Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Cop-Cam Sham: Political Problems Demand Political Solutions

Once again we are confronted with another miscarriage of justice as another police officer kills another unarmed black citizen the police are supposed to serve and protect. And once again calls are ringing out on all sides to install more cameras, cameras on police cars, cameras on the street, cameras on the bodies of cops on the beat.

Cop-cam techno-fixers really need to pause and take note: Eric Garner's death by a clearly illegal choke hold was on video and was seen by millions.

Solutions from scholars and activists and experts have been reiterated and mostly ignored for over a generation by now: setting up independent special prosecutors to address charges of police misconduct rather than grand juries composed of colleagues inthe criminal justice system with inherent conflicts of interest; extensive training for police in violence de-escalation strategies and to provide sensitivity to racial and other empirically well-established forms of bias, unconscious and conscious; hiring and promotion policies to reflect the composition of the communities they are meant to serve and protect; community policing, oversight and accountability; ending the harsh sentencing rules installed by the failed racist war on (some) drugs; commonsense gun safety regulations -- all of these and more are indispensable to address ongoing terrorization of vulnerable communities by police in all our names. If I point out that procedures are techniques and regulations are legal artifacts can technofixated futurists get behind these or similar proposals, even if they are not polished chrome and shaped like dildoes?

Of course, more body cameras for police on the street can and probably should be part of the story of better policing practices in our communities. I have nothing against that proposal except the pretense that cameras are "the solution."

It is crucial to grasp that the interpretation of camera footage is stratified and shaped by the same racism that shapes and stratifies the racist policing so many are talking about here, the footage is taken up in the context of the very institutional practices and procedures that are otherwise failing so conspicuously before our eyes. The same collegial incentives to protect police from accountability now would pressure those who presumably guard the footage. Think of "lost" e-mails, selective leaks of secret testimony, orchestrated press releases shaping public perceptions: more video surveillance footage is more mountain to mold. 

It is a strange thing, to say the least, to propose more surveillance as the ready-made solution to the unjust policing of people of color who have lived for generations under a regime of relentless onerous arbitrary surveillance as the substance of much of that unjust policing. Stop and frisk is a surveillance technique, you know. That policing has not been reformed even in the face of generations of obvious, ongoing failures should sound a warning that justice does not flow automatically from the visibility of injustice alone.

State sanctioned violence against black people from slavery, to Jim Crow, to inequitable incarceration and policing, is centuries old: it is not incidental to but an abiding historical constituent element of the justice system. Political problems demand political solutions. In this context, technofixated dreams of circumventions of the political with handy gizmos amount to affirmations of the politics of the reactionary racist status quo. My point in saying so is not to call the techno-fixated racist, but to appeal to their anti-racism to impel them to dig deeper than their usual techno-fixation to take on this long ongoing crisis on the educational, agitational, organizational terms it actually demands.

1 comment:

Roald said...