Manny Crisostomo /

Students on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict demonstrated at UC Davis on the first anniversary of the campus pepper-spraying incident. After about two hours, students dispersed.

Pepper spraying event is low-key

Published: Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 4B

A year ago, the UC Davis campus was a sea of tents and angry students demanding action over the pepper-spraying of student protesters on the quad.

On Monday, after a year of task forces, investigations, court settlements and introspection, the campus looked a little different. Not a tent in sight, nor any sign of uniformed campus police.

Tour groups of prospective students filed through campus under clear autumn skies, while clubs such as the Harry Potter Alliance set up tables outside the Memorial Union seeking converts or selling cookies.

And the planned commemoration of the Nov. 18, 2011, pepper spraying was somewhat low-key, with the event eventually morphing into a larger, louder protest over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Other than a few shouts and some profanities, the event went off without incident as speakers on the quad railed against university tuition costs, corporate influence at UC Davis, problems in the Middle East, even the manner in which the United States acquired Texas from Mexico.

Several students who said they were hit by pepper spray or were nearby spoke out about what they see as problems that continue a year later, despite widespread reforms the university says it has taken.

Ian Lee, a UC Davis student who was one of the plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit that resulted in a $1 million settlement – including $30,000 each for the pepper-sprayed plaintiffs – told the crowd that the incident has now become "almost cliched" in campus discussion. But, he added, the student protest was important.

"We held our ground and peacefully pushed the police off the quad," he said.

UC Davis officials have insisted since then that they recognize students' right to protest.

"The university has learned a lot since last year," Adela ee la Torre, interim vice chancellor for student affairs, told the group.

The pepper-spray commemoration initially attracted about 50 onlookers, including a handful of reporters.

But as time wore on, the crowd grew to more than 100 as pro-Palestinian speakers took to the microphones and supporters of Israel gathered in the crowd.

After about two hours, the group dispersed, with the Palestinian supporters marching away chanting and most of the rest simply heading off to class, or a late lunch.

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