Nothing shakes up a routine like a shot of pepper spray to the face. At least that's been the case for me as a reporter in Davis.
I was working on a story last Friday when I received word that the UC Davis Chancellor had issued a warning for protestors to cease their occupation by 3 p.m. They had begun camping the previous night.
I posted a live stream of the situation on the Davis Patch homepage and listened in while writing my story. And then, through my speakers, I heard screaming. I took a closer look at the live feed and saw riot police in heavy gear standing in a cluster among hundreds of people. I snapped my computer shut, tossed it in my backpack and bolted to the UC Davis quad.
When I arrived, the scene was filled with people trying to digest what had just happened. I noticed one young woman with tears running from her swollen eyes. She had just rinsed out the pepper spray.
When I turned on my camera and filmed the General Assembly that followed, I began a process that has consumed me ever since. The pepper spray video wasn't viral yet, but it would be by nightfall.
Davis has had a separate (non-university) Occupy camp for more than five weeks. I had been monitoring it closely. I even sat with a councilmember the night before the UC Davis incident, discussing the occupation's future. Little did anyone know the situation would blow up the following day, but it would happen four blocks away. And boy did it blow up:
From Lt. John Pike meme mania to the silent video of the Chancellor walking among the protestors, this thing has swept the Internet. Meanwhile, the Internet has driven the local movement forward (in terms of planning and organization) and outward (in terms of media coverage and attention).
Suddenly, the encampment at UC Davis is at the forefront of the Occupy conversation and people are signing petitions to have Fox News anchors eat or drink pepper spray. Crazy.
I already knew the value of Patch prior to this incident, but I've really come to see it in the aftermath of the pepper spraying. As editor, not only is my finger on the pulse of the community (on and offline), but I directly manage a website that invites interaction and helps drive local conversation. And the updates come constantly, and instantly, and in an extremely social manner. That's vital in a situation like this, where things are constantly changing and opinions are held passionately.
As things move forward, the local community and the university will look to parse up the blame. Several investigations are already in motion. So far, 47 percent of Davis Patch readers blame Lt. Pike primarily, according to a poll I posted yesterday. 28 percent blame Chancellor Katehi and 23 percent blame the police chief.
More than 92,000 have signed a petition for Katehi's resignation, but although that number continues to grow, the local Occupy movement has shifted gears away from Katehi. They've decided instead to pursue the Office of the Chancellor rather than the person herself. They will work to get a recall mechanism baked into the Chancellor position so that they have the power to remove a chancellor they deem unacceptable.
As for Lt. Pike. His life will be changed forever, regardless of whether or not he loses his job. His phone number, email and his home address have all been posted online and images if him pepper spraying Papa Smurf (and many others) are popping up constantly. That is a massive local issue and it will continue to be so long after the major news outlets drive away in their news vans.
And we'll make sure to cover it.
Follow Justin Cox on Twitter: www.twitter.com/CoxJustin