In the Journals

In the Journals – Policing and Discrimination

George Floyd protest signs at the Ottawa Courthouse by Janderson L. via wikimedia

Welcome back to In the Journals! This ongoing series aims to bridge conversations that are often siloed by discipline, geographical region, language, and race. One of our goals is to make sure that the diverse voices currently reporting their research on policing, crime, law, security, and punishment are presented here. We are continuing our catch-up to develop article collections around different questions and themes. This post brings together article from throughout 2019 and 2020 to identify experiences and impacts of police discrimination, as well as to understand police socialization and training which instills discriminatory and racialized biases in practice.

In “The Jungle Academy: Molding White Supremacy in American Police Recruits,” included in American Anthropologist’s March 2020 issue, Aisha M. Beliso-De Jesús uses ethnography in a police academy to argue that through militaristic training, officers mold recruits by inciting fear and teaching racist jungle metaphors of the streets and citizens they are patrolling, even in cultural diversity training. The training sculpts impressionable recruits to be uniform in action and mentality, forcing them to naturalize the jungle logic depiction of ghettos as urban jungles, and their inhabitants as animals, as well as the biases that logic entails. Beliso-De Jesús argues that these logics dehumanize and other Black, Indigenous, and people of colour while reinforcing narratives of white supremacy, and that their use is crucial in the creation of a “jungle academy” which reshapes young citizens into police officers that embody and maintain the white governance and supremacy of the state through racialized state violence. Beliso-De Jesús identifies the training program as idolizing and cultivating in every way possible the large and athletic white man who is docile yet commands respect, militant, and has an alpha male mentality, and operates on the basis of fear, control and submission when policing. This image and the article produce a clear understanding of the way in which the training of police officers creates racial discrimination and biases that uphold white superiority and non-white inferiority, and why donning a police uniform both allows and causes officers to act on that training.

Criminology and Criminal Justice included Mie Birk Haller et al.’s article, “Minor harassments: Ethnic minority youth in the Nordic countries and their perceptions of the police” in their February 2020 issue, which utilizes semi-structured interviews with ethnic minority youth in Sweden, Norway, Finland and Denmark, to understand their experiences with police. Haller et al. identify subtle provocations and intimidations by police on ethnic minority youth, arguing that these constant interactions negatively impact their experiences of procedural justice, as well as their compliance with law enforcement. Interviewees indicated that police attitudes were often negative when dealing with them, and police language was often discriminatory and patronizing, making them feel inferior, insecure and scared, and decreasing their trust in police. The authors argue that this racialization of ethnic minorities not only upholds existing discrimination and instills feelings of inadequacy, inferiority, discomfort, humiliation and lack of belonging amongst youth, but has also led to a lack of desire and willingness to comply with law enforcement, a distrust in police desire and ability to protect and keep them safe, and has encouraged them to engage in criminal activities and self-protective behaviour.

In April 2020, Transforming Anthropology published an article entitled, “Contentious Bodies: The Place, Race, and Gender of Victimhood in Colombia” by Dani R. Merriman. In this article, Merriman explores ethnographic accounts of police discrimination of Afro-Colombian rural farmers in María la Baja over sixty years of war and interspersed peacetime, but also how individuals use what she deems “contentious bodies” to resist state attempts at labelling them violent guerilla combatants. With violence of guerilla groups in the early 1960s claiming to be the voice of the landless peasant, Merriman identifies black farmers in María la Baja as being used as reasoning for insurgent movements claiming to protect them, yet also experiencing unprovoked, violent and torture-based killing by those same groups seeking to dehumanize and other them. Not only have black farmers experienced decades of violence because of guerillas claiming to act on their behalf, they have also been targets of racialization, police discrimination and state labelling of them as violent and guerillas. With no viable recourse or proof that they were not guerillas, black famers staved off police discrimination and racialization by using their contentious bodies, calloused and broken from farm work and not insurgent activity, to prove their innocence and victimization, not perpetration.

May 2020’s issue of BMC International Health and Human Rights included the article, “‘An ethnographic exploration of factors that drive policing of street-based female sex workers in a U.S. setting – identifying opportunities for intervention” by Katherine H. A. Footer et al. Using ethnography mixed with police observation and interviews involving 64 officers, Footer et al. identify factors at the individual, community, structural and organizational levels as key to shaping the harmful behaviour and practices of police officers towards cisgender female sex workers. They argue that police behaviour reinforces stigmatization and spatial limitations of sex workers while honouring community demands to police sex work, particularly in gentrifying neighbourhoods. Proximity to violent crime led to arrests of female sex workers as police searched for information, and community opposition to sex work caused the forced displacement of female sex workers to more marginalized areas with less complaints, policing and patrolling, even when it risked the health and safety of the sex workers. Officers used dehumanizing language to depict female sex workers, and painted an image of them as unworthy of police protection despite their acknowledged vulnerability to crime and assault. Footer et al. call for the decriminalization of sex work, policy reforms regarding police practices, as well as a shift in community and police cultural landscapes to improve the safety and health of female sex workers.

Northwestern University Law Review published I. India Thusi’s “On Beauty and Policing” in March 2020, identifying the impact of police officers’ perceptions of beauty on their policing of different classes of sex workers in Johannesburg, South Africa. Through ethnographic fieldwork, Thusi identifies that police officers’ perceptions and policing of sex workers produces and reinforces a hierarchy of desirable and valuable bodies and preserves racial and gender subordination. Thusi asks critical questions regarding who the police are protecting and serving, as their intended function identifies, when they are not only neglecting but also harming the lives of already vulnerable and marginalized black female sex workers in their choices to surveil and protect white sex workers perceived as beautiful. Not only does the study indicate that blacker bodies are under-policed for protection reasons, it also identifies the police as more aggressive in those interactions than with whiter bodies. Their actions reinforce the white supremacy and black inferiority ideologies on which South Africa was previously based, as well as who is worthy and important to society based on perceived beauty by police officers. Police are not protecting and serving vulnerable communities and populations, Thusi argues, they are protecting and preserving society’s biases by perpetuating them through their actions.

In May 2019, Jaime Amparo Alves’s article on discriminatory policing practices and resistance strategies in Colombia, “Refusing to Be Governed: Urban Policing, Gang Violence, and the Politics of Evilness in an Afro-Colombian Shantytown,” was featured in the Political and Legal Anthropology Review. Alves argues that policing in El Guayacán, Colombia is Foucauldian in its governing nature, as it enforces boundaries of space based on race through the targeting of black bodies and places, which both allows a spatial solution for national crime and security anxieties, and justifies a lack of governance, state divestment, social abandonment, and police aggression within those spaces. Based on fieldwork in El Guayacán from 2013 to 2018, Alves identifies the discourse utilized by police officers to depict black bodies as unruly and insecure, and black livelihoods as uncivilized and violence-ridden, causing what he terms ‘social death’, creating spatial limitations, and justifying a lack of state involvement. Despite this combination functioning to give “spatial form to racist imaginaries of crime and order,” Alves indicates a simultaneous regaining of control and territorial autonomy of El Guayacán by residents (and largely gangs) as a result of that very lack of state governance in the area, as he seeks to understand their engagement with the state and a possibility for reinventing black life outside of it.

Rune Steenberg and Alessandro Rippa’s article, “Development for all? State schemes, security, and marginalization in Kashgar, Xinjiang,” published in Critical Asian Studies in February 2019 uses ethnography to identify reactions and strategies of Uyghurs to increased and discriminatory policing and securitization by the PRC. Steenberg and Rippa’s article is based on research spanning 2009 to 2017, and focuses on the modernist, state-driven and economic growth-focused development between 2010 and 2014, which created wealth and income disparities and incited Uyghur-led violence often labelled acts of terror, and the subsequent development of increased policing and surveillance of Uyghurs, and securitization of Kashgar. The repressive security measures taken by the state and implemented by police led to detainment in “re-education” centers, with the state presence in Uyghur lives ever-increasing and entirely controlling, cutting off outside contact by late 2017. Steenberg and Rippa identify the use of state presence and surveillance through police officers to repress and marginalize Uyghurs in Kashgar, and they argue that the roots of this discrimination are based in China’s economic development and policy, which created wealth and social disparities and incited the violence.

As always, we welcome your feedback. If you have any suggestions for journals we should be keeping tabs on for this feature, or if you want to call our attention to a specific issue or article, send an email to with the words “In the Journals” in the subject line.
In the Journals

In the Journals, October 2018

Map of Downtown Vancouver, taken from Fast, Danya, and David Cunningham. ““We Don’t Belong There”: New Geographies of Homelessness, Addiction, and Social Control in Vancouver’s Inner City.” City & Society 30, no. 2 (2018): 237-262.

Welcome back to In the Journals, a monthly review of just a fraction of the most recent academic research on security, crime, policing, and the law. It’s been a while since the last post so this time we are going to try to play catch-up, so it might be a little longer than usual. The particular articles for this post that range from January 2018 to October 2018.

In January, Rosana Pinheiro-Machado published an article in Global Networks entitled Rethinking the informal and criminal economy from a global commodity chain perspective: China-Paraguay-Brazil. In this article the author puts to work 15 years of multi-sited research in China, Paraguay, and Brazil to present how products and economic practices oscillate between categories of il/legality. This piece does a clear job of presenting the immense variation in legal statuses that products take on in a way that extends the concept of the integrated in/formal economy to include what is often considered as a separate, “criminal” sector by social scientists, governments, and international organizations. Pinheiro-Machado observes toys and clothes, that are produced legally in China as licensed material, as they move through Paraguay’s minimally regulated market to their destination in Brazil, all the while slipping between degrees of formality, legality, and illicitness. Often what is a legal, unbranded “knock-off” product, such as a toy or article of clothing, is deemed as illegal because it is assumed to have been smuggled in because of its assumed Chinese origin and the fact that it is being sold in street markets. Despite the fact that the same product is often sold in more formal retail settings such as storefronts, who very well may receive products that have legally and illegally entered the country, informal street markets suffer violent and excessive policing measures for selling such products.

In February, Antipode published an article with the title “Securing the Return: How Enhanced US Border Enforcement Fuels Cycles of Debt Migration by Richard L. Johnson and Murphy Woodhouse. The article is the result of qualitative research that took place between 2012 and 2015 in Guatemala, which focused on the experiences and motivations, particularly as they pertain to debt, of individuals who had attempted, failed, and/or succeeded in unauthorized migration to the United States. The authors make an important argument for the importance of debt in migration to the United States from Central America. In an economic setting that often has little to offer individuals without a significant amount of capital in the form of crops, land, or business, people often find the best option is going into debt to take a chance on arriving in the United States to fetch a much better price for their labor. Increased policing presence and intensity on the US border with Mexico has meant deportation for many of these people, which leaves those who took on debt with far less means to pay it off than expected when they accepted their loans. In turn, this drives many to gamble with additional loans. Here, Johnson et. al effectively portray debt as “a central enabler, driver, and outcome” of migration. The authors argue to bring the significance of debt to conversations on US border policy and policing practices.

In April in Criminology and Criminal Justice published a study in Helsinki, Finland by Elsa Saarikkomäki with the title “Young people’s conceptions of trust and confidence in the crime control system: Differences between public and private policing”. Saarikkomäki carried out a study with girls and boys between the ages of 14 and 17 in Helsinnki between 2012-2013 who had encounters with police and security guards in an investigation on how youths understand private and public policing. The study focuses on youths because of their particular relationship with public and semi-public places (malls, shopping centers, etc.) and the security guards that patrol them. The author takes on the extremely complicated task of trying to parse out youths’ ideas and conceptualizations of the differentiation between public and private police, discovering that youths did not necessarily see private security officers as different from state police officers because they were hired by companies versus the government. They saw private guards more as unnecessary members of a broader bureaucracy, for whom they had less trust and confidence than the state police because of reputations and experiences of unprofessional and abusive behavior. However, despite the ambiguity that the teenagers expressed when discussing the difference between private and public police, there still seemed to be a significant separation between the two. Even though teens felt more inclined to distrust security officers for their lack of training, professionalism, or education, and did not comment on how private agents are institutionally separate from police officers, the lack of trust and confidence in guards did not bleed onto feelings towards public police. The author asserts that this is indicative of the complex nature of private policing and how it operates outside of the state, yet simultaneously, within its confines and reinforcement. Private policing, the author concludes, is increasingly prevalent in the western world, and this study suggests how this might affect people’s understandings of and trust in police agents and institutions.

Public Culture published an article in May by Yinon Cohen and Neve Gordon that looks how Israel has historically, as well as currently, employed a combination of legislative, demographic, and cultural tactics to colonize territory. The article titled Israel’s Biospatial Politics: Territory, Demography, and Effective Controlrecounts how the state’s biospatial techniques have heavily reduced the political, economic, and geographic resources of Palestinians and non-Jewish groups in Israel, By classifying land as uninhabited, abandoned, or in possession of the state, historically Palestinian land became free to be populated by Jewish neighborhoods, forcing Palestinians that have remained in Israel to live in enclaves that, unlike their population, haven’t grown. Often, what are historically populated villages and enclaves are not formally recognized, prohibiting connections to basic infrastructure such as power, water, and garbage collection. In addition to land classification, demographic categories are based on religion. This effectively reduces people to one of two broad types, Jewish or Non-Jewish, hiding generational ties that Palestinians have with the land as well as any Arabness that Jews might be attributed with otherwise. It also allows for Jewish foreign residents/citizens to go unmarked and even includes individuals with Jewish familial or marital ties, while maintaining a stark separation from Palestinians.

In another article from Criminology and Criminal Justice published in May, Policing as a performing art? The contradictory nature of the contemporary police performance management, Jacques de Maillard and Stephen Savage examine police performance measurement and management systems in England. The authors use a qualitative approach in assessing the efficacy of new “advanced” forms of performance management, which they define as being qualitatively focused on problem solving, flexibility, and long-term orientations. Despite administrations attempts at rolling out these new systems of performance management to move away from box-ticking, senior and middle management still relied heavily on numbers, using them to compare themselves with other precincts. They did this as opposed to interacting reflexively to their own specific contexts, largely because of funding and reward systems that favored better numbers. The logic of performance measurement among officers, supervisors, and the institutions at large are conflicted and contradictory. This case study exemplifies of how policing is not just a practice of ethical and moral negotiation, but that whatever good policing is or might be is subjective, contextual, and immensely complex. The contradictions that the English police experience when critically engaging with a system of performance assessment speaks to the consistent struggle that even officers have with what policing actually is.

In August, the journal City & Society published an article named ‘“We don’t belong there”: New Geographies of Homelessness, Addiction, and Social Control in Vancouver’s Inner Cityby Danya Fast and David Cunningham. The authors explore how gentrification and poverty management tactics are reshaping the lived experiences of marginalized drug users in Vancouver. The article is based on eight years of research on the part of the first author and 14 years of activism and ethnography from the other. The article examines how poverty management and other government subsidized forms of social control are affecting addiction, homelessness, and urban space. The management of homelessness and addiction, the authors argue, have pressured marginalized youths in Vancouver to take on, in Deleuzean terms, particular “lines of flight” that often lead to further displacement and potential disaster. Instead of having nowhere to go, homelessness became more of an endless cycle of transition and eviction from housing projects. Fast and Cunningham argue that the “compassionate” city’s famous approaches to managing poverty, homelessness, and addiction has more so displaced and rearranged these issues as opposed to deal with them. The article is a solid example of testing policies and programs through analysis of the reality that unfolds on the ground level, which is especially important in the case of Vancouver, which has been used as a model for management in other cities.

The Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology published an article in September by Maarit Forde that deals with the effects of hierarchies of ethnicity, gender, and class work in conjunction with infrastructure and legislation in Trinidad to affect daily experiences of space and civic engagement in peripheral enclaves and neighborhoods. In the article titled “Fear, Segregation, and Civic Engagement in Urban Trinidad, Forde traces contemporary social hierarchies in Trinidad to their historical roots in colonialism. Through housing projects and infrastructural design, different areas have been cut off or hidden, with limited access to resources and transportation, many of which have been stigmatized through media coverage and rumors based on the prevalence of gang activity and violence. This stigma works to keep outsiders from other parts of the area out of the enclaves, while simultaneously generating fear for many who live on the inside, leading them to stay inside with locked windows and doors. Because of these pressures, much of what residents in these enclaves concern themselves with in terms of civic life pertain almost exclusively to the communities in which they live, limiting their participation in public life. A result of this is an endemic value system based on “respectability” that some residents aspire to in order to separate themselves from being lower class, othered, or less desirable.

Briefly returning to Guatemala, an article by Kevin O’Neill was published in Environment and Planning A: Economy and Space in September on how fast food restaurants navigate the insecurity of Guatemala City, listed as one of the world’s most dangerous cities. The article, entitled “Disenfranchised: Mapping red zones in Guatemala City”, explains how fast food chains in Guatemala City’s largest and most dangerous zone, Zona 18, determine the addresses to which they can deliver based on the risk involved with the route that would be taken, which if an area is too dangerous, it is classified as a “red zone”. Despite investment in security guards and systems, some high-end neighborhoods and shopping centers prove to be too dangerous for delivery because the routes needed to arrive are simply too dangerous for risk of robbery or gang extorsion, traffic accidents, poor road conditions, or geographic factors (canyons, blind spots, etc.). However, other areas, such as the prison, or other neighborhoods or enclaves that might have a bad reputation, are very safe to deliver to. O’Neill indexes how this emphasizes the major role that mobility, defined as “sites of transit and passage”, plays in security. In addition to fortified houses and neighborhoods, cases like this one show that security can be more of a question of arriving and leaving as opposed to staying.  In contrast to the delivery maps, police maps of the zone classify the entirety of Zone 18 as red based on the amount of reported murders, a heavy-handed generalization that many residents do not take seriously and attribute to the police’s fear of Zone 18. Meanwhile, McDonald’s managers are actively trying to get a cheeseburger in the hand of everyone who wants one, which leads them to engage with the geography of insecurity in a different way than the police. For this fact the maps serve as indicators for the city’s neighborhoods and their overall desirability and security. When people are un able to order a pizza because of their location, it means something.

Finally, in October, Annual Review of Anthropology brings us an article (first posted in July) by Jeffrey T. Martin that is an important and thorough overview on the anthropological sub-field on policing named “Police and Policing”. In this review, Martin considers recent anthropological research on police and policing to make a case for the future of the field. The author starts with a historical survey of ideas of personhood and policing, exploring the dynamics of the relationship between the police, the state, and citizenship. From this survey he argues that the experience of police control on the margins is increasingly defining personhood under late capitalism. Next, the article dives into the relationship between sovereignty and policing, using a wealth of recent ethnographic research on the police to point out the issues with the monolithic descriptions of the police such as those given to us by Weber and Benjamin. Laying out the evidence and indexing officer subjectivity, limited agency, and the complex relationship between police, violence, and sovereignty, the article shows the reader the massive variation in policing practices and cultural notions of what the police are, and what they should do. In considering all this, Martin links police power to larger cultural understandings normalcy, a defining characteristic that separates it from “raw violence”. In doing this he highlights how police work is tethered to the moral systems that underlie and organize the contexts in which policing practices take place, and that the inconsistencies and contradictions of moral systems play a central role in policing.

In the Journals

In the Journals – October 2016

Surveillance Camera

Welcome back to In the Journals, our monthly look at some of the many different publications on crime, law, security, and the state. With the fall semester coming to a quick end, we here at Anthropoliteia continue to provide our readers with some of the most pertinent hand-picked articles.

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In the Journals

In the Journals – March 2016

The Federal Services Incorporated (FSI) guards check passes for all vehicles entering or exiting the Nevada Test Site.

Welcome back to In the Journals, our monthly recap of recent publications regarding security, law, crime, and governance.

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