#Ferguson & Elsewhere, Commentary & Forums

Blue on black violence and original crime: a view from Oakland, California

Oakland protest against murder of Oscar Grant. Image courtesy of Voice of Detroit

 

The editors of Anthropoliteia would like to welcome Brad Erickson with the latest entry in our developing Forum #Ferguson & Elsewhere

 The police killing of an unarmed, 18-year old African American, Michael Brown, and the hyper-militarized response to public protest in Ferguson, Missouri, has prompted wide-ranging national discourse following several threads. The first, exemplified by the #BlackTwitter phenomenon, emphasizes the pattern of extrajudicial killings of black people by police, security guards and self-appointed vigilantes as the continuing exercise of racial domination in the United States. The second is the attempt to cast Michael Brown and other black victims as threatening criminals in order to justify their killings and deny the salience of racism. A third major theme is the militarization of police, a growing trend since the introduction of SWAT teams in the 1970s, now pushed into high gear through the federal distribution of idle war materiel including armored vehicles, grenade launchers, and machine guns. This militarization is often linked to a decline in civil liberties and violations of due process. Some commentators locate these trends in the contexts of the rise of a surveillance state, the crisis of inequality and the demise of democracy orchestrated by wealthy elites.

I would like to reflect on these trends via the perspectives of people deeply impacted by them. In 2013, I carried out an evaluation of Oakland’s community policing program, and also tracked the effectiveness of family support services in Oakland’s lowest performing middle schools. For the first project I interviewed Oakland police personnel including captains, sergeants, lieutenants, problem solving officers (PSOs—assigned to work with specific neighborhoods), and crime reduction team officers (CRTs—largely focused on gang activity). For the second project, I observed and interviewed parents and children, teachers, principals, school counselors, and a variety of school-based service providers including nurses, counselors, mental health professionals, legal advisors, food bank and community gardens personnel, and Teach for America volunteers.

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Tasers, tasers and more tasers: this time at an Oakland A’s game

It’s becoming clear that “the taser” will have to be one of the things we think through…  Another incident, this time right here in the East Bay:

According to Oakland Police spokesman Jeff Thomason, the unidentified man was allegedly drunk and yelling profanities, prompting A’s security to ask the cops to have him removed. Police say he appeared to be intoxicated, refused to leave and took a swipe at one of the cops. “Given his size and his condition the officer thought it appropriate to taser him,” Thomason said. The tased fan was hospitalized and held on a “5150” crazy hold.

via Matier And Ross : Taserball.

What’s more, the tasing officer has himself been the object of much scrutiny over the last several months, including some of the corollary incidents that occurred in the wake of the Oscar Grant shooting.

Now, I don’t think it’s very helpful if this blog serves just to document the many tasing incidents that occur–as our own socdeputy points out, by many important measures the use of these non-lethal implements is rather paltry.  On the other hand, and I think Brian would agree with me here as well, the fact that these incidents captures the public imagination is inself something that we probably need to reflect on.

Now, some of you may have read an article that I’ve been preparing (and finally submitted!) which argues that paying attention to the figure of the taser in the French banlieue riots of 2005 and 2007 offers insights into the very form of political action at stake in France today.  I call this emergent space, briefly, the “problem of a post-social police”– a pervasive set of open questions (ethical, social, political, technical) that are being negotiated around the goals, orientations and forms of legitimacy associated with the police once one of its founding objects, The Social, has lost its sway.

Now, from that perspective, one of the interesting aspects of the video (which can be seen below, after the break) is the way that, even as the incident is unfolding, there is a high degree of quite public negotiation of the scene: you can hear people off-camera debating the police action (“i can’t believe you guys tased him!”  “He was being belligerent!”); some people move away, while one man tried to move forward, causing a minor incident of its own; and, if I’m not mistaken, you can see some uncertainty among the police themselves as to how to move forward–after the man is (literally) done thumbing his nose at the cops, he appears to actually be putting out his hands to be cuffed.  One of the officers in physical contact with the man actually jumps back, apparently surprised by the second “tase”.  To add to everything a foul ball happens to be hit right into the middle of the fracas.

At the very least, I would hope that an anthropology of policing would be able to account for the complex levels at which incidents like this occur…

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