DragNet

In the spirit of continuing our discussion of the British “riots”, Jonathan Simon has an interesting post that I think echoes many of the things that came up in our own discussion.  Here’s one particularly cogent nut he offers up in describing the importation of American criminal justice techniques to Britain over the past decade:

“….[C]hronic overuse of criminal justice as a ready made tool for addressing social insecurity under Neo-liberal economic assumptions has led to collapse of both deterrence and legitimacy.”

Now there’s a thesis.  Thoughts?

Following up on the British “riots”: Jonathan Simon on GTC

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Commentary & Forums

Some thoughts on the London “riots”: Foucault’s genealogy of neoliberalism and “police as a public service”

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…)

Even within stories framed in such a manner, however, I’ve noticed an interesting set of dissonances; some contradictions that, if properly attended to, don’t quite fit the dominant framing:

  • 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.

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Anthropolitea in the News 9/10 – 9/11

FIRST UP – Terrorist stop and search laws used on children (and 157,000 other times) in UK — Boing Boing asks: will watchdog agency begin watching?

SECOND UP – Graffiti artist receives four year prison sentence and we wonder why the prisons are both overcrowded and a booming industry?

Continue reading

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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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