“Today the world, once again, is watching South Africa’s response to police violence. Emerging from a violent Apartheid past, the newly branded South African Police Services was meant to be a shining example of how best to protect law and order, while ensuring a free democratic society for all. However, recent events in Ficksburg, Marikana and Cato Crest shake the foundation of this vision.”
Originally posted on Kevin Karpiak's Blog:
This post is my first, personal, attempt at refiguring anthropological inquiry after the internet 2.0. I guess this is just a fancy way of saying that I’m beginning to try to come to terms with doing ethnography after the birth of social media. For context, my original fieldwork in France, way back between 2003-2005, coincided with Friendster, but that’s about it (it’s no coincidence that it was juring that time that I met my first “blogger”). I’ve long though about what it would mean to start up a new project in the age of blogging, microblogging, social media and whathaveyou. I’ve had various personal inspirations, and a few more or less inchoate collaborations (especially through the various iterations of the ARC Collaboratory, whose website seems to be down right now), but, at yet, no sustained engagement. So here goes.
I’m sure I’m not the only one on this blog who’s been trying to think of a way to approach the whole Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman fiasco. Like a lot of scholarship, it’s just so hard to figure out what to add to the constant shit-storm of a media frenzy. But in my Police & Society class at EMU we have broached the topic, and the discussion has been both passionate and useful.
I thought I’d share the online discussion question I just prompted my students with. I’m curious to hear what readers of this blog might have to say. Here’s the prompt:
So our discussion seems to have gotten us to an interesting place: on the one hand, the question of what to do with George Zimmerman–did he have the right to be policing his neighborhood? did he have the right to carry and use a gun? did he have the right to suspect and pursue Trayvon?–brings us back to a question we’ve been asking repeatedly in the class… What should be the relationship between “police” and “society,” especially when we consider the use of force/power/gewalt? Should they be fully integral things, so that there’s no distinct institution of policing? Should there be an absolute distinction, so that only a small community can claim the right to police power? If the answer is somewhere in the middle, how would that work?
On the other hand, we’ve also been circulating around the question of freedom and security, norms and rights. Was George Zimmerman policing legitimately when we acted upon his suspicions, regardless of any evidence of law-breaking? Should the goal, the ends, of policing be the maintaince of community norms at the expense of individual liberty, or is a technocratic focus on law enforcement and civil rights the necessary priority of a democratic police force?
Anyone have any thoughts on how we can use some of the ideas and/or authors from this course to help us answer some of these questions?
Brazilian anthropologist Luiz Eduardo Soares, who served as the Coordinator of Public Safety for Rio de Janeiro and the Brazilian Secretary of Public Security, among other posts, and has held several academic positions, at private and public universities in Rio, São Paulo and in the U.S., has written an excellent piece, The crisis in Rio and the media pastiche, on the violence in the city of Rio that has made front page news around the world. I met Soares in the spring of 2005 when he agreed to come to Berkeley for a conference I co-organized on violence and the Americas.
The last month and a half in Rio have been particularly bloody, as both the traffickers and government have made shows of force. The most recent events (roughly following this summary in the newspaper the Jornal do Brasil) began on the evening of Sunday, November 21st, when six men armed with machine guns set three vehicles on fire on a major highway called the Linha Vermelha, and while escaping attacked the car of an air force commander. On Tuesday, all of Rio’s active police, along with officers from federal highway patrol were put to the streets to deal with further attacks. Throughout the rest of the week, in which 181 vehicles were burned, the Navy, Army and Federal Police joined forces with Rio’s police in attempting to control the situation, which, it should be noted, was not spread throughout the city but concentrated in specific neighborhoods.
Last Thursday, 200 officers belonging to an elite police force known as Bope (Batalhão de Operações Especiais) entered a favela called Vila Cruzeiro, which is part of bairro da Penha (where for a brief period of time I taught English). Some of the drug traffickers there escaped to another favela, Morro do Alemão. On Sunday morning, a week after this particular episode began (although it is misleading to speak of such events as isolated, even as a shorthand), the forces took control of the morro and the whole Complexo do Alemão, more or less without resistance from the traffickers, according to reports. All of this received dramatic coverage by the Brazilian press. Since at least some of the major traffickers are now making their way through the forested areas of the city to Rocinha, another major favela, the police campaign and accompanying violence will presumably continue.
At least 39 people died in this time period. The initial violence by the gangs was widely reported to be a response to the installation of new community policing units called UPPs in but some sources have said, to the contrary, that rather it was due to a standstill between police and bandits who were in negotiations to update their agreed upon index of bribes.
UPP stands for Unidade de Polícia Pacificadora, in English Pacifying Police Unit, a program that at least in theory aims to impede the “parallel power” of the drug traffickers by actually providing state services in long neglected areas while also addressing crime. (Here’s a NYTimes article; Ben could undoubtedly say a lot more though) They are the current incarnation of a program Soares tried to implement when he was the Public Safety Coordinator in 1999.
Most of the international media, such as the New York Times, has been positively euphoric over the turn of events: “In a quick and decisive military sweep, Brazilian security forces seized control of this city’s most notorious slum on Sunday, claiming victory in a weeklong battle against drug gangs that has claimed dozens of lives”; this echoes the reporting in the mainstream Brazilian media.
Soares, who was in much demand by the media for comments on the events, instead wrote a piece for his blog. Some of the points he made are these:
The media always repeats the same cycle of rabid attention to crises, paired with a complete lack of investment in reflection and consistent, solid information in the off period. They repeat the same wrong questions (a) what can be done right now to contain the violence? (b) what can the police do to definitively conquer the drug trade? (c) Why doesn’t the government call in the army? (d) will Rio’s image be sullied internationally? (e) Will we succeed in having a great World Cup and Olympics?
He then proceeds to respond to these questions. There is nothing, he says, that can be done immediately to resolve the situation of insecurity. “If we want to in fact solve a serious problem, it is not possible to continue to treat the patient only when he is in ICU, stricken with a deadly illness, in the acute stage…Therefore the first step to avoid repeating the situation is to change the question… : what can be done to improve public security, in Rio and in Brazil, to avoid the everyday violence, as well as its intensification, expressed in successive crises?” Those who say that the situation requires immediate response take exactly the position that has impeded consistent advances in public security; long term solutions are necessary. “The best response to the emergency is to begin to move in the direction of rebuilding the conditions that generated the emergency situation.”
The police, Soares writes next, must stop joining the traffickers: they must stop selling them arms, and they must not form militias that take criminal profits. In other words, “the polarity referred to in the question (police versus traffickers) hides the real problem: there is is no polarity.” What must happen is in fact a separation of the bandit from the police, a differentiation between crime and police. There are, he emphasizes, honest police whom he considers the first victims of their institution’s degradation, because the “rotten band of police” who act in militias, embarrass, humiliate and threaten them.
Soares makes several other useful comments, pointing out, for example, that trafficking as it is currently conducted, by gangs that are expensive to arm and have high mortality, is going to change to a delivery model; I’ll leave it at this for now though.
He ends with an incensed description of the media coverage. The nightly news in Brazil, watched by nearly everyone, is called the Journal Nacional. Soares writes that the news on “Thursday, 25 November, defined the chaos in Rio de Janeiro, splattering scenes of war and death, panic and desperation, as a day of historic victory: the day the police occupied Vila Cruzeiro. Either I suffered a sudden mental blackout and became an obdurate and incorrigible idiot, or the editors of the nightly news felt themselves authorized to treat millions of viewers as obdurate and incorrigible idiots.”
Here’s another useful analysis of the media and what has been happening in Rio (in Portuguese)
On Monday Hermila García Quiñones, who on October 9th 2010 became the first female police chief of the city of Meoqui in Mexico, was shot and killed after leaving her home, which she shared with her parents, whom she supported, on her way to work. García Quiñones was one of four women who have recently taken on leadership roles in police departments in the Mexican state of Chihuahua, in the face of drug-related violence the government has been unable to control.
I wrote in October about the 20-year-old criminology student, Marisol Valles Garcia, who became chief of police in Praxedis G. Guerrero. Her youth and determination to prevent violence with “principles and values” rather than guns, were headline news for a brief moment, and quickly inspired two more women to become heads of security of their towns, also in the Juárez Valley – Verónica Ríos Ontiveros, of El Vergel and Olga Herrera Castillo, of Villa Luz. Both are small hamlets in Samalayuca, south of Juárez City, and since there are only a few officers and one patrol car, they will mostly take crime reports.
Although Hermila García Quiñones started before the other women, and led a much larger force of 90 officers, she didn’t receive quite as much publicity. She was unmarried and did not have children, and although criticized for her lack of experience in police work, she was at least an attorney and had worked in city government before. Her situation was similar to that of Silvia Molina, who in 2008 was the top administrative official of the police department in Ciudad Juarez and was also killed.
The media’s interest is greater for more exotic cases, the very young student with an infant, the two housewives she inspired. They would all seem to be part of the same trend, of women taking on security posts, and the death of García Quiñones, and Molina before her, make it doubtful that female gender provides any protection from the violence of the cartels. Maybe the other women’s inexperience and motherhood will make a difference, and maybe this is what they are hoping. So, this is just an update; if anyone has any thoughts, please do share
It’s a remarkable turn of events that Marisol Valles Garcia, a 20-year-old criminology student, has taken on the position of chief of police in Praxedis G. Guerrero, a small town in the Mexican state of Chihuahua, bordering Texas. Praxedis G. Guerrero is located in the Juarez Valley, 35 miles southeast of Ciudad Juarez, called “the bloodiest city in Mexico”, with a reported 2,500 people killed in cartel-related violence so far this year. At night, drug gangs take over, and most of the police buildings in surrounding towns have been abandoned.
Marisol Valles Garcia was the only applicant for the job according to most news outlets, although the UK Guardian reported that the town’s mayor, Jose Luis Guerrero, said she was the most qualified of a handful of applicants. The Guardian added that in many parts of Mexico, it is “considered tantamount to a death sentence”. Valles Garcia’s plan is to have a dozen or so mostly female, unarmed officers “out there going door to door, looking for criminals, and (in homes) where there are none, trying to teach values to the families”. This plan is both touching and pragmatic, as the force currently consists of “13 agents, nine of them women, with one working patrol car, three automatic rifles and a pistol”.
Valles Garcia told CNN en Español, “The weapons we have are principles and values, which are the best weapons for prevention” and “[o]ur work will be pure prevention. We are not going to be doing anything else other than prevention”.
According to CNN, Valles Garcia “aims to establish programs in neighborhoods and schools, to win back security in public spaces and to foster greater cooperation among neighbors so they can form watch committees”.
I wonder how the reported plan for an unarmed, mostly female patrol was developed. Yes, it is pragmatic, but since Valles Garcia has also been assigned two body guards, and there’s been a fair amount of media attention, presumably other resources could have been appropriated for the town. So let’s say it is a choice. There’s a long history of unarmed patrols of course – does anyone have those references handy? In March 2010, there was the “Female approach to Peacekeeping” article in the NYTimes, about an all-women United Nations police unit from India, in Liberia. I did a quick search for precedents as well and saw that Manila had an “all-women mobile patrol” group that monitored malls during the Christmas season. Actually, most of the stories on women police officers were from India, Bangladesh and the Philippines.
That an untested college student was the best option, considering the crime and violence in the region, surely says something – about her stunning bravery, about the failure of traditional approaches, about the desperate conditions there. There’s nothing to say that Valles Garcia didn’t just decide to do this on her own though. Maybe she is drawing on ideas from her criminology classes.
As I try to put together a course on “Policing in Society” for the upcoming semester at the same time that I try to figure out for myself the place of anthropology in criminology (or vice versa, or somesuch). I came across this article, which I think has particular potential for our discussions here:
Rethinking Criminology(ies) through the Inclusion of Political Violence and Armed Conflict as Legitimate Objects of Inquiry
University of Ottawa
Abstract: Criminology has yet to achieve full recognition as an independent discipline. Its development has been hampered by a multiplicity of often stale debates between a “traditional” and an “alternative” criminology over the legitimate object, theories, and methods of the discipline. Rather than pursuing the debate in its current form, this article explores how focusing on new objects of inquiry and the challenges they represent may help to bridge the criminological divide. By rendering the borders of criminology’s object permeable, we may produce a malleable and dynamic discipline that deals with processes of normalization/differentiation/othering as well as ordering, governance, and control from different normative and political perspectives, theories, and methods.
Felices-Luna, M. (2010). Rethinking Criminology(ies) through the Inclusion of Political Violence and Armed Conflict as Legitimate Objects of Inquiry Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice/La Revue canadienne de criminologie et de justice pénale, 52 (3), 249-269 DOI: 10.3138/cjccj.52.3.249
I’ve been meaning to provoke a bit more discussion regarding the confrontation between police and protesters at UC Berkeley a couple of weeks ago (although I did post something on the matter before the Nov 20th occupation), but the demands of teaching and preparing for AAA’s have been forestalling my best intentions. On top of that, to be honest, i’m not sure what I think about it. I’m left, mostly, with a bunch of half-articulated questions. Aaron Bady, a graduate student in English at Berkeley has some reflections along that line over at The Chronicle of Higher Education:
Some sort of administration response to the occupation was inevitable, of course. But why was it necessary to direct police violence against the students outside Wheeler Hall? (In fact, the university has called for an independent investigation of police actions and the university’s own decisions that resulted in the police being called onto the campus.) The more the riot police surrounded Wheeler, the more students came out to watch. But the police treated that assembly of peaceful spectators like a clear and present danger, pushing and shoving back students whose crime seemed to be their very presence on their own campus. I cannot overstate how pointless and stupid it was. The police had marked off a perimeter around the building with crime-scene tape, and I have yet to hear the allegation that a single student ever tried to cross it. But when the police began to set up metal barricades, they ordered students to move back as they smashed the barricades into the front row of students. Students who didn’t respond instantly were beaten with batons; students who touched the barricades had their hands pounded with force enough to break bones.
In response to these questions Bady makes some gestures towards both Althusser and Weber and, while I think both are important routes to traverse, I think the tone in the passage above is probably the most appropriate–simultaneously critical and perplexed. How can we proceed and maintain its tenor?