The editors of Anthropoliteia welcome Johanna Römer with a Dossier in our From the Field section.
“The history of prisons in Spain?” a Catalan prison guard asked me, a man in his mid-forties, his hands resting on a heavy leather belt. “Everything has already been written. Our vocabulary, our forms of punishment – even the word cell itself, all come from Catholic and monastic practices.”
He turned to face the thick glass wall of the bunker.
“I spent years teaching…in law enforcement, in the private sector, and now I just want to be here, with these guys [inmates], where I can have peace and quiet,” he said, nodding towards a small group of men talking softly around a checked tablecloth whose color was imperceptible through the glass.
“Look at that. No one makes problems.”
While monitoring the inmates through the glass, the guard narrated other stories of prison work; but his last seemingly unremarkable comment, “no one makes problems,” stayed with me.
I’m sure I’m not the only one on this blog who’s been trying to think of a way to approach the whole Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman fiasco. Like a lot of scholarship, it’s just so hard to figure out what to add to the constant shit-storm of a media frenzy. But in my Police & Society class at EMU we have broached the topic, and the discussion has been both passionate and useful.
I thought I’d share the online discussion question I just prompted my students with. I’m curious to hear what readers of this blog might have to say. Here’s the prompt:
So our discussion seems to have gotten us to an interesting place: on the one hand, the question of what to do with George Zimmerman–did he have the right to be policing his neighborhood? did he have the right to carry and use a gun? did he have the right to suspect and pursue Trayvon?–brings us back to a question we’ve been asking repeatedly in the class… What should be the relationship between “police” and “society,” especially when we consider the use of force/power/gewalt? Should they be fully integral things, so that there’s no distinct institution of policing? Should there be an absolute distinction, so that only a small community can claim the right to police power? If the answer is somewhere in the middle, how would that work?
On the other hand, we’ve also been circulating around the question of freedom and security, norms and rights. Was George Zimmerman policing legitimately when we acted upon his suspicions, regardless of any evidence of law-breaking? Should the goal, the ends, of policing be the maintaince of community norms at the expense of individual liberty, or is a technocratic focus on law enforcement and civil rights the necessary priority of a democratic police force?
Anyone have any thoughts on how we can use some of the ideas and/or authors from this course to help us answer some of these questions?