Police Brutality at UC Davis and the Unity Among University Students: Is this the Democratic Wish?

One of the most recent news stories making headlines across the nation is the pepper spraying incident that occurred at UC Davis on Friday. In case you haven’t heard about this extremely controversial incident, here’s the link to the article describing some of the details.

In summary, students at the University of California–Davis were protesting in support of Occupy Wall Street and, more specifically, against tuition increases and state cuts in higher education. According to an article on Fox News Insider, the police said that they felt threatened and that they were being blocked in by the protesters, who were gathering in support of the Occupy Wall Street movement.

However, photos and videos went viral that showed otherwise. Instead, it is shown that a police officer calmly made his way over to peacefully protestors and sprayed over a dozen students with pepper spray then forcibly attempted to move the protestors. Two students went to the hospital, and ten students were arrested under the conditions of “unlawful assembly” and “failure to disperse.” I attached two videos of the incident below; they are both showing the interactions between the protestors, the police, and the bystanders.

This first video shows the entire incident from beginning to end. Definitely be sure to listen to what the by-standers are yelling.

This second video shows almost the same thing, but it shows more of the events prior to the pepper spray and those events immediately thereafter. It was tough to choose just one video, so I thought both would be interesting to watch. This time, take a close look at the interactions between the protestors and the police.

Due to this incident, there have been numerous campus issues arising. Two campus police officers have been placed on leave, and many people are calling for the UC Davis Chancellor, Linda P.B. Katehi, to resign. Also, since the incident, there have been even more protests according to an article in the Los Angeles Times. There have been major upheavals on campus demonstrating the unjust actions of the police on that Friday afternoon.  Students have been carrying signs with phrases like,

“My voice is stronger than your pepper spray”

Protests on Campus After the Pepper Spraying Incident

First, it is undeniable that this story is extremely frusting and upsetting. Watching the videos really struck a chord with me because I began to relate this incident to the Univeristy of Michigan. Personally, I found this to be a horrific action of unnecessary force; pepper spray was not needed to de-escalate the tension in the situation. I believe that if this happened here, our campus would be appalled and protesting just as the thousands of UC Davis students are doing currently. Examining the way that the police handled the situation, do you think that the police had the right and/or the right motives to use pepper spray as a means of restoring order?

Moreover, relating this story more specifically back to our class, I immediately thought about the ideals of civic republicanism and the “democratic wish.” I feel as though this incident is a real-life application of Morone’s cycle of democracy in his work The Democratic Wish. The beginning of the cycle was when only a handful of students decided to take part in the Occupy Wall Street protest. They believed that they were the under-represented population, and their goal was to break the status quo in the community. In this sense, their decision exemplified classic liberalism because they singlehandedly protested. The incidents that resulted from their peaceful protest ignited a series of events that ultimately lead to the next phase in Morone’s cycle.  Students banded together as a common, unified unit to protest the university’s unlawful use of police force to quench the Occupy Wall Street protests. Hearing students chant “Shame on you” throughout the video exemplifies the unity among the university students. Moreover, the increase in protests on campus delineate the unity among the students today; they are all fighting for a common cause. Even though this cause may be different than the original cause (Occupy Wall Street), the students are united and “out of doors” thus fulfilling the “democratic wish” according to Morone.

When we view Morone’s four step cycle in a democracy, however, we simply view his argument in terms of the people vs. the government such as senators, representatives, political party candidates, etc.; never those who are making a direct day-to-day impact on our lives. It seems as though the UC Davis incident exhibits another variation on Morone’s argument: people vs. campus police or essentially people vs. people. How would Morone see this relationship fit into his cycle; would he believe that the moment in which the people are united and protesting against the campus police and university policies to still be considered the “democratic wish?” It seems so strange that the police — men and women associated with protection and safety — are faced with angry protests, screams, and cries by their fellow citizens. To me, people fighting against the police seems to drift away from the “democratic wish” because it only creates even more tension in society. As a result, change does not seem as feasible whereas when people fight and protest against the government, the results seem more achievable.

Is this incident an exception to Morone’s cycle because it involves protests against the campus police rather than the government or does this incident at UC Davis further reaffirm the role that people play in Morone’s democratic cycle as civic republicans?

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5 Responses to Police Brutality at UC Davis and the Unity Among University Students: Is this the Democratic Wish?

  1. mkay2209 says:

    I agree wholeheartedly that what happened at UC Davis is completely wrong. I don’t think that the police had any right to use pepper spray against innocent protesters. There are other means to restoring order that don’t involve violent acts against the innocent. I think you bring up a great point tying in Morone’s Democratic Wish. I think that the protesters sitting and the students now protesting because of the incident represent the 2nd part of the Democratic Wish. Both were peoples’ popular response to rise up and create change. I don’t think fighting against the police drifts away from the Wish because the police are part of the executive branch of the government. The students were right when yelling, “Aren’t you supposed to protect us?” These demonstrations show how the protesters were trying to change the status quo, thus the flawed government. You are right by saying that fighting against the police does create more tension in society, but this tension is what causes change and allows movement towards the 3rd part of the cycle, implementation of new political institutions. I believe that the incidents at UC Davis are a great example to reaffirm Morone as civic republicans.

  2. jlpach says:

    Morone claims the democratic wish to be “a single, united people bound together by a consensus over the public good which is discerned through direct citizen participation in community settings” (“The Democratic Wish,” 7). Based on this summarized definition, I definitely believe that the protest at UC Davis exemplifies Morone’s view of the second stage of the democratic wish. However, I do think it is interesting to think about how the actions of the police fit into the democratic wish. Yes, I do agree they were very wrongful actions that definitely inhibited citizens rights to the First Amendment; yet, the protests began in response to those citizens wanting a public good, being lower tuitions and lesser cutbacks in higher education. The civic republican mentality was already there. It was when the police began suppressing and trying to break apart this action based on a common consensus that the true mob mentality emerged in this incident. These citizens were participating in democracy, which frustratingly caused the police force to suppress their participation with authoritarian enforcement. Their mob retaliation against the police force and their choice to use pepper spray exemplified their dread of authoritarian enforcement/government. I believe that their peaceful protesting already had demonstrated Morone’s democratic wish, and that the wrongful implementation of enforcement of the police heightened the urge citizens had in protecting their rights in a democratic society.

  3. udontempura says:

    Whether this is seen in relation to the “Democratic Wish” or not, I seriously question when any action like this is justified against students. In my mind, unless the students are putting themselves or others in danger, there really is no justifiable explanation to pepper spraying them. Last month I had the opportunity to see representative Eric Cantor come and address students. For those of you unfamiliar with Mr. Cantor’s stance on issues, he is considered to be fairly far right (not in favor of legalizing gay marriage, pro-life, etc). On this lovely liberal campus of ours, it was no surprise to see a number of students openly booing him while he was on stage, and at times would even stand up and turn their backs towards him while he was talking. At this moment, I felt flush with pride, not necessarily at what these students where doing but at the fact that they had the right to do it. Mary Sue Coleman herself sat in that room, and there was no action to stifle the students as they blatantly disrespected the representative. How different is this then protesting outside against something that’s happening all the way across the country? The events that took place at UC Davis were incredibly upsetting, and I really hope that Universities across America use this opportunity to truly reflect on where they will draw the line for their students’ right to protest, and their safety.

  4. Jonathan Needle says:

    In a way, the students who protested were acting on civic republican, and not classic liberal self-perceptions of citizen hood. They may have acted individually but their grievances were placed on a much larger group of the citizenry, the whole student population at UC Davis.

    These cops are morons. The officer who himself decided that ‘pepper spraying as action’ was the only course to prevent the continuation of the demonstration was a fool. I mean there are at least a few cameras pointed right at him documenting what he will do next; whether he will not succumb to the pressure or whether he will be blinded by it. We can’t be certain he was given permission from the higher ups to perform the action and for this we can’t place his mental incongruities on the shoulders of all officers. It is simply unfair to make such generalizations about the police force and their indifference toward protecting their own citizens. Should his fellow officers have intervened? Of course. But there is a greater risk of dismissal when going against a fellow officer. Do I think the actions taken were justified? Not in any way, shape, or form.
    I can’t help but think of the implications Morone’s wish has on protesters when they follow through with their grievances and go ‘out of doors’. There are many foul ways to generate public support. These students, a figurative branch of occupy, protested tuition raises and state cuts in higher education (what kind of cuts?). In their protest, they may have rallied public opinion in their favor, but to what end? I am not arguing that these students purposely intended to be put on the national news for being mistreated. Sometimes, the attention we want is being had for reasons other than what we originally intended. Were these students voices heard in the end, did the administrative body and state government hear their cries for reform, or is the only ‘new institution’ (Moron’s 3rd step of the cycle) resulting in a replacement of police officers and faculty?

    This abuse of civil rights just shows how difficult it is these days to get ‘out of doors’ and send the message you intended.

  5. nmajie says:

    I thought I’d follow up on my blog post and share this event on campus that is related to the UC Davis incident: http://www.facebook.com/events/230801213652715/

    On Facebook, it is entitled “Candlelight Vigil in Solidarity with UC Berkeley and UC Davis,” and it is happening Wednesday at 5:30 in the Diag. Here’s the description of the event:

    “On Friday, November 18, 2011, students at UC-Davis were pepper sprayed during a nonviolent demonstration against police brutality that had occurred at UC-Berkeley. The original protests at UC-Berkeley were in response to possible tuition hikes being considered by the regents of the University of California. The University of Michigan is a community that values the right of individuals to nonviolently assemble and protest injustices. Come stand in solidarity with the students at UC Berkeley and UC Davis who have been nonviolently demonstrating for continued access to high-quality, public education. We are providing a reflective space, along with student and faculty speakers who wish to share their feelings on these tragic events. Event is hosted by the Transfer Student Commission, Peace and Justice Commission and the Student Rights Commission of the Michigan Student Assembly.”

    Once again, this shows the workings of civic republicanism after the events at UC Davis. Not only have people at UC Davis protested in solidarity with their fellow students, but it is becoming a movement across the country. The unity and solidarity of the students across the country demonstrate the “democratic wish” and the power of the American populace. At the University of Michigan, this event on Wednesday shows how we exemplify the “democratic wish.”

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