The first thing I noticed when I reached the corner of Gates Avenue and Lewis Avenue in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, NY was the pair of surveillance cameras perched conspicuously overhead (Figure 1). Each was approximately 15 inches long and five inches wide. Their white color contrasted sharply against the red brick of the building next to me, as if they were designed to be noticed. But their gaze was not trained on me. Instead, they were pointed toward opposite ends of the street corner. I then noticed a second pair of cameras about 300 feet from the first. One of them pointed directly at me. The other had an altogether different design, a sphere suspended in the air. I imagined a camera inside of it that could rotate 360 degrees. Thick black cables sprouted from the back of the devices, extending across the length of the building like arteries. Continue reading
Psychologism and profiling ‘the other’
It is common knowledge in the sociology of police that law enforcers do not merely apply legal maxims but ‘employ discretion in invoking the law’, as Egon Bittner already put it in 1970 in The Functions of the Police in Modern Society. There is often not much consistency in the application of the law as beat officers have a large leeway when they operate in the blind spot of their desk superiors, that is, on the street. While on the beat, policing may be turned into a mechanism of social ordering that has the potential to significantly alter the life prospects of those who are encountered. When roaming in the districts, containing a demonstration, responding to an emergency call, mediating a conflict, investigating a homicide, or containing a riot, the police are actually (re)producing social hierarchies and differences in the settings in which they operate. Continue reading
Studies in Police Science often use language such as “police initiative x was found to be successful because of an x% reduction in crime.” But what does this actually mean, in any lived sense? To gain perspective I reached out to an officer I worked with during my thesis research back in 2012, to which he replied:
“Crime stats don’t really mean too much on a patrol level. Stats are used by police chiefs to say, “Look what we have done.” Crime has nothing to do with arrests. Poverty has everything to do with it. (His patrol area) used to be one of the most dangerous in the U.S. But when initiatives started pushing out the poor, crime sank to an all-time low. (His patrol area) is yuppie-ville; it has nothing to do with the police department. Most officers like to see spikes in crime when they don’t like the chief. It’s an easy way to get rid of them. When the public feels unsafe the head of the organization gets replaced. So that’s how crime states are used on a patrol level.”
So, there you have it. It appears that crime stats (at least in one officer’s opinion) join the ranks of the other politically charged facets of the criminal justice system. Now more than ever, I’m wondering exactly why these stats carry so much weight in determining which initiatives are “best”…
“It is better to think of the police as providing support to the National Guard in the protests [as opposed to the other way around]. The National Guard has more experience and more training…and they aren’t restricted [in their use of force] like us…We can’t even defend ourselves.” –National Police officer-in-training
The complex and contested relationship between representatives of a Mexican law enforcement agency and the citizenry it claims to protect is visible in the documents it produces. Ethnographic material further deepens our understanding of the ways in which law enforcement agents and common citizens form relationships based on negotiation and distrust.
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
“It makes no sense! You go into a Chavista’s house and Chávez and Maduro’s faces are everywhere but you open their fridge and it is empty! Empty!” This was the passionate reaction I received from an acquaintance I was chatting with yesterday when I commented that protests in Caracas have not seemed to receive support from popular sectors in the city.