The editors of Anthropoliteia welcome Johanna Römer with a Dossier in our From the Field section.
“The history of prisons in Spain?” a Catalan prison guard asked me, a man in his mid-forties, his hands resting on a heavy leather belt. “Everything has already been written. Our vocabulary, our forms of punishment – even the word cell itself, all come from Catholic and monastic practices.”
He turned to face the thick glass wall of the bunker.
“I spent years teaching…in law enforcement, in the private sector, and now I just want to be here, with these guys [inmates], where I can have peace and quiet,” he said, nodding towards a small group of men talking softly around a checked tablecloth whose color was imperceptible through the glass.
“Look at that. No one makes problems.”
While monitoring the inmates through the glass, the guard narrated other stories of prison work; but his last seemingly unremarkable comment, “no one makes problems,” stayed with me.
The Brazilian army and marines have in recent years played a more visible role in the provision of public security in Rio de Janeiro. The army currently occupies the sprawling set of informal neighborhoods, or favelas, known as Complexo da Maré, a “temporary solution” timed to accompany World Cup events in the city. The occupation, intended to repress the local control of drug trafficking gangs, will be followed by the installation of more permanent “Police Pacifying Units,” or “UPPs,” as part of Rio’s favela “pacification” program.
Between 2011 and 2012, the armed forces similarly occupied the favela Complexo do Alemão, where I lived for a year conducting ethnographic research (2013-2014). Here, based on that research, I examine the significance of the army’s participation in public security.
Many insiders and keen observers of security in Rio were quick to tell me that the army’s deployment in police pacification is not a trend – Alemão was unique, they said. But in addition to the current deployment in Maré, there are other indications to the contrary. In recent years, the constitutional clause, Garantia da Lei e da Ordem (GLO), or “Guarantee of Law and Order,” which allows for the use of the military in public security operations, has been continuously elaborated and refined. Under former President Lula’s administration, and now under Dilma Rousseff, the military has been used for an increasing number of situations, from pacification to oil auctions to the Pope’s visit and the World Cup. These are not isolated events; they invite us to question the military’s provision of public security and how it is understood, especially by security forces and by the urban poor whose neighborhoods the military patrols. Continue reading
The editors of Anthropoliteia welcome Sean T. Mitchell with the latest entry in our forum Security in Brazil: World Cup 2014 and Beyond.
On Failure, Violence, and the World Cup
Not unlike the 2010 hoopla anticipating that year’s South Africa World Cup, the breathless expectation of failure and security breakdown that characterized much international coverage of the lead up to Brazil’s 2014 World Cup, now, midway through the month-long event, seems to have been ill-founded.
The last year has seen the emergence of large scale Brazilian protest movements of clear importance, and the World Cup has been a target of their criticism. But the macabre emphasis on violence and failure has obscured much more than it has illuminated about these movements, and about the real violence and social conflicts in contemporary Brazil.
To understand why so much coverage has taken this lurid form, it helps to look at historical representations of peace and violence in Brazil, as well as contemporary politics in Brazil and abroad.
The topic of surveillance packed a powerful punch this month, with the court releasing documents regarding Stingray technology capabilities. After months of debate, the ACLU released previously sealed records regarding the cell phone-tracking tool in use by several departments. The publication comes nearly 3 months after initial buzz about the tool that circulated after a suspect’s phone was used by police to track him to his apartment prior to obtaining a warrant. The more notable specifics of the technology can be found here.
The problem of prison over crowding is presented by Alyse Berenthal’s article in Anthropology News this month. As an anthropologist interested in the ethnographic aspects of justice, Berenthal spent time working with people in self-help legal clinics. By restricting definitions of justice to the individual level, Alyse work offers insights to the pitfalls of an over burdened justice system.
The truth is in the data. The proof is in the series of graphs presented by Nicole Flatlow in Think Progress’ article about the existential growth of the US prison population. States like California are so over-populated with prisoners that courts have ordered that prisons take steps to reduce inmate populations. Local jails are feeling the pain of overcrowding, with large volumes of low-risk or offenders awaiting trial making up a large proportion of total prisoner populations.
Also in surveillance is Kirsten Weld’s post about the institutionalization of intelligence gathering by the US. From the Spanish-American War, to FDR’s administration, to the aftermath of 9/11: it becomes apparent that data mining is nothing new to the US’ administrative history. Whether or not the US has a right to act as “global policeman” has yet to be determined by both the law and its citizens.
Stingray technology was not the only cause of raised eyebrows this month. James Eyers of Financial Review put tap-and-go credit card technology under scrutiny in a post from earlier this month. Some departments are criticizing tap and go transactions; pointing to higher theft and break-ins by criminals looking for this specific type of credit card. Banks are standing by their anti-identification policies, stating that crime inevitably changes alongside technological innovations and they as a financial entity cannot be held accountable.
First shared in May, Mother Jones’ post by Katie Quandt was popular again this month. Entitled “What it’s like to visit your mother in prison on mother’s day”, Quandt reflects about the impact of her foster sister’s incarceration on her role as a mother. The article comes shortly after Sesame Street’s recent initiative to talk about challenges children with parents in prison face, citing that 1 in 28 children fall into this category (with that stat increasing to 1 in 9 children among African American children).
Have plans to lounge beachside this summer? If so, you can’t miss David Thompson’s “must read” journal articles for Spring 2014. Catch up on the latest in anthropology and policing in scholarly publications here.
Border Criminologies announced their recent initiative to first digitize and eventually physically document material works by UK immigrants. The archive is intended to act as a reminder of the creative process of individuals even during times of extreme stress and uncertainty. It serves to emphasize the role of material culture in criminology.
Should community policing lead the way in 2014? Steve Early advocates for this approach in In These Times pose on June 23rd. He attributes the more “reactive policing” approaches to post-9/11 emphasis on response. Would regular officer assignments result in higher reliability ratings from the public? Should community relationship building be instated to replace reactive responses?