June kicked off with a post by Scott Shafer of NPRNews regarding the drastic increase in California parole rates. Where previous years saw less than a 10% release rate for “lifers”, 2013 recorded a near doubling of this statistic. California governor Jerry Brown has reiterated that crime type is no longer as much of a determining factor for parole as is the level of threat an inmate poses to the community. For more about the parole increase, check out Matt Levin’s article about lifers freed from prisons as well as his timeline cataloging the history of California parole trends.
“To the radicalized youth who demonstrated in 14 Brazilian state capitals on May 15, the World Cup represents a fundamental flaw in the Workers’ Party (PT) project,” writes Rodrigo Nunes in a news post from Aljazeera. While your friends are busy blowing up your Facebook feed about the soccer of World Cup, Brazilians continue to show outrage that the event has brought their country few winners, but many losers. For more about the political implications of the World Cup, check out Werner Krauss’ article on the Huffington Post. Here, he dissects the event from a structural-ritual perspective. Anthropoliteia also featured a post from Meg Stalcup in our continuing coverage of the World Cup.
It’s not just police getting virtual these days- so are crime scenes. In a personal favorite post by Kashmir Hill of Forbes, Hill recounts the Internet trail left behind by Santa Barbara Shooter Elliot Rodger. The troubled youth produced several YouTube videos documenting his gradual decline into criminal violence.
What would Jeremy Bentham and Michel Foucault have to say about Lebanese prison systems? Yazan al-Saadi’s post on Al-Akhbar evokes this and other questions about surveillance and control. The original panopticon envisioned a top-down power structure wielded by authority figures over non-authority figures. In the context of Lebanese prisons, however, this concept is turned on its head as it is the prisoner who seemingly wields ultimate control. Also in surveillance, the wife of ex-IRA prisoner Anthony McIntyre has requested a formal investigation by the US state department after sensitive information from a phone call with the US embassy appeared in a popular tabloid a few days later.
An unlikely economical analysis of police body mounted cameras appeared in The Motley Fool’s investing section. Ryan Lowery reflects on the potential profitability of the leading police tech companies (including TASER and L-3 Communications) that produce the majority of the equipment.
Issues of excessive force, surveillance and militarization come to a head in Kent Paterson’s post on CounterPunch. Using recent examples of militaristic responses by members of the Albuquerque police department, Paterson builds up to a broader discussion about the impact of police technologies on aggressive responses and use of force by US police departments.
Juvenile detention centers in California will be receiving $80 billion in coming months to rejuvenate current facilities. Several proposals for amenities and new features reinforce a community-based emphasis. Officials hope the restructuring will help to solidify rehabilitation as a prevailing theme.
Tina Dupuy authored an engaging piece about casual vs. institutionalized racism in AlterNet this month. Why does the US rally more readily against casual comments than it does to institutionalized forms of racism (such as the prison system)? And further, does/can one form of racism lead to the other?
“Ban them, ban them all with a carve out for hunting weapons,” says Scott Martelle from LA Times Opinion. Referring to his admittedly minority stance on gun control in America, Martelle proposes the next steps for eliminating gun violence in America.
Let’s face it: Americans are living in an age of extreme surveillance. The government is listening to our phone calls, capable of controlling our computer cameras remotely and (perhaps) reading our Facebook messages.
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…)
- 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.
That’s right, since I haven’t done one of these in a while, since my stock of saved links has become overwhelming and since a string of news events this week has got my mojo running, I’ve decided to do a Franco-centric version of Anthropoliteia In the News… so here goes:
A teenage girl was held in police custody for anywhere, from 7 and a half to 11 hours, after being involved in a fight outside her school in the 20th arrondissement of Paris. Police took her from her home without letting her change out of her pajamas, leading to the media explosion of what I’m calling “pyjama-gate”.
[rant button on]
As could probably be expected from these sort of media affairs, there has been a proliferation of punditry and position taking only tenusously connecting to reality or real political seriousness. It looks like if there’s any real movement that results from this, it will involve re-examining the use of “garde a vue” detention practices by police officers.
On the other hand, the obsessive repetition of the detail of the girl’s pajamas in the story seems completely non-random in a country that is going through a parallel obsession over of the burka/veil/hijab/head scarf/any-“ostentatious”-religious-sign. If I were to try to bring the quickly accumulating scholarship on the veil controversy to bear on this issue, I would say that this is the flip side, or at least another angle on, the contradictions of French republican democracy as played out upon female bodies.
… so color me Joan W. Scott, with an important addendum: in the framing of the voice *against* state intervention, the state is imagined as police. In the framing *for* state intervention, state as “protector of women” and “guarantor of secular equality” there are many governmental institutions imagined and invoked (school, post-office, bus drivers, banks) but almost never the police. There’s an important point to be explored there…
[rant button off]
Survey on ethnic and racial composition of French police
As I’ve discussed over at my personal blog, a survey was published suggesting that almost 10% of French police are “issued from immigration” (itself a tricky term in need of significant unpacking). This was big news because, on the one hand, these kind state-run surveys of race & ethnicity are extremely rare and politically contentious in France; and, on the other, not many people thought the numbers would be even that high.
“Welcome to Le Jungle (again), now leave (again)”
First there was the Red Cross center at Sangatte, which housed immigrants looking to make their way from France to the UK. Then, in 2002 this center was closed down, causing the quasi-organic growth of a much-criticized quasi-detention center/refugee camp known as “Le Jungle”. Then, last September, this was also closed down and bulldozed over. From this rubble, an organization known as No Border took over a wharehouse where it housed about 100 refugees from Afghanistan. That is, until now. The BBC reports that French police created a security perimeter and eventually moved in to expel the remaining activists and refugees.
The spokesman for Sarkozy’s UMP party defended the move by denouncing “the manipulation of migrants by anti-globalization associations…. [who] feed on human misery in order to defend their extreme ideology,” echoing vice-president of the Front nationale Marie Le Pen’s criticism of No Border as “facilitating illegal immigration through illegal and violent actions”. For his part, former Socialist Prime Minister Laurent Fabius suggested that while France couldn’t naturalize everyone, those who couldn’t be accepted should be treated in a “more European” manner.
- TF1 News reports that, in the 2010 report of the Cour de Comptes, a sort of budgetary and auditing office of the French government, the Police Nationale are criticized for its extravagant use of funds, especially around the use of unmarked police vehicles. In addition to the sheer increase in number of the vehicles (1,469 in September 2008 versus 1,218 in January 2003), the court alleges that these vehicles are often “luxurious” and “over-equipped… to an unjustifiable degree” while at the same time they’re driven overly recklessly (each vehicle being involved in an accident on average every 15 months) and being requisitioned for the personal use not only of police officers, but former Presidents and Prime Ministers (read between the political lines here) as well.
- On the other hand, the municipal police in Toulouse have been trying out the use of Segway vehicles, or “gyropodes” as they’re called in French. This gave Ladepeche.fr the opportunity to publish some killer stats, which include:
- the total costs of these vehicles amounts to about 5 euros a day, calculating the electricity cost at about 2.50 euros per 1000 kilometers
- policemen using the vehicle cover 9x the area, deploy 4x faster and have 15x the contact with the population (don’t ask me how the calculate that last one, especially because whatever that contact means it includes interacting with someone standing 20cm about the ground)
- Even though they don’t directly refer to this specific 20cm, in an interview with Le Monde criminologists Sebastian Roché and Jacques de Maillard (who make frequent appearances in my own dissertation, both as solo acts and as a tag team) decry the increasing distance in France between police and the people they’re supposed to be policing. The idea behind the police de proximité was not only a move towards preventative policing, but towards a less centralized and hierarchical structure within the police itself.
- Finally, Claude Bartolone, deputy of the Socialist Party (PS), accused Minister of the Interior Brice Hortefeux of trying to create a “police without policemen” through his use of video surveillance… Which, those of us who have read too much Foucault, would say is of course kind of exactly the point
As always, if you have any news you’d like added, let me know in the comments section or contact me
….We ought to be united in mobilization to save higher education in California. But in choosing to make the fight a convenient and ideologically satisfying (but for the most part phony) story about privatization, down-sizing, and pernicious, corporate minded university leadership, UC’s unions and their student and faculty allies are missing a historic opportunity to engage our fellow citizens in a critical dialog about our state’s future.
That future has been mortgaged to expensive dysfunctional prisons and a bipartisan law-enforcement establishment that is committed to mass incarceration at any price. But across three decades in which that project of exiling tens of thousands of largely poor and minority Californians to a prison archipelago of mammoth proportions (which yet remains grotesquely overcrowded) has been constructed, the supporters of higher education in this state have remained silent, assuming that the incarceration of people who don’t go to college anyway is not our problem. Now the chickens have come home to roost.
I think Simon is dead on here, and offers a framing that explains some of the ambivalence I’ve had about the political mobilization that’s been developing.
Most of that ambivalence, I think, revolves around my hesitation at some of the explanatory narratives that have been used as organizational and motivational tools by unions and protesters… what Simon calls the”convenient and ideologically satisfying (but for the most part phony) story about privatization, down-sizing, and pernicious, corporate minded university leadership”.
Part of what I’ve been trying to point out, both vis-a-vis the strike and in my work on French policing, is that–as both Max Weber and Walter Benjamin have shown–all politics is necessarily about violence. This includes, especially includes, such mundane acts of governance as budgetary allocations. As everyone from Michel Foucault to Nikolas Rose have also tried to show, these decisions are literally choices between life and death. This is one aspect of what scholars are referring to when they talk about the biopolitical.
On the other hand, Californians are not completely comfortable with this violence and, for good reasons which I’ve also tried to explore, have tried to devise ways to limit it as much as possible.
What Jonathan’s work in Governing through Crime has shown, however, is that one of the few remaining–maybe the only remaining–domain in which the violence of governance seems legitimate to American voters is in the domain of crime control and punishment. It therefore has become the trope through which all American governance is filtered.
What we’re left with is, on the one hand, a massively inflated, impractical and unjust incarceration system and–importantly–on the the other hand, no way of conceiving any other legitimate form of governance.
This is not a question of corporate greed versus educational egalitarianism, or even good guys versus bad guys (as much as I’d like to hate on Mark Yudof along with everyone else), but of finding a way–literally–of justifying the very real kinds of violence involved in supporting education; of including higher education into the political calculus of life and death.