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.Embed from Getty Images
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:
Monica Eppinger, one of the contributors to our Forum “What’s Going on in Ukraine?“, also happens to be Assistant Professor at the Saint Louis University School of Law, which offers her a unique insight on one of our other recent Forums “#Ferguson and Elsewhere“. Over at her other blog, the Comparative Law Prof Blog, she has some interesting reflections on the two. Here’s just a snippet:
Two commonalities invite comparison between late summer in Ferguson and deep winter in Kyiv. First is the form of public action, street protest. It speaks of an electorate that, despite a polity’s record of holding fair elections, resorts to alternatives to usual democratic processes. The second, and most striking, commonality is the kind of spark that ignited protest, the relationship between citizen death at the hands of police and public assessments of state legitimacy.
The editors of Anthropoliteia would like to welcome Brad Erickson with the latest entry in our developing Forum #Ferguson & Elsewhere
The police killing of an unarmed, 18-year old African American, Michael Brown, and the hyper-militarized response to public protest in Ferguson, Missouri, has prompted wide-ranging national discourse following several threads. The first, exemplified by the #BlackTwitter phenomenon, emphasizes the pattern of extrajudicial killings of black people by police, security guards and self-appointed vigilantes as the continuing exercise of racial domination in the United States. The second is the attempt to cast Michael Brown and other black victims as threatening criminals in order to justify their killings and deny the salience of racism. A third major theme is the militarization of police, a growing trend since the introduction of SWAT teams in the 1970s, now pushed into high gear through the federal distribution of idle war materiel including armored vehicles, grenade launchers, and machine guns. This militarization is often linked to a decline in civil liberties and violations of due process. Some commentators locate these trends in the contexts of the rise of a surveillance state, the crisis of inequality and the demise of democracy orchestrated by wealthy elites.
I would like to reflect on these trends via the perspectives of people deeply impacted by them. In 2013, I carried out an evaluation of Oakland’s community policing program, and also tracked the effectiveness of family support services in Oakland’s lowest performing middle schools. For the first project I interviewed Oakland police personnel including captains, sergeants, lieutenants, problem solving officers (PSOs—assigned to work with specific neighborhoods), and crime reduction team officers (CRTs—largely focused on gang activity). For the second project, I observed and interviewed parents and children, teachers, principals, school counselors, and a variety of school-based service providers including nurses, counselors, mental health professionals, legal advisors, food bank and community gardens personnel, and Teach for America volunteers.
A friend sent me an article which quoted a police officer in Ferguson, MO snarling to a crowd, “Bring it. You fucking animals, bring it.” She asked for my thoughts. I’d seen the article earlier, part of the news reporting and blogosphere discussion of people of color killed by on-duty officers and the accompanying demonstrations against police violence. I think that coverage has correctly pointed to 1) entrenched racism, such that black faces are reflexively perceived as suspicious and dangerous, 2) and militarization of the police. But even with these explanations there seems to remain something incomprehensible, and I think that comes from just how differently the police tend to understand what they do.