The Stacked Deck

So this happened:

After driving around that corner and through this yellow light, up the one-way street and around again through the morning work traffic in an unfamiliar neighborhood of Brooklyn, I found a parking spot in front of a row of brownstones. I grabbed my gym bag from the back seat, double-checked the locks on the doors, and kicked down the cracked sidewalk toward the YMCA. I had never been here before. This particular neighborhood had fences. Not the decorative ones skirting the trees and patches of grass pervasive to NYC in general to keep unaware pedestrians and wandering animals at bay. Here the fences were prohibitive rather than suggestive. The fences here climbed high over the first story windows and barred the second.

Here they laced even the doorways. As I approached the intersection, I noticed a middle-aged woman with a drag-behind, travel carryon walking my direction from across the street. She hoisted her bag against her side with one arm, not utilizing the wheels. Even this early in the morning, her shoulder length hair fell in smooth brown curls to frame her warm complexion, her make-up flawless. There was little movement on this street. A few people lingered by the YMCA entrance. One man sat on his steps watching the morning pass. I noticed them as I did the approaching woman and, adhering to New York social code, did not avert my eyes from my destination. No salutary smile or nod as my Southern manners dictated. I was far from home and the only person of my race in sight; my only objective here was to exercise and get cleaned up for the day ahead listening to the presentations at The New School. As the woman and I crossed paths she paused to yell, “Why don’t you jump off the bridge, you white bitch.” I kept my eyes forward and laughed a little to myself not having expected any acknowledgment—let alone one of such caliber. Seconds later she continued. “If you are white, stay on the other side of the river.” I smiled to myself and went inside, not giving the matter much more thought.

OK, that last sentence was a lie. This interaction turned and turned inside my mind—as I ran, as I showered, as I rode the subway from Brooklyn to Manhattan, even as I listened to bell hooks’ discussion on transgression and the presentation of black bodies in media.

Here’s the rub: this is not racism. The woman who yelled at me was not being racist.

Granted, she was not being polite, but the equivocation of affronted political correctness with racism has too long overshadowed the underlying issue. This was outside of politesse but not racist even though the comment referred to my race. And here is why: I laughed. Perhaps I laughed at the tale as a possible narrative for, as a writer, I constantly look for novel anecdotes about what “happened on the way to the forum.” Or it could have been the oddity and surprise of the situation which amused me. Or it could have been the realization of completely misreading her that morning and possessing zero understanding of what experiences occupied her mind or the possible slights she was diffusing. But the point is still there: I laughed. Her invective was not a threat. My safety, ability to comport myself, or my socio-economic progression was in no way hampered by her anger. Hell, my day wasn’t even ruined.

Racism is not about the feelings of one person toward another. Let us not confuse it with prejudice where a personal predilection dictates action based upon stereotyped assumptions or fears about a perceived racial, sexual, or class orientation. It is much, much bigger than that.

Much, much bigger than you or me or the aforementioned woman. It is a systematic discrimination and withholding of privilege, safety, ability, and comfort because of color and/or nationality. It exists as an institution above us, behind our language, and within our social code.

Even as an outsider dissimilar with the majority of the inhabitants of an unfamiliar neighborhood, I felt perfectly at ease to conduct my business and to move freely without inhibition or concern for my safety or any fear of oppression. I was not going to be stopped by the police for looking suspicious or for not fitting in. My earning potential was not hampered by her displeasure. No possibility was barred me for looking as I do. Nor did I feel the threat of danger or assault on my person because of my racial positionality. The system, even when a physical minority, has been established to give me a chance. And that chance affords a place, an ability to determine my own definition, and even the ability to laugh at situations that could have been risky or frightful had the mechanisms of privilege been switched.

Racism is not only within an inappropriate joke, a look askance at someone as they pass by, a burning cross, or discrimination of housing and/or employment. Each one of those acts are complicit participation within a system which is established and reinforced by the hetero-normative, imperialist, white-supremacist, capitalist patriarchy.

Now don’t get me wrong here.

This is not to vilify or cast blame upon any particular person who participates or identifies with the dominant socio-class. No offense, but this system is bigger than that. We are past the days when we can point at any particular white, straight, business man as the enforcer of the system.

But unless you are actively working to dissemble the mechanisms of privilege and empower diversity in all forms, you are simultaneously upholding the system which benefits one while restricting others.

An aspect of privilege most of us privileged don’t want to admit is that we don’t have to think about privilege. Peggy McIntosh called facing white privilege “elusive and fugitive,” over twenty-five years ago, and as a whole, we have not encroached upon any robust apprehension of it since. White (and male) privilege is rarely considered until threatened. When I walk into the room, no one wonders why I am where I am, if I am alone, if I am leaving alone, or going home with them. Their thought is not one of belonging or whether or not I have upset delicate social relationships in being where I am. And since I have not upset persona particular expectations, the perceivers are not confronted with their own self-definition. They continue on without ever wondering where they stand within the social spectrum. It is frighteningly easy to ignore. And unless confronted, acknowledged, and challenged, it will refuse to reconstruct within a paradigm of greater equality. Life is most profoundly felt at its perimeters. Society has given me a berth where the perimeters lie upon who I know, what kind of girls I date, and what car I drive. Those are the requisites and possible impediments to perceived success within the “myth of meritocracy” wherein most people benefited by privilege believe privilege itself is hinged upon personal drive and acumen.

Because that is the locus of struggle for most who have the same socio-economic identity as I do, that is also the limits of perceived persona. Still, worlds exist outside of that monolithic worldview which are as valid and beautiful as any sphere imaginable. Unfortunately, by most, these worlds are not seen.

This works to the depth that most of you reading this probably assumed my white male-ness as a given in the short episode above because it was not mentioned (and props to those of you who didn’t). It is that pervasive. Think about that. What does that then mean when the perception shifts? What are the other assumptions which are inferred? Do any of those assumptions restrict or endanger someone’s freedom and ability to express themselves? If it is easy for you to pass a police officer without worry of being frisked or arrested for looking how you do, remember that.

If you can walk home alone without worry of being assaulted, taken, violated or worse, remember that. If you are able to declare the love of your beloved without fear of being beaten, fired, or ostracized, remember that. Now think about all those who can’t—think of all those who are struggling under a system which demands of their identity explanation, justification, or apology. And what are you doing to champion difference?

~ This post was written by Steele Peterson Campbell, a graduate of Auburn University, with a Master’s Degree in Literature. He is a writer who is currently completing his first novel and currently resides in Nashville, TN. You can follow Steele on Twitter @TheSteeleC.

This is the New Civil Rights Movement and It Will be Digital

I’ve been going to racial justice marches in New York City for nearly 20 years (for Abner Louima, for Amadou Diallo, for Sean Bell, for Ramarley Graham) and I’ve never seen anything like the mass protests in response to Eric Garner. This gives me hope.

This is one view of what the movement looked like last night in New York City:

Protests like this one happened all over the U.S. With respect to Gil Scott Heron (who told us that The Revolution Will Not be Televised), this movement is and will be digital. More precisely, this new civil rights movement is spreading quickly because it is digitally augmented through Twitter, Vine, Instagram and other social media platforms. The movement is also, simultaneously, in the streets. It is both/and – both digital and material – at the same time. And this, too, gives me hope.

The both/and, digital/material feature of the new civil rights movement means several hopeful things.

It means that it’s both youth-led movement, and it is intergenerational. It means that it’s both youth-led and leaderless, in the traditional sense. It also means that it both circumvents and subverts legacy civil rights organizations that are now mostly corporate-funded or corporate-affiliated. It means that it is a multi-racial, multi-ethnic movement.

The both/and quality of the new civil rights movement means that while much of the organizing is happening online – through websites like Ferguson Action, and email newsletters like thisisthemovement published by DeRay McKesson (@deray) and through Twitter hashtags #EricGarner #BlackLivesMatter #ShutItDown – people have been showing up in the streets for 118 days now.

The demands of the new civil rights movement are, of course, both posted online and demand real, concrete action in the material world.

Today is a day for hope.

No Indictment in Eric Garner Case

On July 17, 2014 Eric Garner was approached by NYPD officers on a street in Staten Island. The NYPD suspected Garner of selling untaxed cigarettes, not in packs or cartons, known as “loosies”, a violation of the law usually handled by a ticket. This interaction quickly escalated and ended with the death of Mr. Garner at the hands of NYPD officers.

GarnerProtests_Lynchings

  (Image by Jessie Daniels – CC – attribution, non-commercial)

Almost all of the interaction between the NYPD and Mr. Garner was recorded on a cell phone video camera. One officer, Daniel Pantaleon, can clearly be seen pressing down on Mr. Garner’s body while several other officers gather around his body. On the recording, you can plainly – and painfully – hear Mr. Garner yelling,“I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe!” The person who recorded that video, Ramsey Orta, was indicted on a previous and unrelated charge.

Garner’s death was ruled a homicide by the medical examiner. And, in August, several thousand of us from around NYC marched on Staten Island to protest this death at the hands of police.

GarnerProtest_Justice

(Image by Jessie Daniels – CC – attribution, non-commercial)

Yet, today, a grand jury on Staten Island decided to not to indict Pantaleon. The reporting by most mainstream news outlets here in New York is focused on the scurrilous “will there be ‘rioting’ in the wake of this decision?” angle. But make no mistake, the no-bill decision by the grand jury in New York is not a local issue. As Nick Mirzoeff argued in a post earlier today about the Mike Brown case in Ferguson:

This is a systemic failure, not a local issue in St. Louis. For the election of Barack Obama has not changed the underlying structures of what Joe Feagin and Sean Elias call “systemic racism,” which “refers to the foundational, large-scale and inescapable hierarchical system of US racial oppression devised and maintained by whites and directed at people of color” (Feagin and Ellis 2013: 936). As Angela Davis has argued, the penitentiary system was a vital pillar for the white supremacy created after the abolition of slavery (2007). Legal scholar Michelle Alexander has called her analysis of the New Jim Crow at work in today’s prison-industrial complex, a “racial caste system” which is “creating and perpetuating a racial hierarchy in the United States” (New Jim Crow: 16).

In short, white supremacy and racial hierarchy are not incidental parts of the justice system as we now have it but are constitutive of it. What Ferguson has made visible cannot be simply “fixed” by a review of the grand jury system or other tinkering. White supremacy is the system. Many (white) people are not ready to go there yet. We have to help them.

Just as the decision in Ferguson to not indict Darren Wilson in the death of Mike Brown is not an aberration, so too is the decision to not indict Daniel Panteleon in the death of Eric Garner. This is the system of white supremacy at work, and it works with the efficiency of a well-oiled machine. Justice isn’t merely indicting one officer or locking up one cop, it’s changing the whole system. Justice means dismantling the machine of white supremacy so that it no longer churns up black bodies with regularity.

Rodney King speaks with fans before pres (Rodney King)

Right now, there are many people that I respect who are calling for body cameras on police as a way forward to racial justice, but a video didn’t make a difference for Eric Garner. And, a video helped ACQUIT the officers who beat Rodney King nearly to death. So, even as President Obama goes ahead with a request for $263 million of dollars for body cameras for 50,000 police, I’m not persuaded this is a solution. While I get the desire to “do something” in the face of the ongoing injustice, body cameras seem like a techno-solution to systemic racism that needs to be addressed by other means. The fact is, the system of white supremacy keeps churning in a way that protects (white) cops and keeps damaging black bodies.

Police officers, security guards, or self-appointed vigilantes extrajudicially killed at least 313 African-Americans in 2012. A recent report by grassroots activists estimates that every 28 hours a black man is killed by police. While the report can and should be faulted for not paying enough (or, indeed any) attention to the extrajudicial killings of cisgender and transgender women of color, the report is valuable to the extent that documents killings that the federal government is not.

As the Wall Street Journal reported today, hundreds of police killings are not counted in federal statistics (paywall).  The report looked at data from 105 of America’s largest police agencies and found that it is “nearly impossible to determine how many people are killed by the police each year.” They also found that the FBI numbers about police killings vary greatly from those provided by the Centers for Disease Control and by the Bureau of Justice Statistics. According to the report:

“more than 550 police killings between 2007 and 2012 weren’t included in the FBI’s national tally.  The Journal looked at internal FBI records and found that while the 105 departments had 1,825 police killings, only 1,242 were reported as “justifiable homicides” by the FBI. The Journal “identified several holes in the FBI data” — of the 105 agencies contacted, justifiable police homicides from 35 agencies weren’t in the FBI records at all. Police in Washington, D.C., for example, didn’t report police killings to the FBI from 1998 to 2008, when the city “had one of the highest rates of officer-involved killings in the country.” In 28 of the 70 agencies that did report homicide data, the FBI report was missing records of police killings. And “missing from the FBI data are killings involving federal officers.” (from Meghan DeMaria, The Week)

Instead of body cameras on police, I’m more inclined to want to see federal action to collect data on police involved killings. Yet, the research tells me that gathering statistics is not likely to change the system of white supremacy either.

As Jamelle Bouie noted in his piece about the research of Jennifer Eberhardt, we know that—among white Americans—there’s a strong cognitive connection between “blackness” and criminality. “The mere presence of a black man can trigger thoughts that he is violent and criminal,” observes Eberhardt and colleagues in a 2004 paper. Basically, the twisty-racial dynamic plays out like this: tell people that blacks are over-represented in prison, and it triggers thoughts of crime, which leads to fear, which causes people to follow their fear and embrace the status quo of unfair, overly punitive punishments, like not indicting NYPD cops for homicide.

So, what is to be done to dismantle this system of white supremacy? To paraphrase Ella Baker, until the killing of black people is as important to the whole nation as the killing of a white person, we cannot rest.

GarnerProtest_EveryMothersSon (Image by Jessie Daniels – CC – attribution, non-commercial)

Angela Davis on Stuart Hall’s Policing the Crisis Today

Last week, scholars at Goldsmiths, University of London, convened to remember the work, life and legacy of Stuart Hall. Professor Emerita Angela Davis offered the key note (35:00):

Professor Angela Davis: Policing the Crisis Today from Goldsmiths, University of London on Vimeo.

In this talk she ties the events of Ferguson, Missouri to Stuart Hall’s classic text Policing the Crisis. (H/t to @WailQ)

There are more videos from the conference here.

Research Brief: Race, Racism, Policing and Cameras

Here is your weekly research brief with some of the latest research in the field of race and racism. Given the recent attention on police brutality as a form of racism, and the call among many activists for body cameras (or, OOVCs -“on officer video cameras”), I thought I would take use today’s research brief to share some of the relevant research. One special note about this research brief: below I include a report from “The Police Foundation” that strongly supports the use of OOVCs. This report has been reported on by the Guardian and the New York Times, but beyond that, I cannot vouch for it since I do not know who or what is beyond the foundation publishing it and it hasn’t been subjected to the usual peer review. That said, I thought people might be interested in reading the actual report since it is getting a good deal of attention.

As always, I note which pieces are freely available on the web, or “open access” with (OA), and those behind a paywall with (locked).

Research in the Dictionary

Race, racism and policing:

  • Bhattacharyya, Gargi S. Dangerous Brown Men: Exploiting Sex, Violence and Feminism in the ‘War on Terror’. Zed Books, 2008. Abstract: Why is the public presentation of the war on terror suffused with sexualised racism? What does this tell us about ideas of gender, sexuality, religious and political identity and the role of the state in the Western powers? Can we diffuse inter-ethnic conflicts and change the way the West pursues its security agenda by understanding the role of sexualised racism in the war on terror? In asking such questions, Gargi Bhattacharyya considers how the concepts of imperialism, feminism, terror and security can be applied, in order to build on the influential debates about the sexualised character of colonialism. She examines the way in which western imperial violence has been associated with the rhetoric of rights and democracy – a project of bombing for freedom that has called into question the validity of western conceptions of democracy, rights and feminism. Such rhetoric has given rise to actions that go beyond simply protecting western interests or securing access to scarce resources and appear to be beyond instrumental reason. The articulations of racism that appear with the war on terror are animated by fears and sexual fantasies inexplicable by rational interest alone. There can be no resolution to this seemingly endless conflict without understanding the highly sexualised racism that animates it. Such an understanding threatens to pierce the heart of imperial relations, revealing their intense contradictions and uncovering attempts to normalise violent expropriation.
  • Brunson, Rod K., and Jody Miller. “Young Black Men and Urban Policing in the United States.” British journal of criminology 46, no. 4 (2006): 613-640. Abstract: People of colour living in disadvantaged urban communities have been shown to be the disproportionate recipients of both proactive policing strategies and various forms of police misconduct. As a consequence, a growing body of research has begun to examine the relationship between blacks’ experiences with the police and their perceptions of police legitimacy. While urban minority young men are primary recipients of proactive policing efforts, few studies have examined in depth their particular experiences with the police. Drawing from a broader qualitative study of violence in the lives of African-American youths from a distressed urban community, this paper examines 40 young men’s experiences with and perceptions of police harassment and misconduct. Our findings highlight young men’s sense of themselves as symbolic assailants in the eyes of the police, suggest the importance of measuring the impact of accumulated negative experiences to better understand minority/police relations, and add additional currency to recent findings on the significance of procedural justice. (locked)
  • Cashmore, Ernest, and Eugene McLaughlin, eds. Out of Order?: Policing Black People. Routledge, 2013. Abstract: First published in 1991, this book evaluates and compares the problematic relationships that have sometimes existed between police and Afro-Caribbean people in Britain and in the United States of America. Contributors from both sides of the Atlantic assess conflicting claims from police and black communities, as to whether some police are racist or too brutal in their operations. Although this book was written in the early 90s, many of the issues discussed remain interesting and relevant to our society today. (locked)
  • Rowe, Michael. Policing, Race and Racism. Taylor & Francis, 2004. Abstract: Over recent years race has become one of the most important issues faced by the police. This book seeks to analyse the context and background to these changes, to assess the impact of the Lawrence Inquiry and the MacPherson Report, and to trace the growing emphasis on policing as an ‘antiracist’ activity, proactively confronting racism in both crime and non-crime situations. Whilst this change has not been wholly or consistently applied, it does represent an important change in the discourse that surrounds police relations with the public since it changes the traditional role of the police as ‘neutral arbiters of the law’. This book shows why race has become the most significant issue facing the British police, and argues that the police response to race has led to a consideration of fundamental issues about the relation of the police to society as a whole and not just minority groups who might be most directly affected. (locked)
  • Shalhoub‐Kevorkian, Nadera. “Racism, Militarisation and Policing: Police Reactions to Violence against Palestinian Women in Israel.” Social Identities 10, no. 2 (2004): 171-193. Abstract: This article moves beyond the discussion of police racism to a broader account of the militaristic racism of policing in Israel. The highly permeable boundaries between the military, society and the political conflict all affect how violence against women is policed. Focusing on case studies of police officers’ perceptions of abused Palestinian Israeli women — members of an ethnic and indigenous minority — this paper considers key features of the policing of violence against women in a militaristic context and during a continuous political conflict. Police officers’ philosophies and actions in law enforcement concerning violence against women are critically scrutinised. The findings indicate that while some aspects of cultural difference between the indigenous ethnic group and the majority are relevant to policing, focusing predominantly on the ‘cultural characteristics’ or ‘ethnic traditions or rituals’ of the policed population and denying the effect of the political conflict between Israel and the Palestinians as a factor in the militarisation of policing can reinforce rather than ameliorate ethnic prejudice, racism and discrimination. (locked)

 

Cameras and policing:

  • Ariel, Barak and Tony Farrar. “Self-Awareness to Being Watched and Socially Desirable Behavior: A Field Experiment on the Effect of Body-Worn Cameras on Police Use-of-Force.”  (Report of The Police Foundation, 2014) This randomized controlled trail represents the first experimental evaluation of body-worn video cameras used in police patrol practices. Cameras were deployed to all patrol officers in the Rialto (CA) Police Department. Every police patrol shift during the 12-month period was assigned to experimental or control conditions. Wearing cameras was associated with dramatic reductions in use-of-force and complaints against officers. The authors conclude: “The findings suggest more than a 50% reduction in the total number of incidents of use-of-force compared to control-conditions, and nearly ten times more citizens’ complaints in the 12-months prior to the experiment.” (OA)
  • Goold, Benjamin J. “Public area surveillance and police work: the impact of CCTV on police behaviour and autonomy.” Surveillance & Society 1, no. 2 (2002): 191-203. Abstract: Drawing on a recent study of the impact of closed circuit television (CCTV) cameras on policing practices in a large English police force, this paper considers whether the presence of surveillance cameras affects the working attitudes and behaviour of individual police officers. In particular, this paper asks whether CCTV makes the police more accountable or more cautious in the exercise of their discretion in public spaces. Although noting that in certain circumstances CCTV may inadvertently help to reduce incidences of police misconduct, this paper concludes by arguing that more needs to be done to prevent the police from interfering with the operation of CCTV and gaining unauthorised access to potentially incriminating video evidence. (OA)
  • Harris, David A. “Picture This: Body Worn Video Devices (‘Head Cams’) as Tools for Ensuring Fourth Amendment Compliance by Police.” Texas Tech Law Review, Forthcoming (2010). Abstract: A new technology has emerged with the potential to increase police compliance with the law and to increase officers’ accountability for their conduct. Called “body worn video” (BWV) or “head cams,” these devices are smaller, lighter versions of the video and audio recording systems mounted on the dash boards of police cars. These systems are small enough that they consist of something the size and shape of a cellular telephone earpiece, and are worn by police officers the same way. Recordings are downloaded directly from the device into a central computer system for storage and indexing, which protects them from tampering and assures a defensible chain of custody. This article explores the good that BWV can do for both the police and members of the public, particularly how these recordings might play a role in assuring that officers comply with Fourth Amendment search and seizure rules. Field tests of BWV in Britain have shown that police used the devices to keep records and record evidence, and that the devices were a uniquely effective bulwark against false complaints. Coupled with a requirement that every citizen encounter involving a search or seizure be recorded, and a presumption that without a recording the factfinder must draw inferences in favor of the defendant, BWV can help resolve disputes over search and seizure activities, and give the public a heretofore unattainable degree of assurance that police officers enforcing the law obey it as they do so. While BWV is certainly no panacea, and presents significant issues of tampering and reliability, it can help bring accountability and rule following to an aspect of police behavior that has largely proven resistant to it. (OA)
  • Young, Jacob TN, and Justin T. Ready. “Diffusion of Ideas and Technology: The Role of Networks in Influencing the Endorsement and Use of On-Officer Video Cameras.” Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice (2014): 1043986214553380. Abstract: On-officer videos, or body cameras, can provide objective accounts of interactions among police officers and the public. Police leadership tends to view this emerging technology as an avenue for resolving citizen complaints and prosecuting offenses where victims and witnesses are reluctant to testify. However, getting endorsement from patrol officers is difficult. These incongruent cognitive frames are a cultural barrier to the utilization of innovative technologies. Understanding the mechanisms that lead to the deconstruction of these barriers is essential for the integration of technology into organizations. Using affiliation data collected from a large police department in Southwestern United States over a 4-month period, we find that interactions with other officers provide a conduit for facilitating cognitive frames that increase camera legitimacy. (locked)

 

Happy reading! Let me know if you’d like your publication to appear in an upcoming Research Brief by using the ‘contact’ form.