By Julia Guest
Two Saturdays ago, approximately 15 people disguised in black hooded sweatshirts circled the base of the tree-sitters’ redwood campsite in an attempt to provide food for the tree-sitters. They were immediately greeted by police and pepper spray at Science Hill and forced to flee the scene.
Police sprayed approximately 10 to 12 of the masked food providers; some directly in the face, according to second-year graduate student Bradley who observed the scuffle.
The administration has repeatedly suggested avoiding the site and has prohibited everyone from aiding the five who still reside in the trees.
When the group in masks arrived, a nearby security guard called the police. Bradley said: “The police pulled up and yelled, ‘You are all trespassing, get out of here!’ and approached the crowd of people with pepper spray.”
The police later confiscated the bag of food prepared by the group.
Jim Burns, director of UC Santa Cruz’s Public Information Office, stresses that the police repeatedly asked the masked people to disperse, but the group resisted. In response, the group constructed a large cloth barrier they used for protection. The two officers at the scene resorted to pepper spray, Burns said, because they still felt threatened by the group after they demanded that they retreat.
The group ran, and the officers issued no citations.
Bradley objected to the police force’s actions, defending the anonymous crowd of supporters. “They didn’t do anything wrong in the first place, so nothing should have happened to them,” he said. “We all have the right to be wherever we want.”
Since the protest in early November, most doors to the Physical Sciences building remain locked due to events such as vandalism, randomly-activated fire alarms and several slashed tires. According to Burns, authorities with pepper spray say they will ostensibly use it on people who aid protestors in the trees and do not leave when told.
The university was quick in its response to what Burns refers to as the “illegal camping.” The administration maintains that the Science Hill encampment poses threats to the safety and personal comfort of students and faculty. Campus security is continually present at the site and the Physical Sciences building.
The pepper-spray incident Saturday is not an isolated event. Around the same time, four police arrested a tree-sit supporter and charged him with trespassing. As seen last Saturday, trespassers can continue to expect immediate consequences.
Jennifer Charles, media spokesperson for the tree-sitters, found the use of pepper spray surprising. “Police don’t usually spray a small group of people acting in a non-threatening manner. There was also no immediate medical care after the spray, which is the usual action.”
At a court hearing a week and a half ago, the university sought legal help regarding the presence of the tree-sitters and their supporters. Burns said, “If the court order is granted, people may not necessarily come down from the trees, but it will perhaps be a signal that the consequences will be more severe.”
Charles wrestles with the repercussions imposed by the university and its police, especially with the use of pepper spray. “Pepper spray is called a non-lethal force, but there have been many instances of people dying from it. More research should be done before it’s used haphazardly.”
As Burns awaits the next court hearing, Charles predicts more campus protests. “There was such an uproar from the university about pepper spraying not long ago. I think we’re going to see a lot more protest about pepper spraying,” she said.