My book, Living with Insecurity in a Brazilian Favela, examines the social production of insecurity in a poor neighborhood in Rio de Janeiro, paying particular attention to how multiple, overlapping forms of urban violence impact the residents of a neighborhood that I call Caxambu. I try to show how the neighborhood is experienced as a profoundly contradictory space. On the one hand, it is a place of social intimacy, pride, and creativity, reflecting the deep social ties that bind many of its residents and the years of work that they’ve put into building their homes, streets and alleys. Yet at the same time it is often a space of social marginalization and unpredictably lethal violence, reflecting how drug-trafficking and policing conspire to disorganize daily life.
The Henry Louis Gates Affair
Besides the fiasco that occurred in and outside the home of prominent Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr.– and that’s been burning up the news wires, television talk show circuit and radio waves (and being covered more exhaustively by our own Brian Lande, or socdeputy to you all)–there’s actually been some other news in the world…
Nancy Scheper-Hughes, anthropologist and crime fighter
Topping off any blog on the anthropology of policing is news that UC Berkeley anthropologist Nancy Scheper-Hughes was instrumental in the uncovering of a kidney-trafficking ring in New York and New Jersey. Scheper-Hughes reportedly provided FBI officials with the name, address and phone number of Levy Izhak Rosenbaum, who appearently promised Moldovan villagers manual labor jobs in the U.S. before coercing them into “donating” their kidneys. Both Somatosphere and Savage Minds have more extensive coverage of the affair, including an extensive audio interview between Scheper-Hughes and WNYC’s Brian Lehrer (at Somatosphere).
The View from France
Although French news wasn’t immune from the affair that burned up this side of the Atlantic, several other issues made note this week:
- New French Minister of the Interior Brice Hortefeux announced the forthcoming unification of three police departments (Hauts-de-Seine, Seine-Saint-Denis and Val-de-Marne) under the control of the Prefect of Paris. The move, which has historical precedent, is due in large part to response problems during the series of banlieue riots that have occurred outside Paris over the last several years. At least one police union, SGP-FO, has applauded the move.
- The controversy over the non-lethal arm known as the Flash-ball continues. This week Stéphane Gatti, the father of the man injured in the Parisian suburb of Montreuil (see last week’s In the News), circulated an open letter on the internet denouncing police use of the arm. In response, the Green Party proposed a law which would outlaw the use of the flash-ball, a move which quickly drew a response from all three major police unions.
- French recruits to the Police Nationale are finding, increasingly, that the language of Moliere is no longer sufficient for conducting their everyday work. What happens when a flic needs a Polish translator? Eric from the blog Police Nationale Recruitement has some interesting insights.
- This all is as news has come out that recruitment of all gardien-de-la-paix agents for next year will be canceled, for the first time ever. the Minister of the Interior cites budget deficits, while union leaders point out that this will cause administrators to rely more on the less-paid, less-trained, less-job secure adjoints de sécurité (and more heavily minority-staffed) to do the same job.
- Maurice Grimaud, Prefect of Paris during the May 1968 uprising, died.
“How many volts would you like with your waffle?”
Continuing our discussion of the use of tasers by police forces around the world, several officers from Gwinnett County Georgia find themselves in hot water after the appearently tased their waffle house waiter, whom they had repeatedly “teased” in previous encounters. “Miles told investigators that he only “spark tested” the Taser near the employee’s back “just to scare him a little bit,” according to the internal investigation file,” the Atlanta Constitution-Journal reports.
Other police technologies were also in the news.
- The Economist has an article on using an underground radar system to locate illegal drug traffic at the border
- British police canned a text-messaging program after it recorded an average of only 3 messages per day since its inception in March
- The police of Seine-Saint-Denis, outside of Paris, will soon be equipped with individual mini-cameras which will be mounted on their ear and be about the size of a bluetooth device.
- The Maryland Transportation Administration, provider of public transportation in the land of The Wire, announced, and then retracted, its desire to use microphones to record all conversations of trains and buses…
- …while the town of Tiburon, CA announced that it will photograph every car that comes through town, and then use the license plate information to solve crimes. “As long as you don’t arrive in a stolen vehicle or go on a crime spree while you’re here, your anonymity will be preserved,” said Town Manager Peggy Curran. “We don’t care who you are and we don’t know who you are.”
Security before it happens
Friend of this blog and uber-cosmopolit anthropologist Limor Darash has an article in the new American Ethnologist in which she outlines the assemblage of biosecurity/threat responses she calls a “pre-event configuration.” You can read more about it at Vital Systems Security.
“A bad economy is not good for the murder rate”
In what should be a surprise to no one, a team of researchers plan to publish a study in The Lancet that show that murder rates in the EU go up at a rate of about .8% for every 1% increase in unemployment. As a result, the team suggests that social and economic services might, in fact, save lives: “The analysis also suggests that governments might be able to protect their populations, specifically by budgeting for measures that keep people employed, helping those who lose their jobs cope with the negative effects of unemployment, and enabling unemployed people to regain work quickly. We observed that social spending on active labour market programmes greater than $190 per head purchasing power parity mitigated the effect of unemployment on death rates from suicides, creating a specific opportunity for stimulus packages to align labour market investments with health promotion.”
In more local news (well, local to some of us) UC Berkeley finally named its new police chief. Assistant Police Chief Mitch Celaya will take over on August 1st from UCPD Chief Victoria Harrison, who is set to retire. Ceyaya, a member of the UCPD since 1982, had been one of two finalists (along with David Kozicki, deputy chief for the Oakland Police Department) for the position.
In a June interview, Celaya gave a broad outline of his philosophy for policing Berkeley: “Besides loving my job, the campus culture, and the communit…. I am in tune to the culture and what people expect from the department. I would like to enhance the interactions with the student community. Some students feel that they have not developed relationships with us and we want to change that, working with the Associated Students of UC Berkeley and setting up mentor groups.”
And just in case you still haven’t got enough of the Henry Louis Gates Jr story:
- The New York Times has an interesting article on the training police officers receive in order to handle verbal abuse and insults in tense situations–and whether or not such training is helpful
- Peter Moskos, at Cop in the Hood, has a post detailing the technique, apparently used in the gates case, whereby a police officer invites an emotionally-charged individual outside, where he is then arrested for disorderly conduct.
- Jonathan Simon (of Governing Through Crime) offers some historical context, over at PrawfsBlawg, for the Gates affair before considering whether obama should use this as a “teaching moment” as gates has suggested. Simon’s answer? Probably not.
- Finally, the Chronicle of Higher Education‘s blog, Brainstorm, has two articles of note on the issue. One by anthropologist John L. Jackson Jr., which attempts to “connect dots between Gatesian accusations (of race-thinking) and a cop’s defense (of colorblindness and racial neutrality)” and another post, which offers a passage written by Gates himself in 1995, which tries to explain how police are perceived in black communities: “It’s a commonplace that white folks trust the police and black folks don’t. Whites recognize this in the abstract, but they’re continually surprised at the depth of black wariness. They shouldn’t be. …Wynton Marsalis says, “My worst fear is to have to go before the criminal-justice system.” Absurdly enough, it’s mine, too.”
Citations Available Online
SAMIMIAN-DARASH, L. (2009). A pre-event configuration for biological threats: Preparedness and the constitution of biosecurity events American Ethnologist, 36 (3), 478-491 DOI: 10.1111/j.1548-1425.2009.01174.x
Stuckler, D., Basu, S., Suhrcke, M., Coutts, A., & McKee, M. (2009). The public health effect of economic crises and alternative policy responses in Europe: an empirical analysis The Lancet, 374 (9686), 315-323 DOI: 10.1016/S0140-6736(09)61124-7