response was in good faith and seeking to “address legitimate health and safety risks associated with the presence of an unpermitted encampment.”
Millions of people did not see it that way and thought that the police action was cruel, over the top and constitutionally impermissible
Many of the protestors banded together to sue the school, and the two sides recently negotiated a cash settlement that pays $30,000 each to 21 sprayed protestors, as well as lesser amounts to 15 other people The settlement also calls for a letter of apology to the protestors from the UC-Davis chancellor, as well as ongoing involvement on campus by the ACLU to promote and protect free speech on campus.
The school spent an estimated $2 million-plus to settle the litigation and pay consultants and investigators.
Source: The Davis Enterprise, “Judge OKs $1 M pepper-spray settlement,” Cory Golden, Jan. 10, 2013
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