Dispatches

Originally posted on Kevin Karpiak's Blog:

This post is my first, personal, attempt at refiguring anthropological inquiry after the internet 2.0.  I guess this is just a fancy way of saying that I’m beginning to try to come to terms with doing ethnography after the birth of social media.  For context, my original fieldwork in France, way back between 2003-2005, coincided with Friendster, but that’s about it (it’s no coincidence that it was juring that time that I met my first “blogger”).  I’ve long though about what it would mean to start up a new project in the age of blogging, microblogging, social media and whathaveyou.  I’ve had various personal inspirations, and a few more or less inchoate collaborations (especially through the various iterations of the ARC Collaboratory, whose website seems to be down right now), but, at yet, no sustained engagement.  So here goes.

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Anthropoliteia In the News 9/8/09

If you’ve  been so caught up in the story of the East Bay kidnapping uncovered by UC Berkeley police (for a cogent analysis, and some myth-busting regarding what parole can accomplish, see Jonathan Simon’s post over at Prawfsblog) that you haven’t had time for anything else, here’s another edition of Anthropoliteia In the News:

«Ceux qui sont fatigués, au revoir!»

Nicolas Sarkozy recently surprised a meeting of the departmental Cheifs of the Police Nationale and Gendarmerie, who thought they were merely meeting with Minister of the Interior Brice Hotrefeux, with an unannounced visit.  The reason for the suprise visit was the recent less-than-spectacular crime statistics, particularly in Loire.   These stats have been a bragging point for sarkozy over the last seven years.  The answer, according to sarkozy?  More work.  “Those of you who are tired, au revoir!”

But don’t be impolite about it.  The President of the Republic also reminded police officers to “respect the basic rules of courtesy” when dealing with youth, and not to immediately revert to using the (impolite and overly-familiar) “tu” form of address.

However…

Several French police unions have denounced as “overly aggressive” and “lying accusations” a televised report, and interview of Interior Minister Hortefeux, by M6 television reporter Mélissa Theuriau.

During a televised interview of Minister Hortefeux, Theuriau presented footage of a group of police officers forcing youth to the ground and suggested that such images “ridicule the police code of conduct.”

For his part Hortefeux suggested that the “presumption of innocence applies to police officers as well.”

In the space of security, police are the opposite of culture?

Or is the metric at play here that of “sublty” ?

Simon Reid-Henry has an interesting review of the new edited volume by geographers Alan Ingram and Klaus Dodds, Spaces of Security and Insecurity: Geographies of the War on Terror in Times Higher Education:

spacesofsecurityWhile some states are being broken up into ever less state-like parts, making intervention an easier task, others are busy hardening their borders through the securitisation of immigration and asylum legislation. This geographical unevenness in the manner and extent to which security is pursued through territorial proxy is sustained by cultural processes that normalise some definitions of security as they disavow others. This book is especially welcome for the way it picks apart this process. In doing so, it shows that if security has become perhaps the dominant paradigm of the War on Terror in Western states, it is based not only upon expanded police powers and identity cards but also on a raft of more subtle cultural practices that respond to and inform actual political events.

Police cars are not green

Over at Cop in the Hood, Peter Moskos doesn’t lament Ford’s decision to stop manufacturing Crown Vic’s, the industry-standard in American cop cars,  by 2011.   The whole affair does lead Moskos to inquire into the cost of operating such cars, and suggest that more green alternatives could be incentivized by offering cops who choose to patrol on foot $20-50 more per shift.

Mass Incarceration News

  • The California state Assembly watered down a bill intended to ease the state’s budget crisis by redusing the prison population. The stripped-down version of the bill will reduce the prison population by 17,000 inmates by next June instead of 27,000.  The saving will go from an estimated $300 million this year instead of the estimated $520 million.
  • Additionally, Jonathan Simon wonders whether more federal stimulus money for police officers will mean more people incarcerated (despite the state’s stated goal).  Simon’s answer? “Of course the law professor’s answer is “it depends.”  It depends on how those police officers view their job.”
  • Despite this, Simon suggests (or perhaps “hopes”) that mass incarceration might be the “new SUV,” meaning that it’s cultural profile could be in the process of “flipping”
  • Which is good news, because Chino prison just had one of the state’s biggest race riots in years.
  • Peter Moskos offers some pretty, if not exactly novel, graphs from the Justice Policy Institute of skyrocketing U.S. incarceration rates

[Insert requisite taser post]

Radley Balko at Reason Magazine offers an indictment of cop-based reality shows, especially TLC’s new Police Women of Broward County:

The most obvious criticism of these shows is their exploitation and general tackiness. Police work is reduced to clownish pranks, adrenalin-inducing raids, and telegenic lady cops edited to invoke S&M fantasies for the shlubs watching at home. No one expects much dignity from cable networks, but you’d think, for example, that the Broward County Sheriff’s Department might object to the sexualization of its female officers, or to a national ad campaign insinuating that they’re sporting itchy Taser fingers….

Cop reality shows glamorize all the wrong aspects of police work. Their trailers depict lots of gun pointing, door-busting, perp-chasing, and handcuffing. Forget the baton-twirling Officer Friendly. To the extent that the shows aid in the recruiting of new police officers, they’re almost certainly pulling people attracted to the wrong parts of the job.

One of the tag lines for TLC’s new show is “There’s always a good time to use a Taser.”

This Week in Anthropoliteia History

25 years ago this week Alec Jeffreys discovered DNA fingerprinting

The South Pacific, Water… and police

In writing an expose about Fiji bottled water for Mother Jones magazine, Anna Lenzer runs in to some trouble with the police

Moments later, a pair of police officers walked in. They headed for a woman at another terminal; I turned to my screen to compose a note about how cops were even showing up in the Internet cafés. Then I saw them coming toward me. “We’re going to take you in for questioning about the emails you’ve been writing,” they said.

What followed, in a windowless room at the main police station, felt like a bad cop movie. “Who are you really?” the bespectacled inspector wearing a khaki uniform and a smug grin asked me over and over, as if my passport, press credentials, and stacks of notes about Fiji Water weren’t sufficient clues to my identity. (My iPod, he surmised tensely, was “good for transmitting information.”) I asked him to call my editors, even a UN official who could vouch for me. “Shut up!” he snapped. He rifled through my bags, read my notebooks and emails. “I’d hate to see a young lady like you go into a jail full of men,” he averred, smiling grimly. “You know what happened to women during the 2000 coup, don’t you?”

Are police human?

I understand that edited pieces, such as special issues of journals, by their very nature can’t be exhaustive in their scope.  However, Daedalus‘s special issue “on being human,” an off-shoot of the National Humanities Center’s project of the same name, offers nothing coming close to a discussion of anthropoliteia, let alone any full-on consideration of police.

There would seem some work for us to do here: to include discussion of policing into STS-dominated discussions of “the human”.  How has the chasm between Aristotle (“man as that human animal with the additional capacity for politics”), or even Montesquieu, and the present moment opened up so wide as to make discussions of the human without politics seem plausible?

Foucault Lectures now on you iPod

Certainly one of the culprits people might point to for that transition is Michel Foucault and his discussion of biopower (“For millennia, man remained what he was for Aristotle: a living animal with the additional capacity for political existence; modern man is an animal whose politics places his existence as a living being in question”).

I don’t necessarily buy that though.  Luckily we can go to the audio to try to resolve it…  Mp3 versions of Foucault’s famous lectures, some of them in English, have been made available via UC Berkeley’s Media Resources Center.  These include such anthropolitiea-related classics as “Sécurité, territoire, population” and “Il faut défendre la société”.

Citations Mentioned

Rose, H., & Rose, S. (2009). The changing face of human nature Daedalus, 138 (3), 7-20 DOI: 10.1162/daed.2009.138.3.7
Gazzaniga, M. (2009). Humans: the party animal Daedalus, 138 (3), 21-34 DOI: 10.1162/daed.2009.138.3.21
Pippin, R. (2009). Natural & normative Daedalus, 138 (3), 35-43 DOI: 10.1162/daed.2009.138.3.35
Hacking, I. (2009). Humans, aliens & autism Daedalus, 138 (3), 44-59 DOI: 10.1162/daed.2009.138.3.44
Darwin, C. (2009). Comparison of the Mental Powers of Man and the Lower Animals–continued Daedalus, 138 (3), 60-67 DOI: 10.1162/daed.2009.138.3.60
Ritvo, H. (2009). Humans & humanists Daedalus, 138 (3), 68-78 DOI: 10.1162/daed.2009.138.3.68
Harpham, G. (2009). How do we know what we are? The science of language & human self-understanding Daedalus, 138 (3), 79-91 DOI: 10.1162/daed.2009.138.3.79
Appiah, K. (2009). Experimental moral psychology Daedalus, 138 (3), 92-102 DOI: 10.1162/daed.2009.138.3.92

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Tasers, tasers and more tasers: this time at an Oakland A’s game

It’s becoming clear that “the taser” will have to be one of the things we think through…  Another incident, this time right here in the East Bay:

According to Oakland Police spokesman Jeff Thomason, the unidentified man was allegedly drunk and yelling profanities, prompting A’s security to ask the cops to have him removed. Police say he appeared to be intoxicated, refused to leave and took a swipe at one of the cops. “Given his size and his condition the officer thought it appropriate to taser him,” Thomason said. The tased fan was hospitalized and held on a “5150″ crazy hold.

via Matier And Ross : Taserball.

What’s more, the tasing officer has himself been the object of much scrutiny over the last several months, including some of the corollary incidents that occurred in the wake of the Oscar Grant shooting.

Now, I don’t think it’s very helpful if this blog serves just to document the many tasing incidents that occur–as our own socdeputy points out, by many important measures the use of these non-lethal implements is rather paltry.  On the other hand, and I think Brian would agree with me here as well, the fact that these incidents captures the public imagination is inself something that we probably need to reflect on.

Now, some of you may have read an article that I’ve been preparing (and finally submitted!) which argues that paying attention to the figure of the taser in the French banlieue riots of 2005 and 2007 offers insights into the very form of political action at stake in France today.  I call this emergent space, briefly, the “problem of a post-social police”– a pervasive set of open questions (ethical, social, political, technical) that are being negotiated around the goals, orientations and forms of legitimacy associated with the police once one of its founding objects, The Social, has lost its sway.

Now, from that perspective, one of the interesting aspects of the video (which can be seen below, after the break) is the way that, even as the incident is unfolding, there is a high degree of quite public negotiation of the scene: you can hear people off-camera debating the police action (“i can’t believe you guys tased him!”  “He was being belligerent!”); some people move away, while one man tried to move forward, causing a minor incident of its own; and, if I’m not mistaken, you can see some uncertainty among the police themselves as to how to move forward–after the man is (literally) done thumbing his nose at the cops, he appears to actually be putting out his hands to be cuffed.  One of the officers in physical contact with the man actually jumps back, apparently surprised by the second “tase”.  To add to everything a foul ball happens to be hit right into the middle of the fracas.

At the very least, I would hope that an anthropology of policing would be able to account for the complex levels at which incidents like this occur…

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Anthropoliteia In the News 7/25/09

The Henry Louis Gates Affair

Besides the fiasco that occurred in and outside the home of prominent Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr.– and that’s been burning up the news wires, television talk show circuit and radio waves (and being covered more exhaustively by our own Brian Lande, or socdeputy to you all)–there’s actually been some other news in the world…

Nancy Scheper-Hughes, anthropologist and crime fighter

Topping off any blog on the anthropology of policing is news that UC Berkeley anthropologist Nancy Scheper-Hughes was instrumental in the uncovering of a kidney-trafficking ring in New York and New Jersey.  Scheper-Hughes reportedly provided FBI officials with the name, address and phone number of Levy Izhak Rosenbaum, who appearently promised Moldovan villagers manual labor jobs in the U.S. before coercing them into “donating” their kidneys.  Both Somatosphere and Savage Minds have more extensive coverage of the affair, including an extensive audio interview between Scheper-Hughes and WNYC’s Brian Lehrer (at Somatosphere).

The View from France

Although French news wasn’t immune from the affair that burned up this side of the Atlantic, several other issues made note this week:

  • New French Minister of the Interior Brice Hortefeux announced the forthcoming unification of three police departments (Hauts-de-Seine, Seine-Saint-Denis and Val-de-Marne) under the control of the Prefect of Paris.  The move, which has historical precedent, is due in large part to response problems during the series of banlieue riots that have occurred outside Paris over the last several years.  At least one police union, SGP-FO, has applauded the move.
  • The controversy over the non-lethal arm known as the Flash-ball continues.  This week Stéphane Gatti, the father of the man injured in the Parisian suburb of Montreuil (see last week’s In the News), circulated an open letter on the internet denouncing police use of the arm.  In response, the Green Party proposed a law which would outlaw the use of the flash-ball, a move which quickly drew a response from all three major police unions.
  • French recruits to the Police Nationale are finding, increasingly, that the language of Moliere is no longer sufficient for conducting their everyday work.   What happens when a flic needs a Polish translator?  Eric from the blog Police Nationale Recruitement has some interesting insights.
  • This all is as news has come out that recruitment of all gardien-de-la-paix agents for next year will be canceled, for the first time ever.  the Minister of the Interior cites budget deficits, while union leaders point out that this will cause administrators to rely more on the less-paid, less-trained, less-job secure adjoints de sécurité (and more heavily minority-staffed) to do the same job.
  • Maurice Grimaud, Prefect of Paris during the May 1968 uprising, died.

“How many volts would you like with your waffle?”

Continuing our discussion of the use of tasers by police forces around the world, several officers from Gwinnett County Georgia find themselves in hot water after the appearently tased their waffle house waiter, whom they had repeatedly “teased” in previous encounters. “Miles told investigators that he only “spark tested” the Taser near the employee’s back “just to scare him a little bit,” according to the internal investigation file,” the Atlanta Constitution-Journal reports.

Police Tech

Other police technologies were also in the news.

  • The Economist has an article on using an underground radar system to locate illegal drug traffic at the border
  • British police canned a text-messaging program after it recorded an average of only 3 messages per day since its inception in March
  • The police of Seine-Saint-Denis, outside of Paris, will soon be equipped with individual mini-cameras which will be mounted on their ear and be about the size of a bluetooth device.
  • The Maryland Transportation Administration, provider of public transportation in the land of The Wire, announced, and then retracted, its desire to use microphones to record all conversations of trains and buses…
  • …while the town of Tiburon, CA announced that it will photograph every car that comes through town, and then use the license plate information to solve crimes. “As long as you don’t arrive in a stolen vehicle or go on a crime spree while you’re here, your anonymity will be preserved,” said Town Manager Peggy Curran. “We don’t care who you are and we don’t know who you are.”

Security before it happens

Friend of this blog and uber-cosmopolit anthropologist Limor Darash has an article in the new American Ethnologist in which she outlines the assemblage of biosecurity/threat responses she calls a “pre-event configuration.”  You can read more about it at Vital Systems Security.

“A bad economy is not good for the murder rate”

In what should be a surprise to no one, a team of researchers plan to publish a study in The Lancet that show that murder rates in the EU go up at a rate of about .8% for every 1% increase in unemployment.  As a result, the team suggests that social and economic services might, in fact, save lives: “The analysis also suggests that governments might be able to protect their populations, specifically by budgeting for measures that keep people employed, helping those who lose their jobs cope with the negative effects of unemployment, and enabling unemployed people to regain work quickly. We observed that social spending on active labour market programmes greater than $190 per head purchasing power parity mitigated the effect of unemployment on death rates from suicides, creating a specific opportunity for stimulus packages to align labour market investments with health promotion.”

Police Locally

In more local news (well, local to some of us) UC Berkeley finally named its new police chief.  Assistant Police Chief Mitch Celaya will take over on August 1st from UCPD Chief Victoria Harrison, who is set to retire.  Ceyaya, a member of the UCPD since 1982, had been one of two finalists (along with David Kozicki, deputy chief for the Oakland Police Department) for the position.

In a June interview, Celaya gave a broad outline of his philosophy for policing Berkeley: “Besides loving my job, the campus culture, and the communit…. I am in tune to the culture and what people expect from the department. I would like to enhance the interactions with the student community. Some students feel that they have not developed relationships with us and we want to change that, working with the Associated Students of UC Berkeley and setting up mentor groups.”

Gates redux

And just in case you still haven’t got enough of the Henry Louis Gates Jr story:

  • The New York Times has an interesting article on the training police officers receive in order to handle verbal abuse and insults in tense situations–and whether or not such training is helpful
  • Peter Moskos, at Cop in the Hood, has a post detailing the technique, apparently used in the gates case, whereby a police officer invites an emotionally-charged individual outside, where he is then arrested for disorderly conduct.
  • Jonathan Simon (of Governing Through Crime) offers some historical context, over at PrawfsBlawg, for the Gates affair before considering whether obama should use this as a “teaching moment” as gates has suggested.  Simon’s answer?  Probably not.
  • Finally, the Chronicle of Higher Education‘s blog, Brainstorm, has two articles of note on the issue.  One by anthropologist John L. Jackson Jr., which attempts to “connect dots between Gatesian accusations (of race-thinking) and a cop’s defense (of colorblindness and racial neutrality)” and another post, which offers a passage written by Gates himself in 1995, which tries to explain how police are perceived in black communities: “It’s a commonplace that white folks trust the police and black folks don’t. Whites recognize this in the abstract, but they’re continually surprised at the depth of black wariness. They shouldn’t be. …Wynton Marsalis says, “My worst fear is to have to go before the criminal-justice system.” Absurdly enough, it’s mine, too.”

Citations Available Online

SAMIMIAN-DARASH, L. (2009). A pre-event configuration for biological threats: Preparedness and the constitution of biosecurity events American Ethnologist, 36 (3), 478-491 DOI: 10.1111/j.1548-1425.2009.01174.x

Stuckler, D., Basu, S., Suhrcke, M., Coutts, A., & McKee, M. (2009). The public health effect of economic crises and alternative policy responses in Europe: an empirical analysis The Lancet, 374 (9686), 315-323 DOI: 10.1016/S0140-6736(09)61124-7

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Commentary & Forums

The Political Framing of Tasers

To contribute to the discussion on Taser’s and other “less lethal” or “less than lethal” weaponry, I wanted to contribute a letter I sent to the NY Times back in July 2007, regarding an editorial

“Last weeks editorial on Tasers (6/

Taser

Taser

24/08) is problematic. Citing Amnesty International’s report, it asserts that 300 people have died around the world from the use of the Taser. But what is the statistical significance of this number? Citing the number “300” does little to inform the reader of the relative risk of death or injury from the Taser since we don’t know how many people have been Tasered, under what conditions, and with what consequences. It may well be that more have died from batons, police officers using there hands and feet, or the “dog pilling” that used to restrain violent persons. Any risk analysis of the Taser must situate the Taser within the universe of force options available to the police and the risk of any police-citizen encounter. We also need to know whether injuries and deaths, over all, are increased or reduced by the introduction of Taser. More to the point, Amnesty’s report does not represent a consensus within the scientific, medical or law enforcement community.

Scientific debates aside, it is worth reflecting on the representation of what is normal police work for police in the editorial. The Author writes, “[Tasers] might make sense as a last-resort alternative to lethal force, but it would be folly to allow them to be used in more routine situations like crowd control or policing political demonstrations” (italics mine). It is common knowledge to law enforcement, sociologists and criminologists who study the police, that “crowd control or political demonstrations” are not part of routine police work. They are rare exceptions and typically limited to large urban departments. As such articulating Taser debates in terms of political demonstrations and crowd control is not useful.

It is worth inquiring why the Taser has so captured the imagination of the public and the media. Ultimately it has become a fetishized object for debating the very legitimacy of the police. As the epitome of rationalized and technological state control of the unruly, it is a powerful metaphor for the left to think the police within the neoliberal age. But metaphors also can limit our understandings. The fact is police are primarily negotiators, beings who talk their way through conflicts rather then resorting to violence. This has been substantiated by 30 years of sociological research, which time and time show that police ultimately are best understood as supervisors of “volatile working groups.”

Yet misperceptions of what is “normal” police behaviors fetshizes the Taser at the expense of a cogent examination of routine police behaviors that do endanger the public. For example, recently within the law enforcement community there has been introspection regarding pursuit and emergency driving. Routine police driving behaviors put citizen’s lives and property in danger on a scale greater than that posed by the Taser. According to NHTSA, in 2006 alone, there were 404 pursuit related fatalities, 133 (33%) were innocent bystanders. Between 1983 and 2006 there were at total of 8139 fatalities.  I cite these statistics to put the danger presented by the Taser into perspective.

The attention attracted by the Taser also distracts from the social contexts that incubate situations in which police officers typically use Tasers.  Officers tend to use force on people who are under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or experiencing mental health crises. These persons typically are more resistant to negotiation and verbal commands, behave erratically, and don’t respond to hands-on police tactics. These are also disproportionally the economically and socially dispossessed. Police are called in as a last resort when individuals and groups have exhausted their local resources. Unfortunately the vertiginous withdrawal of government from providing basic social, health, and mental health services and under funding of drug and alcohol treatment programs, means that police officers respond only after problems have been left to fester . By the time police become involved the situation has deteriorated to the point  that force is likely needed to resolve a situation through arrest.

If we want to reduce deaths in situations involving Tasers we would do better to eliminate causes of poverty, help raise the standards of living of vulnerable populations, and cease using the police as an answer to the decline of welfare institutions.”

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Anthropoliteia Around the Web 7/16/09

Bits and pieces from around the web:

“I’m not using excessive force, you’re excessively excited!”

This is a bit old, but NPR has an interesting series of reports on tasers and “death by excited delirium,” which is not a medically recognized condition.  You can listen to them here and here.

(thanks to Peter Moskos’ blog Cop In the Hood, and to Meg for pointing out how “dope” the site is)

“It’s not a deadly weapon, you’re just using it wrong… and by ‘you’ I mean lots of you, again and again, in  a systematic manner”

Speaking of the use of non-lethal force, there’s been another in a series of  incidents concerning the improper use of the French non-lethal police tool called the Flash-ball, this time in the Parisian suburb of Montreuil. Francophones can read a commentary by Georges Moréas, who thinks the problem is not with the arm but with the rules for its utilization,  at the Le Monde-affiliated blog “Police et cetera” here.   It’s worth looking at, if only for the cool impact photos of the various types of ammunition which, Moréas reminds us, has the stopping power of a .38 Special (the weapon, not the Southern rock band).

Training is mostly B.S.

Also from Cop in the Hood, Moskos comments on a piece in The Oregonian which details changes in the amount of time, and schedule for, police recruits spending time in the field during their training. “Of my six months in the academy. I’d say that one month was wasted by sitting in an empty room or getting yelled at. Another 2 months were all but wasted with B.S. “classes” where nothing was really learned. That leaves three months of training that was actually productive. And I think I’m being generous,” estimates Moskos.

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