A Categorical Denial of Public Oversight of Police

Certifying Brutality

In the weeks since Roshawon Donley and others were brutally beaten by Troy Police officers, Troy city and policing officials have taken many opportunities to speak about the events. Routinely, they have described the officers’ actions on the scene as necessary, within department policy, and lawful. As shown in the video below, Police Commissioner Magnetto went so far as to say that were the same situation to happen again, he would wish for police to respond exactly as they did — by beating at least half a dozen patrons with baton strikes, including blows to the head.

A Department of Justice report from 2011 explains the current trends in use of force policies in US municipal and other law enforcement departments. “Most agencies do not allow baton use until the subject threatens the officer by assuming the boxer’s stance.” Policies informed by current research in use of force outcomes, criminal and civil case law classify baton strikes to the head and other areas of the body as deadly force. A model DOJ use of force policy states unequivocally that “deadly force is not limited to the use of firearms” and includes baton strikes to the “head, neck, sternum, spine, groin, or kidneys” and lists this use of force among ramming with a car and firearm use. The DOJ makes clear, “A subject who poses no imminent threat will not be struck with a baton or impact tool … During non-deadly force incidents, officers will use reasonable care to avoid striking suspects on the head, neck, sternum, spine, groin, or kidneys, as these strikes may constitute deadly force.”

It is rather clear that Federal standards for municipal and other policing differ widely from the activities officials in Troy wish to certify and advocate as standard practice. They echo a common sentiment among police. A US Department of Justice report found that about half of police agree, “Always following the rules is not compatible with getting the job done.”

Continue reading

Video Footage Documents Police Brutality in Troy, New York

The videos below show a half hour of security camera [edit: and civilian cell phone camera] footage documenting the manufacturing and escalation of a dangerous situation by the Troy Police, where their exclusive use of violence led to wanton brutality against a number of young men and women who did not deserve or warrant such treatment.

Troy, NY, is about to be a city where people around the country and around the world who are fighting against police violence will be paying very careful attention.

Continue reading

Transparency, Accountability, Legitimacy

Perhaps, rather than a linear and causal relationship between transparency and accountability, these function more autonomously or the relationship is instead more like a zero-sum game. 

What are the relationships between transparency, accountability, and legitimacy as they are mobilized in discourse related to contemporary acts of governmental and corporate elites and their agents, particularly acts that leave civilians harmed?

Continue reading

CFP: The Police and Theory of the State

Call for Papers:

The Police and the Theory of the State

Deadline: 28.02.2014

The editors of Theoria invite contributors to interrogate contemporary political and social theory through the lens of policing, with the view of connecting politics and policing. Well documented reflections based on a variety of case studies would be welcomed, with a non exclusive privilege given to the ‘Global South’.

Continue reading

Call for submissions on Critical Technology Studies

The following call for papers has just been released:

Minority Report: The Rise and Fall of Critical Technology Studies

Open Session CFP for the Joint Meeting of Society for Social Studies of Science (4S) and Sociedad Latinoamericana de Estudios Sociales de la Ciencia y la Tecnología (ESOCITE)


August 20 – 23, 2014 | Buenos Aires, Argentina
Organizers: Ben Brucato (RPI) & Gretchen Gano (ASU)

Technology Studies aims to render technology comprehensible in historical, social, and political terms. A subset of this work we call Critical Technology Studies (CTS), holds that technologies are forms-of-life with intrinsic features that produce or merge with certain political and social arrangements. Under this premise, technologies are not like a hammer that can used and put down at will; instead they represent a kind of embedded legislation that structures human behavior and ideas (Winner 1986). Central CTS thinkers such as Lewis Mumford, Jacques Ellul, Langdon Winner and others not traditionally cited in STS such as Verbeek and Borgmann have given us a framework to interrogate how technical demands can overrule capacities for civic comprehension and democratic control of complex technologies. Counter to the social constructivist narrative that relevant actors are ever busy negotiating our technological reality, CTS suggests that pervasive technological systems can tightly constrain and sometimes confound social and political action.

Although STS owes an intellectual debt to the trailblazing works of CTS, its key contributors’ methods and insights are marginalized in the field today. In an interdiscipline where scholarship is often embedded in its scientific and technical focus, with many in our ranks enrolled in the innovation enterprise, the time is ripe for a minority report on Critical Technology Studies. Organizers invite contributions that unpack and challenge the view that critical technology scholarship is merely anti-technological Luddism grounded in sidelined arguments of determinism.

We seek submissions that:

  • reenergize our understanding of the primary claims of CTS;
  • trace the critical reception of CTS within STS;
  • connect CTS with parallel political commitments, such as those of neo-Luddites (i.e. Kirkpatrick Sale) and social activists (i.e. the anti-nuke movement);
  • apply CTS to contemporary studies of innovation;
  • propose new areas of inquiry for CTS.
We encourage those seeking additional information to visit ctstudies.wordpress.com
Deadline for abstract submissions: March 3, 2014. 
Abstracts should be no more than 250 words.
Languages accepted: English
To apply, submit an “individual abstract” via the 4S portal at http://convention2.allacademic.com/one/ssss/4s14/
Once you have a user name and password, go to submit proposal > submit new proposal > paper abstract. After entering your details, check the box beside Open Session #45. Minority Report: The Fall and Rise of Critical Technology Studies.
More conference information: http://www.4sonline.org/meeting
More panel information: http://ctstudies.wordpress.com/
Contact: Ben Brucato (ben@benbrucato.com) or Gretchen Gano (ggano@asu.edu)

Continue reading

If the WTO protesters were right, why didn’t they win?

Yesterday, The Atlantic published an article that declared “Seattle’s 1999 Protesters Were Right.” Author Noah Smith correctly explained that they were mocked and maligned. He writes “the Seattle protests came to seem as not only silly, but also misguided.”

But Smith explains that nonetheless history has shown the WTO protesters were “mostly right.” “Almost everything the Seattle protesters have warned us about has come to pass, much of it a direct result of the WTO’s actions in 2000,” he writes.

So what are the reasons we didn’t succeed and they did?

Continue reading

Raising the minimum wage: What does it mean to be “lifted out of poverty”?

In the present economic environment, “lifting 5 million out of poverty” will bloat what Newman and Chen call the “missing class,” those who are “decidedly not middle-class Americans” and yet “beyond the reach of most policies that speak to the conditions of life among the poor.”


The Huffington Post today reported on a study from University of Massachusetts-Amherst economist Arindrajit Dube.

Together they claim that a proposed Federal minimum wage increase from $7.25 per hour to $10.10 “could help lift nearly 5 million people out of poverty.”

If Congress were to go through with a plan backed by President Barack Obama to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 an hour, it would reduce the poverty rate among Americans between the ages of 18 and 64 by as much as 1.7 percentage points… That would bring about 4.6 million people out of poverty directly and reduce the ranks of the nation’s poor by 6.8 million, accounting for longer-term effects.

A $10.10 minimum wage would help to reverse some of the damage done by the Great Recession. The economic downturn, which technically ended in 2009, and recovery have been marked by high unemployment and stagnant or falling wages. After the recession, many jobs that did return were low-paying — with many offering just minimum wage or close to it.

Three-fifths of the new jobs created during the economic recovery paid low-wages, according to an August 2012 analysis from the National Employment Law Project, a left-leaning advocacy group focused on low-wage workers.

The combination of many Americans not working at all or working for not that much money contributed to a 3.4 percent increase in the poverty rate during the recession that has not abated. A $10.10 minimum wage could go a long way in reversing some of that economic damage, according to Dube.

Continue reading

The Visibility of Police Violence as Transparency (and a Preface to My Research)

I’ve been studying surveillance rather intensively for the past four years, and policing for a little less time. But my close familiarity with the intersection of policing and surveillance goes back much further. I was becoming politically aware during the Rodney King events, a reception that was deeply conditioned by my prior witnessing and direct experiences with police violence. By the mid-90s, I was participating in Copwatch activities, mainly filming policing of demonstrations, marches, and other political events. For about a year at the turn of the century, I participated in weekly Copwatch “patrols,” when we drove around “high crime” neighborhoods with a police scanner and stopped to video record any police encounters with civilians.

Most recently, I’ve been researching the intersection of policing and surveillance. I’m paying careful attention to the intentional, politicized activity of documenting policing, or “copwatching.” But I’m also observing the newer and broader occurrence of incidental video documentation of police by civilians. Additionally, I’m researching the activity by political activists and other related actors who advocate for civilians to participate in this form of documentation. My initial research question was: “What explains the proliferation of video documentation of police violence?” This expanded to include the followup: “How can the increased visibility offered by widespread civilian video documentation coincide with the continued or expanded use of violence by police?”

The Rodney King events created a crisis for American policing. But why? For readers who were around for the public, activist, and/or academic discussions that exploded during the early- to mid-90s, you may remember some of the ubiquitous responses. This is one place where I begin my research. Because this was the first major political event in the United State that began with the incidental documentation of police violence, this alone is reason to pay careful attention to this as a genetic moment. But it is also important precisely because of the discourse that emerged in this time. One thing of which I was convinced early in my inquiry is that this discourse continues to saturate the popular, activist, and academic consciousness in all the obvious related matters: police, police brutality, racialization of social control, and so on. But it also saturates the way most intellectuals and theorists talk about citizen journalism, surveillance, media, and accountability of public officials. While commentary on Rodney King seemed to have exhausted itself nearly 20 years ago, the idea of this as a critical moment when incidental documentation of the police produced popular power persists. The remote witnessing, archivability, and recirculation of the video offered a kind of transparency that produced a new kind of accountability.

Continue reading

Some facts about John Pike, UC-Davis Students and Justice in the US

Some facts about John Pike, the notorious UC-Davis cop who pepper-sprayed passive student protestors.

  1. “A public task force, led by former California Supreme Court Justice Cruz Reynoso … found that Pike did not need to use the pepper spray, used a spray not sanctioned for use by the department and used it at too close a range.”
  2. Pike was fired for this.
  3. “before he was ultimately fired, Pike was on paid leave for 8 months… he received an additional $81,120″
  4. He “reportedly suffered depression and anxiety” and for that he “will receive workers’ compensation totaling $38,059.”
  5. He will receive his pension, even though he was fired.

Some facts about the students he assaulted:

  1. They received just over $6,500, compared with Pike’s nearly $120,000.
  2. Their tuition partially subsidized Pike’s payout and pension.

Some facts about justice in the United States.

  1. This is exactly what it looks like.
  2. Period.
Quotes and more information: http://www.forstudentpower.org/blog/2013/10/23/make-38k-using-one-weird-trick-pepper-spray-students
Make $38k Using this One Weird Trick: Pepper Spray Students


Update (7:57 pm, October 23): Thanks to Michael Truscello for pointing out the substantial salary of Pike, at $121,680 per year, and making a comparison to professor pay. To explore this in some depth:

  • In the U.S., there are about 800,000 cops, and they are paid a median salary of over $55k.
  • Cops have a modal education level of a high-school diploma.
  • Cops in California have a mean annual salary of $84,320. In San Francisco, it is over $96k per year.
  • By comparison, professors may have twice as many years in school and earn a median salary of $81k in the US.
  • The average full professor in the US makes less than Pike did, at $113k.
  • According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, assistant professors at UC-Davis make $81,300. UC-Davis assistant professors average $90,600, and full professors on average make $129,400.
  • On average, it takes about 7 years to advance to full professor.

More at info at:



Jacques Ellul commended by Walter Ong for his optimism toward the ‘fake problems’ of technology

It’s been quite some time since I posted here. It seems inappropriate to break a long silence with such a brief note and an incomplete thought. Nonetheless, I offer this here as an interesting bit from my recent research on the reception of critical technology studies.

In 1962, a summation of Ellul’s primary theoretical claims regarding ‘la technique’ (delivered in the paper, “The Technological Order”) was critically received by none other than Walter Ong. A point of agreement between Ellul and Ong challenges the typical depiction of Ellul as a pessimist. Ong wrote that

Ellul treats the “fake problems” of technology extremely well. He [Ellul] says, first: “We make too much of the disagreeable features of technological development, for example, urban overcrowding, nervous tension, air pollution, and so forth. I am convinced that all such inconveniences will be done away with by the ongoing evolution of Technique itself.” I agree, and am persuaded that many critiques of contemporary conditions are based on a romantic symbolic transformation of the past. Those who dwell on these obvious faults of present technological society pretend there weren’t worse inconveniences before.

Here we see Ellul proclaiming these problems to be resolvable and certain to be resolved by (post)industrial technological civilization, and Ong in agreement. Yet, 50 years later, these problems are not “fake” but vicious. Urban overcrowding a thing of the past? The psychic distress of (post)modern life a thing of the past? Air quality resolved?

Let’s remember that in his time, Ellul was not criticized for his major theoretical claims nearly as much as he was for his prognostications, his style, and his ‘pessimistic’ attitude. If we look at most of the criticisms levied by his peers, they often lauded his acumen and the utility of his theses while decrying his futurology.