What started as a peaceful gathering to protest state education funding cuts and college tuition hikes Nov. 18 quickly turned painful for one Los Altos resident.
Geoffrey Wildanger, a 23-year-old graduate student at UC Davis, said he was seated with fellow students, demonstrating calmly, when a campus police officer doused them with pepper spray.
It was “absolutely not” justified, said Wildanger, a former Los Altos High School student currently in his second year of Davis’ Art History master’s program. “It was military-grade pepper spray. It hurt quite a bit. … Luckily, no one died.”
The incident grabbed national headlines, with the university police and the school’s chancellor drawing wide criticism after amateur video footage of the attack went viral on the Internet. Students and alumni alike have called for UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi to resign.
Officers and the school’s police chief, since placed on administrative leave, countered that student protestors surrounded them and they were in danger. Video of the incident shows students perched peaceably on the school’s Quad as Lt. John Pike steps over the arm-linked student circle to spray them.
Two students reportedly were taken to the hospital, but Wildanger told the Town Crier in a phone interview from Davis last week that he wasn’t hit as badly as some of his peers.
“I got a little bit in my eyes, but it was more in my nose, ears and a lot in my hair,” he said. “Today (Nov. 22) is the first day my eyes have not burned. … One of my friends got it directly in the mouth and was vomiting blood for 45 minutes.”
Approximately 70 students had clasped arms and settled on the Quad to show solidarity after campus police arrested their friends for camping overnight Nov. 18 on school grounds as part of the nationwide Occupy movement. Due to state funding cuts, UC tuition has more than tripled in the past decade.
When the protesting students refused to move, according to Wildanger, Pike unleashed the pepper spray.
Video footage shows that students remained seated while being sprayed. Wildanger said he didn’t try to fight the chemical, because the crux of the protest was to show civil disobedience.
“The whole point is to try to get people released who they arrested,” he said. “You can’t just move when they ask you to – the whole point is civil disobedience and (to state) that the Quad belongs to students.”
Reached by phone last week, Wildanger’s mother, Nancy, who has lived in Los Altos for 24 years, said her family, including her husband and two other children, has always tended to be “very opinionated.”
“He’s an adult – he’s 23 – and just like my other two kids, he makes his own decisions and choices,” she said, also noting that Wildanger started a fashion club at Los Altos High School when teachers wouldn’t sponsor his idea for a Second Amendment club. “I was pleased when he told me he wasn’t harmed greatly. Hopefully, he goes into situations knowing what the cost is and knowing whether or not he’s willing to pay the consequences.”