Ethnographies of European Policing

Angela Davis spoke at VCU last week, and in conjunction with her visit I read her new book Freedom is a Constant Struggle. In it, as in her talk, she explores american incarceration as an exportable product. I tend to be very hesitant to conflate American carceral culture to security cultures globally, simply because the extent of our prison system is so expansive, and our numbers so shocking. That said, Davis has for some time now made a compelling case that global capitalism brings with it a global security market defined by its American origins. While Europe’s approach to incarceration does not (and probably can never) rival ours, it is inevitably pulled in our direction by our shared technologies and corporate creators.

For several months we’ve been convening at a local jail to talk about the policies, technologies, and structural inequalities that define American incarceration. This launched a film series, and we’ve been lucky to screen essential films for understanding how incarceration functions, both as systems of policy and of economics. Today we broke out of that and started considering what carceral cultures look like beyond our own boarders. For week one of this we’re looking at two companion texts, a book and a film, that are two of my favorite explorations of urban policing in Europe in the last ten years: Dider Fassin’s Enforcing Order: An Ethnography of Urban Policing and Attack the Block. 

Attack the Block was a lucky film with which to start. It’s beautifully constructed: a group of kids race to save their counsel house from alien invasion while police race to enforce what they perceive to be social order. About half the men currently attending the film series were also my students in an Afrofuturism seminar last summer. Cycling back around to science fiction pulled things together in a way that is hard to do in a traditional academic semester. It’s also a great movie, and a much easier watch inside a facility than 13th, our last screening. Tomorrow I’ll go see Get Out, and I’m reaching out to the distributors for that film* to see if we can’t get lucky and score screeners for viewing inside. If we can get Get Out, our next film series theme may be race and gender in horror.  Here’s hoping.

*I’m also trying for I am Not Your Negro, which could possibly lead up to a short Baldwin seminar, which would be amazing.

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