• Watching Floyd




    Post-Script, Monday May 20th

    I was flicking through an anthology by Audre Lorde the other day and found this poem. It’s called A Meeting of Minds, she wrote it in 1986, and it made me think of 15C – its silences and its seductions.

    In a dream

    she is not allowed


    the agent of control is a zoning bee

    her lips are wired to explode

    at the slightest conversation

    she stands

    in a crystal

    all around

    other women are chatting

    the walls are written in honey

    in the dream

    she is not allowed

    to kiss her own mother

    the agent of control

    is a white pencil

    that writes


    Her words joined me for the closing arguments of Floyd today. The grand finale of an epic show, I was looking forward to seeing the whole cast of characters – judge, lawyers, plaintiffs, witnesses, press, bouncers, spectators – return to this crystal-stage for one last collective cancan. I donned my pearls and monocle, jumped on my bike, and headed over Williamsburg Bridge for my last romantic ride-montage. Manhattan misty-ing, police patrolling, flags flying, security scanning…

    And courtrooms overflowing. I made it in, just. The turnout was incredible and sustained throughout the day. As I overheard someone say, this trial is History-making. Floyd has the potential to affect, protect, save the lives of millions of New Yorkers otherwise terrorized by the NYPD.

    At least, that’s the hope.

    The defense counsel opened with a reminder that NYC is “still a big city”. Their point, you (rightfully) ask? It’s hard to maintain safety, and the NYPD are doing their best. Meanwhile the “confused” and “arrogant” plaintiffs have been indignantly finding police-speak “liability-inducing”: racial profiling is “more fiction than reality” – the actual “struggle” is “between management and employees about getting the work done”; “quotas” are not “performance goals” – the latter are about addressing the crime condition.

    And just because a black person makes a complaint against the NYPD does not mean it’s about race. Indeed this assumption, they continued, is “inherently offensive” (at which point we spectators made a collective hard-to-describe incredulous-sound– there is Something So Off about hearing this proclamation that they are the ones arguing against racism).

    The defense went on to attack the 19 stops described by the 12 witnesses over the past ten weeks – working hard to undermine people’s credibility (bad memories, bad agendas) and validate the officers’ reasonable suspicion (bad areas, bad times, bad descriptions). And/or argue that the testimonies were not actually about Terry stops as people were “free to leave” and therefore “voluntarily chose” to interact with the police.

    As the Center for Constitutional Rights’ (CCR’s) lawyer argued in their own closing arguments, this latter point is “patently ridiculous”. These interactions are soaked in not only power imbalances, but past, present, and future experiences of police brutality.

    And with regard to the penultimate point, as Judge Scheindlin argued, “if your reasonable suspicion is wrong 90 percent of the time, that’s a lot of misjudgment of suspicion”. In response, the defense claimed that stops’ outcomes do not erase the validity of officers’ initial suspicion. This is true. But it still does not take into account that the police-lens is historically, politically, professionally, statistically constructed in such a way as to, in the Judge’s words, “add race in as a reasonable suspicion variable”.

    Or, in CCR’s words, relentlessly deployed justifications like ‘suspect description’ and ‘high crime area’ are “nothing more than smoke and mirrors”; NYPD policy is "stop first, invent reasons later”. It is race that has become "a proxy for reasonable suspicion”.

    And then, CCR continued, the NYPD have taken a "head in the sand approach” to the effects of these racist practices. Disavowing the possibility of racism following years of complaints about police harassment from almost exclusively brown and black communities is not only “disingenuous”, but “evidence itself of deliberate indifference”.

    Like their switch to the phrase ‘racially motivated’, CCR’s use of the word 'deliberate’ here made me uneasy. I realize these terms are more palatable to the Western (imperial, neoliberal, colonial) courthouse, yet they also contribute to its bracketed ideologies. Those same ones that move with/in the defense’s emphasis that none of the stops involved comments about race, and their recurring insinuation that racism could only come from white bodies.

    All of which allude to a dubious and dangerous understanding of race and racism as nouns. As much as conservative and liberal agendas might wish otherwise, these are not entities (whether attitudes, or melanin) that reside in an individual. More like some sort of co-produced verbs, we do not have them, we do them; they do not exist, they become; we should speak not of intention, but of effect

    While thankfully the Judge did question if racial comments and slurs were really the only indicators of racism, my colleague María Elena Torre from the Morris Justice Project reminded me that beyond Pearl Street there is no shortage of this evidence. The verbal racism that people experience from police is so violent, explicit, and everyday that this section of their participatory survey with folks from the Bronx was often initially left blank.A loud silence (NB: not an absence) that perhaps also echoes in why – as the defense gleefully pointed out today – CCR were ‘only’ able to get 12 witnesses to testify against the police. Both provide further proof of police brutality as terror-fying and constant.

    A collision (collusion) fertile for the calculation of distrust and serious wonderings if things could ever be any different.

    Which brings me to remedies. The defense boasted the NYPD’s “self-initiated organic efforts” – arguing that the organization is “a big ship but slowly turning”. It follows, apparently, that no changes are necessary. In fact these will be “burdensome” and “expensive”, “fatally undermine the chain of command”, and obstruct their ability to police ‘properly’.

    CCR on the other hand, argued that historyhas shown us to be “guilty of trusting the NYPD to address issues on their own”. They have not fulfilled the Daniels’ recommendations nor even the supervision process outlined by high-ranking NYPD officials in this trial. Instead they suggest, ahem:

    1. a new 250, with sections for stops’ constitutionality and any witnessing officers, and a carbon-copy for the person stopped that inclines details of the main officer involved and how to make a complaint;

    2. getting rid of Operations Order 52, which authorizes the pressure on officers to meet ‘performance standards’;

    3. holding supervisors accountable for bad stops, including with regard to their documentation and review;

    4. a joint remedy process with input from community members and other stakeholders, and facilitation by an external person with experience in mediation and police reform; and

    5. an external monitor with sufficient power to make sure that these changes actually happen.

    And then there was the Judge’s (((alarming))) suggestion of body-worn cameras…

    Slavoj Zizek argues that the art of politics is to make demands that are at once thoroughly realistic and de facto impossible. That is, ones that are doable yet disturb the very core of the hegemonic ideology. It was not until the final five minutes that I saw a possible opening for this disturbance. A tangent for some, a line of flight for me, CCR’s closing closing lawyer mentioned 9/11 for (at least as far as I can recall) the first time. In the same breath as a reference to Mayor Bloomberg’s recent speech about the need for stop & frisk to deter gun violence and therefore deaths – pushing fear and a shift to view the police as no longer “first responders” but “first preventers”, CCR’s arguments started to move ever so gently towards the affective and material (un)limits of anticipatory policing.

    Although soon interrupted by a flummoxed defense after a puppeteer in the spectator area loudly hissed at the lead counsel to object, that this movement was made explicit in this space is critical. If we do not witness how stop & frisk – and the regime of militant, racist policing from which it emerges – circulates with/in (inter)national politics of terror – our lips remain wired and the bee continues to separate us.

    … to keep with Lorde’s imagery…

    Propelled through surveillance, fear is what stings. It is what Brian Massumi argues is the ‘affective fact’ of securitization, what Patricia Clough and Craig Willse argue provides the ‘rhetoric of motive’ for neoliberalism. And what poisons our capacity for connectivities and creativity. It is in our social relations – the defiance of divide and conquer, the meeting of minds for diverse imaginings – that lies radical emancipatory potential.

    Revolution demands techniques that interrupt the circulation of fear alongside a dream-space of shared stories, histories, possibilities, and a rainbow-pile of colored pencils.

    I hope that Floyd has helped to arouse public awareness and outrage, yet we cannot be seduced by the honey-illusion that a court decision will be enough. As Zizek argues, “It is the people who have the answers. They just do [(may)] not know [(they know)] the questions to which they have (or, rather, are) the answer”.

  • FIrst report from Morris Justice Project is now online!

    Read the findings from our community research on policing in a neighborhood in the South Bronx.  

    Click on “chain-link” button to open and then click on poster to enlarge.

  • Watching Floyd

    Day 27, Tuesday April 30th

    This is my last blog post because on Thursday I am heading to Santiago for a gathering of scholar-activists from around the world who do psychology and want to talk critical theory and social change. Testimony to life-spirals (and my privilege) it was at this same meeting in Thessaloniki two years ago when I first witnessed police brutality. Walking alone back to the hostel one night, a line of floating white orbs had slowly come into view across my path. A little closer and I realized they were the helmets of a riot squad framing a midnight protest against the neoliberal-itizing of the Greek government. Not quite knowing what was happening, but feeling strongly that I was on The Wrong Side of this embodied-justice-border, I froze.

    Then darted between bulletproof vests, batons and full-body shields, streetlights, shadows and buildings, to sprint through the high-beams of a row of (revving) motorbikes and join the rally. Moving between these spaces and bodies, I was suddenly aware that there was no human interaction. ‘They’ were all machine. ‘We’ were all animal. (‘I’ was a stray). Creating an affective hierarchy of rationality; fertile for the emergence of violence. One that I was to experience again and again and again in New York City two months later when Zucotti Park was (re)Occupied.

    Just a few blocks away from 500 Pearl Street. 

    Brooklyn activists and allies around stop & frisk packed the court today – many representing East Flatbush. Their presence was poignant given that Inspector Lehr was on the stand. Red and shiny and spectacled face, this white male in his forties and a crisp NYPD uniform spoke from his high-ranking position at the 67th precinct. The same precinct where 16yo Kimani Grey was killed by police officers in March this year. 

    10,000 250s were filed in the 67th during 2012; more than 25 recorded stops a day. The “quality” of which were described as only with regard to whether or not they are “addressing the crime condition”. Spinning people into data points, the interaction itself (once again) ignored. Although Lehr had to admit that the low rate of summons and arrests emerging from these stops (less than 1percent and 3.5 percent respectively) raises concerns about whether or not they were based on reasonable suspicion. Not enough, however, for him to have ever talked with anyone about it.

    Lehr also spoke at length about the Performance Monitoring Program, whereby officers who have had three or more CCRB complaints due to their use of force, abuse of authority or discourtesy are subjected to their own year of surveillance and correction. When introducing officers to the Program, Lehr asks about their aspirations within the NYPD and reminds them that their performance will impact their promotion opportunities.

    Held accountable to their careers, not their communities.

    And from a person who proudly spoke about the relationship that his precinct has with the people of 67th precinct – 90 percent of whom are black. While community meetings bring concerns from people about how and why they are stopped, Lehr was adamant that he had never received a complaint about racial profiling. Including during his times with Council member Juumane Williams, an “outspoken critic” of stop & frisk as a practice that pushes racism. Instead we heard that Williams, “always prefaces his comments … with a compliment to the 67th precinct”.

    Even the Judge laughed.

    Lehr’s remarkable ability to not hear racism continued in his depiction of the Kimani Grey vigils and demonstrations as “some anti-police stuff”. Only when the lawyer from the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) pushed him about how people’s chants and banners spoke of the NYPD’s racist practices did he oh-so-reluctantly agree that this could be seen as a complaint about racial profiling.

    Such refusal to see that which is not ‘officially’ documented was also illustrated in today’s testimony by Detective Hawkins. A black woman in her forties and a suit, Hawkins had done a no-show yesterday for her involvement in Kristiana Acevedo’s stop. Come today and she altogether denied the yell & chase & grab & push & shake & hold & frisk & search & threaten & demean; describing “just a friendly encounter” with Acevedo whereby she spent “90 seconds” identifying herself as an NYPD officer in the hope of “gathering some intelligence”.

    Hence why Hawkins never did the documentation required for a stop & frisk. A written statement from Detective Albino and oral testimony from Sergeant Dengler likewise implied – vis-à-vis missing 250s and memo books – that the stops of Ourlicht, Clarkson, Peart, and Floyd did not happen.

    Wrapped around policing, the absence and presence of paperwork works to obscure people’s experiences with the NYPD. Sergeant Marino was “not concerned” that one of the officers under his command came top-of-the-stops in 2009 –  127 over three months, 90 percent involving black people despite that only 43 percent of the precinct’s population can be categorized as such. Indeed in his quarterly evaluation, Marino proudly described this “self-motivated” officer as one who “gets along well with his supervisors, peers, and the general public” and “an aggressive police officer who performs all duties with little or no supervision”.


    Marino further described his own ‘Policing in a Multicultural Society’ training as learning “how to deal with different communities” and going on field trips including the Jewish History Museum, the African History Museum, Ellis Island, and… the Statue of Liberty. The uncanny whiteness of these examples aside, it was their objectification that made me squint; people tossed into homogeneous categories of Other that need to be “dealt with”.

    What about listened to? When asked by the NYPD’s team if he was concerned about “over-policing in majority-minority neighborhoods” Lehr replied, “No … more than any other complaint is people saying there’s not enough … they want added police presence”. A seemingly contradictory knot tied by NYPD practices that spread fear, distrust, and violence – not safety. Stop & frisk is working in cahoots with a silencing of people’s actual needs.

    Perhaps the NYPD could resuscitate its values with a move toward community-driven – rather than data- (or race-) – policing. Prioritizing the learning opportunities of collective voice and action over the Statue of Liberty. Then again, representing nationalist propaganda and made of concrete, Libby is conveniently less complex, angry, emotional…



    It is perverse and telling that we live in a country where protest is terror-ized. The NYPD used militant tactics at (un)Occupy actions, Homeland Security is directly involved in the upheaval of these struggles, the USA Patriot Act enables protestors to be detained on suspicion of terrorism.

    And, to be completely inside-out, watching Floyd has definitely made me worried that They are watching me. Not helped when just after 8am yesterday morning, I walked out of The CUNY Graduate Center to find half a dozen NYPD with sub-machine guns patrolling the front steps and sidewalk. Reminding me of my conversation with a protesting psychologist in Thessaloniki: she told me that educational spaces in Greece have historically had asylum status – no military or police allowed; I told her about what was happening over here; she had been confused and shocked – asking, “How can you have a free society if you can’t have freedom of thought?“

    The occupation of our cities-cum-psyches. I finally had a nightmare about the NYPD. After pretending to be plumbers, three large white men returned to my apartment and broke down the front door when I was in the bathroom. The drugs on my coffee table becoming the goat for my activism against the police; they were aggressive and thrilled. Time slowed right down as I turned the doorknob to enter where these plain-clothed cops were waiting for me – guns pointed.

    Not my most creative of dreams, I’ll admit. But perhaps this was it’s message; not everyone gets to wake up at this point. Yet we must continue toknow that this is possible.

    I am leaving Floyd with the poetics and politics of Audre Lorde, Franz Fanon, Kelly Oliver, Ignacio Martin-Baro dancing maniacally in my head; imagination is critical to the decolonization of our souls, lives, worlds.