Thursday, November 24, 2011

UC Davis' pepper spray fuels national debate, growing protests

pepper spray at university of californiapepper spray california

Call it the douse of pepper spray seen 'round the world.

The UC Davis police officer caught on camera shooting a bright red stream of highly concentrated, gaseous chili pepper onto a docile group of student protesters has inflamed a fiery national debate over just how harmful pepper spray can be.

Instead of dispersing the tension at the usually placid Northern California campus near Sacramento, Lt. John Pike's pepper spray canister has fueled the controversy into a growing encampment and spurred plans for a general strike Monday with sympathizers streaming in from across the state. There is now a geodesic dome and nearly 100 tents, donated from as far away as Egypt -- with more on the way.

"We've doubled in size, and we can double in size again," said Geoffrey Wildanger, 23, of Los Altos, who was one of the students sprayed Friday in what has become a touchstone moment for the Occupy movement.

And, suddenly, pepper spray is the focus of a national conversation, fomented by Fox News, MSNBC and Photoshopped images of Pike dousing the Declaration of Independence.

To one side it's a chemical weapon, but to the other it's as harmless as the sauce poured on chicken wings.

Wildanger said he still felt the burning four days later when he stepped into a hot shower.

"My eyes burned. The steam seemed to activate it," he said.

Another protester vomited blood, he said. Others felt burning on their hands for a day, and two

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