As a new year quickly approaches, and we reflect on the increasing calls for police accountability and a critical review of excessive use of force, I want to take this time to review the past year of Practicum and pose two questions for anthropologists and police agencies alike: do police agencies need anthropologists? And what might that look like?
Since its debut, Practicum has explored the practice of applied anthropologists working on issues of policing, criminal justice, juvenile justice and corrections. I’ve been remarkably heartened to see that a community of practitioners exists who have successfully applied the lens and research methodologies of anthropology to these issues. These anthropologists have “produced anthropology” (nod to the 2014 AAA Annual Meeting) in practice in juvenile justice, corrections, and policing and raised the profile of how anthropologists- through theoretical orientation, research techniques, analysis, and praxis- can contribute to the improvement of justice systems.
With this in mind, and a new year approaching, I want to propose a bit of radical thinking. Perhaps it won’t be radical to some of you, and perhaps for others, it might be a bit controversial. But with the events of Ferguson, continued fatalities in interactions between police and people with behavioral health disorders, and the tensions that structural violence and inequalities produce, I see a place for anthropologists placed within police departments. In an excellent panel discussion hosted by the Urban Institute and featuring Chief Ron Brown (Ret.), Chief Cathy Lanier, and Dr. Tracie Keesee, which I encourage you to view, I was struck by the progressive vision of policing and law enforcement that was presented. However, recalling my own experience in working with police officers, I know how hard implementation- even of the best vision- can be, especially within a hierarchical organization. While criminologists have made concrete headways into working within police organizations, anthropologists have not made similar strides. While I can speculate that this can be attributed to the discipline’s historical orientation and notions of appropriate subjects of study and practice, with the emergence of a strong contingent of academic and practicing anthropologists focusing on policing, criminal justice, and security, I find this may be the perfect time to consider how anthropologists can work with and within police organizations.
Here at Anthropoliteia we have plans to continue the conversation we’ve already been engaged in, for example through our series #Ferguson & Elsewhere, around police, violence, justice and anthropology. For now we would just like to share with you some images from today’s protest at the American Anthropological Association Meetings in Washington DC, courtesy of visual anthropologist Richard Freeman (whose work you can also find at visualquotations.com). We welcome reactions, ideas and comments, either here, via our Open Forum or by contacting us directly at email@example.com.
Today at the American Anthropological Association Annual Meeting, there was a Special Session on Ferguson and police brutality hosted. At the session, there was a voiced a general desire for a forum through which to discuss and move forward on the issue, as anthropologists. Out of that meeting there were a series of actions, whose planning is in motion, but the Editors of Anthropoliteia would like to offer this space as a general forum open for discussion of the issue. We invite you to share your ideas below in the comments section
It’s hard to know what exactly to say, to think, to feel or how to react at a time like this; even as a scholar of police. Which is not to say that everything in the case is terribly ambiguous. Quite the opposite: another young black man has been the victim of a deadly and unaccountable state violence in front of our very eyes. I suppose the disorientation lay in how to move forward, and for that I have no strong answers.
Having said that, several of us at Anthropolitiea have been active on Twitter, I imagine in an effort to make sense of exactly that existential question. This is not dissimilar to my own reaction during and after the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman affair. Below are some of our thoughts, as we form them: