Over the past summer, international audiences became aware of severe police violence during Turkey’s Gezi protests. In summer 2013, what started out as a peaceful demonstration in Istanbul to save a public park quickly led to a national uprising against the government. The resistance was marked with intense police violence in the form of tear gas, plastic bullets and pressurized water from cannons. In October 2013, Amnesty International called these actions “gross human rights violations.” Continue reading
Let’s face it: Americans are living in an age of extreme surveillance. The government is listening to our phone calls, capable of controlling our computer cameras remotely and (perhaps) reading our Facebook messages.
On the train, a boy with a paint-filled shoeshine applicator writes his name on the seat in front of him. He works adeptly and quickly, even turning briefly toward me, grinning, while his hand continues in a smooth, controlled motion. A camera stares at us from the other end of the car. He appears either unaware of its presence or unaffected by its gaze.
A crowd waits until midnight to pack 2 hours of City Council time with protest against phase-two funding for Oakland’s Domain Awareness Center. Among those making public comments is a masked ‘Ben Franklin’. ‘George Orwell’ cedes a minute of his time to another speaker. Among jeering and outcry during the council’s discussion, the council-president calls for civility else the public be forcibly cleared.
A few days later, wandering on dérive through West Oakland, armed with my own micro surveillance apparatuses (a pair of eyes and a memory, and a digital camera), I snap a few photographs of traffic cams and empty squad cars. Again, I’m struck mostly by their impotence here, by how much escapes or doesn’t mind their field of visibility. I try to imagine how or if data flowing down walls made of monitors in dark control rooms changes being here on this corner.
The editors of Anthropoliteia would like to welcome a special guest post from Nolan Kline
Spoiler alert! This post reveals details about the new Robocop film.
As a kid, I loved the 1987 Robocop (even though I can’t recall how my parents allowed me to see it given its R rating and violent scenes). Having grown up in the Detroit area and as a PhD candidate with research interests that all hinge on social inequality, it isn’t hard for me to understand now what I found so fascinating as a child about a film featuring a dystopian capitalist future. When I learned about the 2014 Robocop, admittedly I was excited to see it and interested in discovering whether the new film retained some of its social commentary roots. I was surprised to notice that the new film, more than the original, cut to the core of my current research interests around policing and health. The overlap with my scholarly interests led me to consider how I and other anthropologists might use popular media as a way to discuss anthropology with non-academic audiences.
I have to say I resisted writing this post. I have a visceral distaste for academic discursive hermeneutics performed from afar–this is partly why I’m an ethnographer, after all– and, that’s even more the case when trying to write au courant journalistically
However, despite having absolutely no ethnographic expertise among British police and only a concerned collaborator’s familiarity with the issues on the ground there, I’m going to just get over it–tempered still, hopefully, by a degree of humility and a recognition of our responsibility to ignorance. The reason I’ve made this decision is to emphasize an ethnographic fact that I think is important for this blog: so much of what makes police a salient issue in broader terms are in fact riots and, conversely, so many riots, uprisings and rebellions are in fact about police.
All that was a way of putting a large preliminary asterisk on certain observations I’ve made following the news coverage via my own personal extended network of interwebs (BBC, CNN, NPR, Jeff Martin’s twitter feed…). I’ve noticed a narrative dynamic emerging that I find a bit frustrating: on the one hand, news coverage presents the familiar “these are criminals/hoodlums without a politics,” with all its logical absurdities (is criminality innate and apolitical? If so, if these are innate tendencies and not the result of social conditions, how has London and then other cities in the UK suddenly–within the last several days– sprouted so many of this type? What would be the litmus test for whether determining this is a political act, by the way?).
On the other hand, often in an effort to show “the other side” or to emphasize some diversity of opinion on the events, news coverage includes another narrative which risks being equally tired and absurd, the “this is an expression of political-economic disenfranchisement” argument (with it’s equally non-falsifiable claims–what, again, are the criteria for deciding that this is political, and when where these events put to that criteria? what factors and/or data were considered? what would apolitical events look like? If at least one of these criteria should be statements of such from the protesters themselves, it does not seem to meet the definition…)
- Generational conflict. The “this is political” camp insists that the events are the result of the UK’s disinvestiture in social programs while experiencing wideing gaps in real wealth, but within that analysis there’s a type of inter-generational awkwardness, especially between what I think of as the Stuart Hall generation, associated with the Tottenham riots of the early 1980′s, and the present generation of protesters. What’s interesting is to watch the older leftists struggle with understanding and/or translating the events; I’m thinking of some of the interviews with the MP from Tottenham and others, such as Darcus Howe, who seem to be attempting to work out some space for understanding them within a framework of social dis-investiture in the absence of an actually articulated voice of such a grievance. The terms, or even the very language, seems to have moved somehow in the last 30 years.
- Policing is a social program. On the other hand, the “these are hoodlums” camp–set up as critics of the protesters (and thus anti-anti-dis-investiture)–emphasizes the affected business people and residents, often pointing to their calls for more police presence and in fact outrage at the lack of protection. The contradiction here, of course, is that policing is a social program financed through government. If anything, this is the voice criticizing dis-investiture. What to make of that?
I think a less contradictory framing is possible if we make use of Foucault’s geneaology of liberalism (which I’ve written a bit on before), itself formulated during a crisis-point in global capitalism, which identifies neoliberal efforts to “reduce government” as one strategy, within a longer history of liberal political thought, which attempts to find external principles of limitation on government. Part of why Foucault spends so much time on this is that it offers a prescient insight into so much of the nature of policing, security & surveillance today: namely that it springs from the same concern and theory of government. Although often misread, I think, Foucault’s point is that the policing techniques of surveillance (much used in Britain) which skeev many of us out are not efforts to achieve a tightly controlled police state, but the opposite: it’s a strategy of governance which, for many reasons, sees such totalitarian aspirations as ineffectual and unnatural. In this sense, security strategies of surveillance are attempts to provide a “policed” state (in the older sense of “happy, well -ordered and thriving”) with minimal police (in the sense of a specialized political organ claiming the monopoly of legitimate violence) interventon; police without policing.
In this sense, the policing strategies so heavily relied upon by Britain over the last several years are both part and parcel of a political rationality that also focused on finding more “economical” forms of government. The same rationality which leads to a dis-investiture of the social programs targeted by “austerity measures.” The two sides of the framing in the popular news-framing, then, are certainly not contradictory, nor is the one an effect of the other: they are two sides of the very same political rationality; one that more and more seems diseased. What will be the alternative? I’m not sure, but finding a useful answer, I think, depends on understanding the political logic in which we find ourselves.
You may want to think twice before accepting that new friend request from your favorite social networking site. Why is that you may ask? As social networks have experienced exponential membership growth rates over the last decade or so, the police, too, have taken notice. More recently this has translated into law enforcement authorities employing social media sites such as Facebook, Myspace, and Twitter to combat and deter crime arguing that if average people are using these sites to find long lost friends or create new bonds there is no reason why police should not use these networks in their efforts to prevent crime.
Of the many advantages -from a police perspective- of using the social network as another tool to combat crime is that it allows officers to conduct online investigations of its users with near-anonymity. With the click of a mouse and a few registration steps, police detectives are setting up fake profiles to ‘friend’ suspects under investigation and gain intelligence information. Up to this point, criminal gangs have been their main focus.
For example, in the state of Florida, police report that gang members are using these sites to brag about their involvement in criminal activity. Members often post photos of themselves in gang colors along with gang related hand gestures. Some even use these sites as a way to communicate threats about future criminal activity against other rival gangs.
Florida police have recognized these shenanigans and have used the fist of law to combat such unruly behavior. In October of 2008, the sunshine state passed statue 874.11, which makes it a 3rd degree felony for anyone posting electronic communications that “furthers the interest of a criminal gang,” The charge carries a sentence of up to 5 years. What’s more, successful conviction of a felony charge such as this may result in the defendant’s loss of his or her right to vote.
You may be asking yourself what exactly does “furthering the interest of a criminal gang,” mean? Unfortunately there is no exact definition, which means that the individual police officer conducting the investigation is given total discretion in deciding who is allegedly violating the law; this should not be taken lightly and should be seen as very frightening. Essentially, this means that anything you post online -be it a comical statement or picture that is not intended to represent anything criminal, such as a cartoon or hand gesture- can easily be misinterpreted as criminal gang activity. One could argue that this is yet another example of our 1st Amendment rights (freedom of expression) being tossed out the front door. Currently, Florida is the only state with such a law on the books, however, numerous states are in the process of creating similar initiatives.
Lack of clarity in the law and the deceitful process used by police to intrude members’ profiles is causing a ruckus amongst digital rights advocacy groups, such as the Electronic Frontier’s Foundation (EFF). This civil liberties group, based in San Francisco, argues that deceptive police tactics like creating fake profiles to gain access to individual’s profiles -especially those set to private- is a blatant violation of people’s right to privacy. Shawn Moyer -a spokesperson from the digital rights advocacy group Fishnet Enterprise- declared that such intrusion is not only wrong, but also unethical, noting that police pretending to be someone else are actually in violation of Facebook’s terms of service policy against willful impersonation of another individual. Despite this rule, however, police continue to employ this tactic without any legal ramifications because there are no state or federal laws governing when and how police may conduct their online investigations on social networking sites.
In order to gain some sort of clarity on these issues the two digital rights advocacy groups filed a Freedom of Information action suit against the Dept. of Justice. In a whopping 33-page response, the DOJ expressed their interest in -and implied their support for- police using the social network as an investigative tool and stated that all investigations are legal, as long as they are accompanied by a valid search warrant. The DOJ did, however, remain silent on the issue of police violating social networks’ terms of service agreements. Although the DOJ did provide some answers to these fundamental questions of right to privacy online, their response seems to be mediocre at best.
Therefore, until both transparency and clarity are provided within the laws of online investigations, you may want to take some time to see who is really behind that new friend request. Also, if there was ever a time to re-examine your profile you may want to do that now -you wouldn’t want an image or a comment you posted last week (or last year for that matter) to be misinterpreted as criminal. Remember, there is a disclaimer on all major social networking sites that states that all posted information is public information  .And if you didn’t know, now you know.
 DOJ Report
That’s right, since I haven’t done one of these in a while, since my stock of saved links has become overwhelming and since a string of news events this week has got my mojo running, I’ve decided to do a Franco-centric version of Anthropoliteia In the News… so here goes:
A teenage girl was held in police custody for anywhere, from 7 and a half to 11 hours, after being involved in a fight outside her school in the 20th arrondissement of Paris. Police took her from her home without letting her change out of her pajamas, leading to the media explosion of what I’m calling “pyjama-gate”.
[rant button on]
As could probably be expected from these sort of media affairs, there has been a proliferation of punditry and position taking only tenusously connecting to reality or real political seriousness. It looks like if there’s any real movement that results from this, it will involve re-examining the use of “garde a vue” detention practices by police officers.
On the other hand, the obsessive repetition of the detail of the girl’s pajamas in the story seems completely non-random in a country that is going through a parallel obsession over of the burka/veil/hijab/head scarf/any-”ostentatious”-religious-sign. If I were to try to bring the quickly accumulating scholarship on the veil controversy to bear on this issue, I would say that this is the flip side, or at least another angle on, the contradictions of French republican democracy as played out upon female bodies.
… so color me Joan W. Scott, with an important addendum: in the framing of the voice *against* state intervention, the state is imagined as police. In the framing *for* state intervention, state as “protector of women” and “guarantor of secular equality” there are many governmental institutions imagined and invoked (school, post-office, bus drivers, banks) but almost never the police. There’s an important point to be explored there…
[rant button off]
Survey on ethnic and racial composition of French police
As I’ve discussed over at my personal blog, a survey was published suggesting that almost 10% of French police are “issued from immigration” (itself a tricky term in need of significant unpacking). This was big news because, on the one hand, these kind state-run surveys of race & ethnicity are extremely rare and politically contentious in France; and, on the other, not many people thought the numbers would be even that high.
“Welcome to Le Jungle (again), now leave (again)”
First there was the Red Cross center at Sangatte, which housed immigrants looking to make their way from France to the UK. Then, in 2002 this center was closed down, causing the quasi-organic growth of a much-criticized quasi-detention center/refugee camp known as “Le Jungle”. Then, last September, this was also closed down and bulldozed over. From this rubble, an organization known as No Border took over a wharehouse where it housed about 100 refugees from Afghanistan. That is, until now. The BBC reports that French police created a security perimeter and eventually moved in to expel the remaining activists and refugees.
The spokesman for Sarkozy’s UMP party defended the move by denouncing “the manipulation of migrants by anti-globalization associations…. [who] feed on human misery in order to defend their extreme ideology,” echoing vice-president of the Front nationale Marie Le Pen’s criticism of No Border as “facilitating illegal immigration through illegal and violent actions”. For his part, former Socialist Prime Minister Laurent Fabius suggested that while France couldn’t naturalize everyone, those who couldn’t be accepted should be treated in a “more European” manner.
- TF1 News reports that, in the 2010 report of the Cour de Comptes, a sort of budgetary and auditing office of the French government, the Police Nationale are criticized for its extravagant use of funds, especially around the use of unmarked police vehicles. In addition to the sheer increase in number of the vehicles (1,469 in September 2008 versus 1,218 in January 2003), the court alleges that these vehicles are often “luxurious” and “over-equipped… to an unjustifiable degree” while at the same time they’re driven overly recklessly (each vehicle being involved in an accident on average every 15 months) and being requisitioned for the personal use not only of police officers, but former Presidents and Prime Ministers (read between the political lines here) as well.
- On the other hand, the municipal police in Toulouse have been trying out the use of Segway vehicles, or “gyropodes” as they’re called in French. This gave Ladepeche.fr the opportunity to publish some killer stats, which include:
- the total costs of these vehicles amounts to about 5 euros a day, calculating the electricity cost at about 2.50 euros per 1000 kilometers
- policemen using the vehicle cover 9x the area, deploy 4x faster and have 15x the contact with the population (don’t ask me how the calculate that last one, especially because whatever that contact means it includes interacting with someone standing 20cm about the ground)
- Even though they don’t directly refer to this specific 20cm, in an interview with Le Monde criminologists Sebastian Roché and Jacques de Maillard (who make frequent appearances in my own dissertation, both as solo acts and as a tag team) decry the increasing distance in France between police and the people they’re supposed to be policing. The idea behind the police de proximité was not only a move towards preventative policing, but towards a less centralized and hierarchical structure within the police itself.
- Finally, Claude Bartolone, deputy of the Socialist Party (PS), accused Minister of the Interior Brice Hortefeux of trying to create a “police without policemen” through his use of video surveillance… Which, those of us who have read too much Foucault, would say is of course kind of exactly the point
As always, if you have any news you’d like added, let me know in the comments section or contact me