Chris Wong saw it unfold just hours before millions saw it on the internet: A police officer dousing students with pepper spray, a scene recorded with smart phones and turned into a viral web video that has brought national attention and energized the Occupy movement on college campuses.
Wong, a senior at the University of California (UC) Davis, was on the outskirts of the human chain formed by students who has set up tents on the campus quad in protest of state tuition hikes. Watching his peers sprayed at point blank range with the chemical gas was harrowing, he said, but broadcasting web video of the incident could be a boon for the movement, which has connections to the ongoing Occupy Wall Street protests.
“In a strange way, [the police] did us a big favor,” said Wong, whose face was dotted with pepper spray, while students forming the human chain “looked like their faces had been painted.” “It’s good for waking people up to what’s happening on the ground. … Some people choose to ignore it and say it won’t accomplish anything, but we’ve seen an exponential surge in support [since the video went viral]. It served as a good platform for us.”
Read more about the Occupy movement in higher education…
Protesters “occupied” the UC-Davis public area in part to protest tuition that has almost doubled for students in the UC system since the mid-2000s and heavy handed police tactics used on nonviolent protesters at UC Berkeley this month. Video of Berkeley students being beaten with police batons was also viewed by millions on the internet.
“The police made our case for us,” Wong said. “We exposed the true nature of the administration as far as their willingness to deal with student grievances.”
Eleven students received medical treatment on site, according to campus reports, and two protesters were taken to a local hospital.
There are many YouTube videos depicting the police officer pepper spraying the protesters. One video has 1.3 million views, another has been watched by almost 1.5 million, while a handful of other videos have between 300,000 and 500,000 views.