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”
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?