You See Davis and Pepper Spray in the Food Group

November 20, 2011

Political Theory


A Photoshopped Article on CNN's Homepage

The U.S. Congress and the Department of Agriculture has recently announced that pepper spray is now recognized as a member of the vegetable food group….Just kidding!  However, it would seem appropriate considering the popularity of pepper spray boomed since the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations that began in New York City in September.  These generally peaceful protests sparked a wider movement that has had demonstrators globally consuming more pepper spray than before.

Specifically, this past weekend, a video captured by cell-phone spread virally across the internet.  The video depicts protestors sitting on the ground supporting the Occupy Wall Street movement on the campus of University of California, Davis taking a face full of pepper spray at a close distance from an officer.  An officer dispassionately pepper-sprays a line of several protestors sitting, who flinch and cover their faces but remain passive with their arms interlocked as onlookers shriek and scream out for the officer to stop.  UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi, describing the video images as “chilling”.  On the other hand, a law enforcement official who watched the clip called the use of

UC Davis student protestors being sprayed with pepper spray

force “fairly standard police procedure.”  As a result, ten students were arrested.  In addition, according to university officials, nine students were hit by pepper spray and were treated at the scene while two were taken to hospitals and later released.

A man being treated after being sprayed in the face with pepper spray

The Chancellor is now facing much criticism in which her role is being questioned.  In the letter written by the faculty association states, “The Chancellor’s role is to enable open and free inquiry, not to suppress it.”  It called Katehi’s authorization of police force a “gross failure of leadership.”  However, in response, Kathei stated, “I do not think that I have violated the policies of the institution. I have worked personally very hard to make this campus a safe campus for all.”  The Chancellor continues to defend her leadership and said she had no plans to resign, however, many are asking her to do otherwise.  Furthermore, the president of the university seeks an urgent assessment of law enforcement procedures on all campuses.  As for the police officers, the university placed the two officers on administrative leave because of their involvement in the pepper spraying of passively sitting protestors.

After learning about this event, an idea that immediately came to mind was social contracts.  According to Thomas Hobbes, the purpose of establishing a commonwealth is to escape the state of nature and to provide peace and the common defense of the people.  However, did the use of pepper spray actually create peace or instead instill fear and mayhem?  Considering Hobbes’ philosophy and his writings in the “Leviathan”, how do you think he would’ve responded to this situation?  Furthermore, Machiavelli’s moral and ethics come pinto play.   In answering the question of whether it is better to be loved or feared, Machiavelli wrote, “The answer is that one would like to be both the one and the other; but because it is difficult to combine them, it is far safer to be feared than loved if you cannot be both.”  So, can the policemen’s action be justified with this Machiavellian thought?  Lastly, on a lighter note, how would you feel if pepper spray was actually considered a vegetable?

Update:  The quotes from the police officer has been removed.

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2 Comments on “You See Davis and Pepper Spray in the Food Group”

  1. ymsyed Says:

    Is that quote of the UC Davis police chief an actual quote? Because I personally find itto be outrageous (if he actually said it).

    The actions of the police at UC Davis, in my opinion, are very much based on Machiavellian principles. In order to suppress unrest and maintain order, administration (particularly the Chancellor) and the police have decided that they are willing to go to great lengths.

    However, I believe that this is a breach of the social contract that is established at any university between students and administration. I think that it is an understood right for all students to protest peacefully without causing harm to anyone or anything else. The UC Davis police force is effectively breaching this contract and suppressing the rights students.

    On a side note, I believe that is crazy to consider pepper spray a member of the vegetable food group. It is more a weapon than it is a form of nutrition, and I personally find it cruel and sadistic that they would list it as a proper food.

  2. luniho Says:

    The tactics used by the police forces at the University of California, Davis were extreme and uncalled for. These protestors were peaceful, only exercising their right to assembly. Police nationwide have been taking extreme approaches towards the oppression of this protest. One woman even miscarried as a result of police violence. These tactics fail to correspond to Machiavelli’s standards; the authority figure, known as “the prince” in his writings, ought to appear virtuous, merciful and positive to his constituents. The police in this instance have revealed the true nature which Machiavelli urged should remain secret; their exercise of power is brutal and public, turning general opinion against them. Citizens are beginning to fear the police, those who are supposed to protect us; my boyfriend’s brother attends Davis, and the actions taken by the police there cause him to fear for his brother’s safety there. A fearful population can cross into anger, especially when these negative values are publicized. If this police brutality continues, there could be dramatic and violent consequences.

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