Friday, 17 July 2020

Old Wine in an Old Bottle? An Indigenous Commentary on the Criminology of the Global South

The idea for the title of this presentation came from a discussion I had in early 2019 with a prominent Australian Aboriginal scholar regarding the Criminology of the Global South (from here-on-in Southern Criminology), during which he described engaging with material produced by Australian members of this ‘new’ criminological movement, as akin to drinking ‘old wine out of a dirty bottle’.  The old wine refers to the rehashed Eurocentric theories and focus of the new criminology, while the dirty bottle referred to the fact that Southern Criminology arose from the same bastion of white privilege, the neo-liberal university, as had most of the schools of criminology that have existed previously.

According to advocates, Southern Criminology is the latest criminological project seeking to ‘decolonise’ the discipline, removing it from its ‘Northern’, Eurocentric foundations and theoretical bias.

The esteemed British scholar Matthews, described Southern Criminology as “probably the most significant theoretical development in the recent period”, and just recently Fonseca described the movement as “a gush of fresh air in the debate involving studies of crime, crime control and punishment” (quoted in Moosava, 2019).

I agree with the gush of air part of that last quote, but I not as yet convinced of its freshness, given the conduct of some of its Australian adherents towards Indigenous scholars and scholarship over the past decade, and the lack of meaningful engagement with our work and with Indigenous peoples in general.  

Unlike Leon Moosavi’s paper published in the British Journal of Criminology in 2019, I will not be offering a ‘friendly critique’ of this supposedly ‘new’ criminological movement.  If you’ve read Moosavi’s paper you will recall that he chose to offer a friendly critique Southern Criminology because he wanted to enhance the project due in part, to a belief that it has a solidarity with the principles of decolonising criminology rather than scepticism about its necessity or potential worth to the cause of social (and especially to Indigenous) justice. Well right now I am sceptical not so much of the intent of Southern Criminologists, because thus far they are saying pretty much all the right things - racism bad, inequality bad, free us from the shackles of ‘Northern’ theory, ‘decolonise the discipline’, and speak for the disaffected - etc, etc.  However, demonstrating support for decolonisation required much more than a few statements included in an article here or there, or collected edition/handbook.  We, and by that I mean Indigenous peoples, have heard it all before, so we tend to judge those who claim to be our ‘allies’ on their actual conduct, or, as this is an academic exercise, on the content of their research (and their conduct during and after it), what they say about us, who they have invited to speak about us, and if they are engaging respectfully and meaningfully with us. 

The theorist who appears to have greatly influenced the idea for a Southern Criminology is Raewyn Connell, author of that well-known work Southern Theory (2007).  In that work Connell advanced the argument for the ‘South’ to create its own body of theory and knowledge.  Her reasoning for offering this proposition: because of the orientalist attitude that pervades the social sciences that views academic scholarship and knowledge emanating from the South as of poor quality and not worth consideration.

As an Indigenous person, and researcher, I do not entirely disagree with Connell’s assessment of the social sciences. In my experience this attitude is pervasive within the discipline of criminology; for example when a scholar like Don Weatherburn write as recently as 2014, that there is nothing for us to learn from Indigenous knowledge about the causes of crime, because all we need to know we can get from western science (a not uncommon sentiment amongst Australian criminologists in my experience), then Connell is clearly onto something.  But she, just like many of the scholars involved in Southern Criminology in my part of the world, are talking about a situation and an issue that we Indigenous people have long known about, have been researching, and actively seeking to address.  One must wonder to what extent Southern Criminology is yet another example of a bunch of (predominantly white) criminologists turning up extremely late to our party…. largely uninvited.

The idea that Australian criminology is part of the periphery – a central platform of the rationale for Southern Criminology - greatly amuses me.  Why?  Because of the long and ongoing history of bigotry within Australian Criminology and the paternalistic and colonialist attitudes towards Indigenous people and our knowledge.  I’ll return to this idea of Australian criminology as some backward, ignored, lonely bunch, looking with longing to the Great North just to be recognised, like some teenager at the school dance hoping someone, anyone, will ask him or her to dance, a little later.

So, let us briefly discuss this project, this Southern Criminology and in so doing I am going to skim briefly and broadly over the main arguments (for its existence), etc, for a detailed understanding read the extant literature:

It starts with the observation that criminological theories and concepts have largely been produced in ‘the West’, meaning Europe, the North America.  It is also assumed that the ‘knowledge of the North’ can be readily transported to the periphery, and that this knowledge will be relevant anywhere (Moosavi, 2019), whether psycho-therapeutic programs or policing tactics, or entire prison regimes, as in the case of New Zealand’s importation the Integrated Offender Management system from Canada in the early 2000’s. 

Let me just pause here for a moment because I need to say something about this portrayal of the ‘North’.  As an Indigenous scholar I need to say that when we hear or read the term criminology of North American and Western Europe, the moment it hits our brain it is translated into White Criminology: criminology by and for white people who then do us poor natives a huge favour by offering us their gift of criminological knowledge to fix crime problems generated mostly from the colonising behaviour of their ancestors, or indeed themselves, if my experience of Australian criminologists is anything to go by.

Moosava (2019) also reports that Southern criminologists are motivated by the need to challenge the largely one directional nature of knowledge flow (North to South) in order to attain a more rounded criminological knowledge of crime and social harm.  In this regard, much of what I have read thus far from the Australasian practitioners of Southern Criminology leads me to believe that what they are doing or intend to do is privilege the knowledge and experiences of marginalised communities.

Any attempt by members of Southern Criminology to prioritise the experiences of the marginalised, if this principle were to result in concrete action on their part, would indeed be welcomed by Indigenous communities.  But of course, some of us are already doing just that.  And so to presage one of my critiques of Southern Criminology - at least the Australian variant - nothing I’ve read so far about their motivations or the core focus of their work is in fact new, as I stated previously, Indigenous scholars have been doing it, and not just saying it, for decades.

I agree with Moosava’s point that so far Southern criminologists have not offered enough reflection on whether the decolonisation of criminology is even possible given the discipline’s Western origins, and its long and continuing parasitic relationship with the state.  The difficulty of that disentanglement from the colonialist and paternalistic mindset of criminology I will highlight with a couple of examples below.

Secondly, I also agree with Moosava’s contention that the Australian branch of Southern Criminology is highly Eurocentic in terms of theory and personnel.  He rightly points out that in the Palgrave Handbook of Criminology and the Global South released in 2018, almost half of the 79 contributors are based in Australian institutions, and the vast majority were white.  This is reflective of the way in which Southern Criminology is dominated by Australian criminologists to such an extent that Moosava writes that it may be more accurate to describe it as ‘Australian Criminology’.

At this point Southern Criminology is not representative of the disaffected communities who truly represent the South, such as the Indigenous peoples residing in settler-colonial jurisdictions. For this reason, its claims to be a decolonising project are groundless, unless of course they mean they are decolonising themselves, in which case we wish them all the best.

This brings us to the inevitable question: how far ‘South’ do you need to be, to be able to truly, accurately call yourself a ‘Southern Criminology’; how disaffected, ignored or marginalised?  Well, I put it to you that I needs to be a lot further south than the comfortable, privileged position of academics in the wealthy academic institutions of Brisbane, Sydney or Melbourne.

Right now, I am extremely pessimistic about Southern Criminology, especially the leadership of its Australian branch, can engage with our experiences in a meaningful way.  For example, comments by one of the founders of Southern Criminology during a keynote speech at a recent, major criminology conference, draw attention to the continued prevalence of ‘old school’ attitudes towards Indigenous scholarship within the ‘movement’.  During question time they were asked what made this ‘new criminology’ different from others that seek to decolonise the discipline, such as post-colonial criminology, peacemaker criminology, counter-colonial and Indigenous criminology’s, to which they answered: ‘these criminology’s romanticise the other’, meaning they mythologise our old ways of doing justice and misrepresent the causes of Indigenous offending.  As I have said in an earlier blog, this portrayal of ‘our criminology’ does not reflect the research and publications we have produced about Indigenous peoples and crime.  How is this attitude any different from Don Weatherburn’s ignorant dismissal of Indigenous knowledge?  I put it to you all that it is not.

I want to finish on one last point: in a 2016 article, Carrington et al, all leaders in the development of Southern Criminology, stated that “[t]o be clear… our purpose is not to add to the growing catalogue of new criminology’s... [Southern Criminology] seeks to modify the criminological field to make it more inclusive of histories and patterns of crime, justice and security outside the global North... [It] seeks to work with and complement—to Southernize—other established and emerging fields in criminology: feminist, green, postcolonial, queer, rural, cultural and Asian. (2016: 11; emphasis mine).  The wording is unfortunately, because it leads one to ask, are they seeking to Southernise, or Colonise these other criminology’s?  It also gives the impression that something vital is missing from them, without clarifying exactly what ‘it’ is, and what they offer that is better.  And so, when Southern Criminologists call for ‘the periphery to invade the centre’ (Brown 2018: 96), some may recoil at what they might feel is imperialist language.  Again, I ask are they trying to decolonise or colonise?

Ok, so, how do we explain the strange conduct of some of the Australian contingent?  I think that Leon Moosavi, in his article from 2019, hits the nail on the head when he wrote that one of the most urgent matters for Southern Criminology to address is whether Australia should be considered as part of the Global South.  Mark Brown (2018: 93) has also identified this as a concern, stating that ‘Southern criminology faces its own existential question: what makes you Southern?’  This question divides opinion amongst proponents of Southern criminology. Some believe that Australia is one of the ‘selected enclaves of the symbolic north located south of the equator’ (Donnermeyer 2017: 128), whereas others emulate Raewyn Connell’s view that Australia is marginalized in similar ways to other Global South countries (Connell 2007: 212).

Australian scholarship may often be ignored by those in the United States and the United Kingdom, and Australia’s geographic location may make it harder for Australian scholars to participate in international academic events, but Australia is still a country that is developed, wealthy, stable, autonomous and privileged, meaning that suggesting that Australia is part of the Global South is problematic. At best, Australia may be part of the ‘semiperiphery’ (Medina 2011), but it still does not share the same hardship as the Asian, African and Latin American countries that are typically considered as part of the Global South, which is noteworthy because it has been suggested that a key component of ‘epistemologies of the South’ is that they comprise ‘knowledge born in struggle’ (Santos 2014: x).

The idea that Australian criminology is isolated from its Northern counterparts is nonsense.  Overall, their knowledge is not borne of struggle as Santos contends is a key marker of Southern Criminology, unless you define ‘struggle’ as receiving a lukewarm coffee from a café on the way to work.  If you want to see knowledge borne of struggle then go talk to Indigenous and African American scholars and we’ll tell you about our experiences of dealing with racists in the academy, of having our knowledge denigrated, our cultural practices and languages incorporated into departmental and institutional strategic plans (without meaningful funding attached); our people used as fodder as members of the academy work to credentilise themselves to move up in seniority.

The truth is we are already ‘Southern’ and we don’t need a bunch of white criminologists to show us what is required to decolonise the discipline; we’ve been doing it for a lot longer than this latest criminological fad was conceived.  Therefore, I do not advocate for the decolonisation of criminology; instead I call for the formulation of our own social justice-oriented discipline.  Why?  Because I believe our energy is best directed at the needs of our own communities, rather than wasting it on showing white academics how to behave more ethically.  In the end, it is not our job as Indigenous scholars to fix the problems of whitecentric criminology – let’s leave them to ‘southernise’ themselves.

Brown, M (2018) Southern Criminology in the Post-colony: More than a ‘Derivative Discourse?, in K. Carrington, R. Hogg, J. Scott and M. Sozzo (Eds.), The Palgrave Handbook of Criminology and the Global South. Cham: Palgrave Macmillan: 83-104.
Carrington, K; Sozzo, M and Hogg, R (2016) Southern Criminology, British Journal of Criminology, 56: 1–20.
Connell, R (2007) Southern Theory: The Global Dynamics of Knowledge in Social Science. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Donnermeyer, J (2017) The Place of Rural in a Southern Criminology, International Journal for Crime, Justice and Social Democracy, 6: 118–32.
Medina, J (2011) Doing Criminology in the ‘Semi-Periphery’ and the ‘Periphery’, in C. Smith, S. Zhang and R. Barberet (Eds.), Routledge Handbook of International Criminology. New York: Routledge: 13-23.
Moosavi, L (2019) A Friendly Critique of ‘Asian Criminology’ and ‘Southern Criminology’, British Journal of Criminology, 59: 257-275.
Santos, B (2014) Epistemologies of the South: Justice against Epistemicide. Boulder: Paradigm Publishers.
Weatherburn, D (2014) Arresting Incarceration: Pathways Out of Indigenous Imprisonment. Canberra: Aboriginal Studies Press.

Tuesday, 19 May 2020

Community Research Webinar: Challenges and Opportunites for addressing inequities of the NZ justice system

Attached is the web address to a webinar recording of a presentation I gave in March 2020 titled 'Challenges and Opportunites for addressing inequities of the NZ justice system':

Thursday, 23 January 2020

The Boutique Shamans of Restorative Justice

The following entry is based on a paper I presented at the 2019 American Society of Criminology conference held in San Francisco:

In his 2008 tome ‘Crime, Aboriginality and the Decolonisation of Justice’, Harry Blagg considers whether it is possible for restorative justice to assist Indigenous peoples to decolonise settler colonial criminal justice. Blagg ponders whether the structures that sustain the RJ movement are “sufficiently liminal to accommodate Aboriginal narratives”? Blagg’s searching question is pertinent to the broader question this commentary is concerned with, namely ‘of what use has RJ been to Indigenous peoples’? 

Considering this question forces us to address one of the significant gaps in the RJ lexicon, namely the lack of critical analysis of race, ethnicity and indigenous self-determination, as these factors intersect with RJ theory, the product marketing of RJ entrepreneurs, and the conduct of the movement’s practitioners. Drawing on the work of Indigenous scholars such as Aldred and Deloria and others, on the concept of boutique shamanism, I will argue that the tendency for RJ advocates and practitioners to “indigenise” their programs through appropriation of Indigenous cultural artifacts, is the criminal justice equivalent of the ‘boutique shamans’ of the New Age Spiritualist movement that began in the late 1960s and developed into a full-blown, international market by the 1990s. 

And just like those who fraudulently pose as Native American traditional healers, the boutique shamans of the RJ movement have for decades been misappropriating Indigenous cultural artifacts for their own benefit, often to the detriment of Indigenous peoples striving to attain a measure of jurisdictional autonomy.

Furthermore, through the fraudulent marketing of their RJ wares as 'indigenous-based' or 'inspired', the boutique shamans of RJ, whether knowingly or otherwise, support the settler-colonial state's efforts to stymie Indigenous peoples attempts to practice self-determination.

In this commentary I will attempt to demonstrate an inherent paradox of the RJ movement, one previous identified by George Pavlich - that the more the movement aligns itself with the (settler-colonial) state and thus became increasingly institutionalised, the more it shed its transformative, communitarian roots. Furthermore, the alignment between RJ entrepreneurs and the state is in part founded on the extraction and appropriation of Indigenous cultural artifacts. Thus a further paradox exists, namely that the more the movement aligned itself with the formal system, the more it transformed from a communitarian movement, into a Colonial Project that supports the state as it grapples with the dual (hegemonic) threat of ongoing Indigenous over-representation in criminal justice, and Indigenous counter-hegemonic activity and critique of settler-colonial justice. 

Restorative Justice: A Case Study in Boutique Shamanism and Social Justice Hucksterism
The past 30 years have seen the birth of a new growth industry in the United States, known as ‘American Indian Spiritualism’, part of a broader New Age Spiritualist movement (NASM). This profitable enterprise allegedly began with a number of literary hoaxes carried out by non-Indians such as Carlos Castaneda and Jay Marks (a.k.a.: ‘Jamake Highwater’), along with Indigenous collaborators such as Alonzo Blacksmith, ‘Chief Red Fox’ and Hyemeyohsts Storm. According to Ward Churchill, each of these authors wrote bad distortions and outright lies about American Indigenous spirituality to enhance the marketability of their products on the growing, increasingly globalised NASM market.

This now brings us to the RJ movement and its own history of appropriation of Indigenous cultural artifacts. It is my contention that we can see many of the practices of appropriation and disempowerment by members of the NASM, in the conduct of RJ advocates, practitioners and academics. The parallels are obvious, from the exaggerated ‘histories’ linking RJ to Indigenous cultural artifacts and responses to social harm, to the unabashed hucksterism of RJ entrepreneurs marketing their eroticised, indigenised wares on the globalised crime control market, as the franchise company Real Justice did in the late 1990s and early 2000s across the US and Canada.; all the while ignoring the critique of their activities by Indigenous scholars and their critical allies that began in the late 1990s, and continues today.

Understanding the motivations of RJ advocates for their hucksterism lies perhaps in the paradoxical position of the ‘movement’ alluded to by Schiff who, in similar vein to Pavlich, wrote of the tension placed upon the RJ movement from its “strange paradoxical position of trying to breach the social order of governmental justice…. while also trying to simultaneously integrate within those same institutions”.  The attempts to breach the walls of governmental justice, to become acceptable to the policy sector, has arguably given rise to a peculiar response to RJ among both the policy and political classes of many western jurisdictions, whereby RJ has being accepted to one degree or another, with both conservative and progressive policy workers and government. 

Schiff contends further that in order to move from the periphery to the centre of contemporary justice practice, to navigate the discriminating machinery of neo-liberal crime control, RJ advocates had to confront and acknowledge the barrier it faced in terms of the perception that it was a ‘threat’ to the status quo. Thus advocates, practitioner and entrepreneurs one and all, had to learn to speak the language of the political class and the policy sector, and mold their restorative practice into forms suitable for neo-liberal, western crime control. 

In doing so they subverted the communitarian ethos of ‘restorative’ philosophy by reorienting their practice to placate the neo-liberal obsession with the deviant individual. For their approach and practices to be provided legislative and financial support, they had to demonstrate the viability of their approach to social harm and, arguably more importantly, what they could do for government in meeting its crime control needs. 

And so how was the industry to procure state support for their policies and products? One strategy was to develop products suited to specific criminal justice markets. Enter the Boutique Shamans of restorative justice and the use of Indigenous cultural artifacts to market RJ programs in jurisdictions that were experiencing significant over-representation of their Indigenous peoples in the criminal justice system.

Playing Indigenous: The Boutique Shamans of Restorative Justice
Elsewhere I and others, like Chris Cunneen and Harry Blagg, have demonstrated the extent to which the RJ industry has long moved on from the emancipatory, transformative rhetoric (and goals) that characterised many of its foundational texts. Instead, over a thirty-year period it rapidly transitioned from an emancipatory project to become an important cog in the machinery of settler-colonial crime control. Analysis of this transition, including the strategic appropriation of Indigenous life-worlds, demonstrates that the institutionalisation and bureaucratisation of RJ was based in part on exaggerated claims of its ‘Indigenousness’ and the suitability of its products for solving the wicked problem of Indigenous overrepresentation.  Boutique shamanism played a significant role in both the transition and the increasing globalisation of the movement; their conduct also underlines the movements condescending approach to Indigenous peoples and their responses to social harm.

In 2008, Harry Blagg (p. 79) presciently argued that “Indigenous processes can be appropriated, denuded of context and employed to meet the interests of the status quo”. The process of appropriation via the shamanistic activities of RJ practitioners benefits both the status quo, meaning the settler colonial state’s hegemony over crime control, and the RJ Industry itself, with the latter able to more effectively match its products to the pressing needs of government. And in the settler-colonial context, no policy issue is more pressing than the wicked problem of Indigenous over-representation, a problem we argue here, that opened crime control to the boutique shamanism previously observed in NASM.

By appropriating what it judges to be ‘acceptable’ elements of Indigenous culture, in the case of RJ, and especially of its vanguard initiative the FGC, while at the same time largely ignoring the structural violence that its institutionalisation supports, exposes the tokenistic nature of RJ programs. Restorative justice advocates and practitioners, whether knowingly or unknowingly involved in or supportive of indigenised programs, are in effect ‘playing Indigenous’ in much the same way as the plastic shaman of NASM are with their Europeanised sweat lodges and faux Sun Dance ceremonies.

To understand the importance of the activities of the boutique shaman of the RJ movement, we turn to Blagg (2008) who argues that “[t]he Indigenous dimension provided a wholesome adornment to the nourishing imagery of restorative justice: redolent with images of peace pipes, desiderata, the creator spirit and mother earth”. Through the experiences of Māori and other Indigenous peoples having had their life-worlds ‘indigenised’, or, like the Stó:lo of the Fraser Valley, British Columbia, having experienced the importation of a supposedly indigenous crime control product that inhibit their own practices, we might conceptualise RJ products like the FGC and Sentencing Circles, in terms of Tsing’s ‘packages of political subjectivity’, meaning that they are:

[C]reated in a process of unmooring in which powerful carriers reformulate the stories they spread transnationally… These packages carry the inequalities of global geo-politics even as they promote the rhetoric of equality. Those who adopt and adapt them do not escape the colonial heritage, even as they explore its possibilities.

The exported /imported programmes in question are seen by some Indigenous practitioners as an extension of formal state justice processes beyond the Eurocentric bias of its traditional response to social harm; mostly because of claims that it enables ‘other ways of doing justice’ to be part of the formal system. And yet, we must always be mindful of what Aas calls the “geo-political imbalances of power between ‘exporters’ and ‘importers’ of penal policies and interventions”, meaning that we need to be wary of the parasitic relationship between certain exporters (government/think-tank/academics/corporation), importers (another nation state/government agency) and the customers who end up ‘receiving’ said products. We should also be cognoscente of these relations, because all too often a customer or community has been given little choice but to receive these culturally appropriated ‘gifts’, as occurred in Canada with the implementation of variants of the FGC forum throughout the 2000s.  

As Tsing further argues, we should always keep in mind “the particularity of globalist projects”, meaning that we should critically analyse who is constructing, exporting and importing artifacts, and who, or what (entity) stands to benefit most from the import/export. And Indigenous peoples in particular, given a long history of negative relations to setter colonial crime control, need to be especially vigilant of the appropriating activities of justice entrepreneurs, because it is evident that within criminal justice, and especially the RJ movement because as Leong contends “[n]onwhiteness has…. become something desirable — and for many, it has become a commodity to be pursued, captured, possessed, and used”. 

Concluding Comments: How Did it Come to This?
Almost twenty years has passed since Gloria Lee (1999) accurately predicted that the spread of the supposedly ‘Maori’ and ‘restorative’ FGC forum as the programmatic response to youth offending in Canada, most especially for Indigenous youth, would have little impact on Indigenous youth offending rates, ann nor would it support Indigenous peoples to attain the jurisdictional autonomy long sought for. And she was correct: Canada’s Indigenous peoples continue to struggle to gain state support to implement their own responses to social harm. The salience of Lee’s prediction brings us to the perhaps the central question about the powers attributed so often to RJ forums, namely ‘what roles does RJ play in today’s criminal justice landscape’? From an Indigenous perspective the answer might be as a significant colonial project in support of the settler-colonial states continued subjugation of Indigenes.

There is perhaps some reason to hope that things might soon change in the form of prominent RJ advocates beginning to critically reflect on the limitations of RJ, and the movements complicity in the marginalisation of disaffected communities, such as Indigenous peoples.  For example, in 2013 Mara Schiff wrote that:

My experience at the Symposium thus far had led me to ponder the possibility that the success of restorative justice in educational, juvenile or criminal justice institutional contexts may be intrinsically limited by the broader complex power structures within which such reform is situated. 

Self-reflection is always a good thing, but what if the focus, the questions contemplated are the wrong ones – or perhaps more accurately, the more convenient ones? What if instead, the question should be, as we have pondered elsewhere, ‘what part does RJ play in the replication of social division and social injustice’? And, we might also ask ‘why do settler colonial governments favour appropriated justice processes and policies to deal with the wicked problem of Indigenous over-representation’? 

One possible answer to these questions is because it enables state functionaries to develop politically expedient responses to the counter-hegemonic insurgencies of Indigenous and other disaffected peoples. I contend that RJ, as exemplified in FGC-like, stated-dominated forums, provides nourishment to the settler-colonial state through its support for the program of recuperation that state undertakes to nullify Indigenous critique of the criminal justice system.

The policy sectors adoption of RJ, especially as a response to the Indigenous problem, was never intended to open the door to Indigenous empowerment and self-governance in the realm of justice. Instead, the intent was to extend the provenance of state ownership over social conflict in order to (re)empower the state, to enable it to recuperate the ideological and programmatic high ground in the face of two decades or more of Indigenous political radicalism, and critique of settler-colonial governance. Arguably, the settler-colonial state recovered in part, by convincing us of its cultural sensitivity, in the simplistic hope that this move would overcome the socio-cultural gap between our ‘communitarian’ justice tendencies, and the supposedly sophisticated rationality of the ‘Western Way’ of justice.

Monday, 21 October 2019

Publication of the First Edition of Decolonization of Criminology and Justice

Hi all

Please find here a link to the first publication of the journal Decolonization of Criminology and Justice, edited by Antje Deckert (AUT University, Auckland) and myself.  Please read, share and just as importantly, submit work for consideration!

Sunday, 7 July 2019

Police Racism and the Asshole Trajectory

Setting the Scene
Early in 2017 I was involved in a Facebook discussion with friends about police, racism and Indigenous peoples.

The discussion began with a statement I posted that a key driver of Maori over-representation in crime statistics was due to the high level of police surveillance and 'policing' of Maori, especially Maori youth.

Enter two Facebook 'friends' (now 'ex' friends... obviously), both ex-cops.  The first started his comments by pointing out a) not all cops are racist, b) Maori offending is due to poor parenting, and other similar statements.  In response to criticism of his statements, including requests for evidence to support his position said friend became increasingly bigoted in his comments, ending with a claim that Maori crime was a result of an undefined 'thing' called 'Maori privilege'.

Enter ex-cop #2 who began his contribution by making 2 fairly predictable statements: ex-cop #1 was a 'great bloke' who helped lot of young people, and, just like his mate, argued that 'not all cops are racist'.

As with ex-cop #1, pointing out that a) no one had actually said that all cops were racist, but that b) some actually are and we need to discuss and analyse their conduct, made no difference as ex-cop #2 continued to make pointless, unrelated comments about the great work cops do.  But just like ex-cop #1, each time his unsupported comments were challenged, his posts became ever more shrill, aggressive and personal, and included stock standard responses of the pro-cop, anti-Maori brigade, such as 'Maori lack responsibility,' 'their culture is violent', through to the old chestnut, 'unless you've worn the uniform you don't know what the job is like'.  This last statement I have often heard and it always intrigues me.  I have found it is commonly used by cops/ex-cops when their conduct and that of their organisation is criticised; and the intent of this comment is obvious, to shut down any criticism of police behaviour, and most especially, police misconduct.

Arguing with (Ex)Cops and the the Asshole Trajectory
I learnt a couple of things from my engagement with these ex-cops, firstly, it is a waste of time debating the issue of police racism with ex-cops as no amount of research-generated evidence deters them from their belief that racism is a) non-existent in New Zealand's police service, or b) if it does exist it is due to a 'few bad apples' while the barrel overall is full of wonderful, helpful social justice warriors.  Entering into a debate with many ex-cops is to enter a fact-free zone full of sulking, bullying, threats and harassment, all of which I experienced over the 12 months following the Facebook debate, when I continued to receive vacuous, poorly informed emails from one of the ex-cops, in an attempt, according to him, to 'moderate' my comments on police and racism.

And secondly, debates and discussions with this group often take on a readily identifiable trajectory of behaviour that I call The Asshole Trajectory, which looks something like this:

Phase 1: The Reasonable Man
Phase one is easy to discern and describe, said individual(s) enter the discussion and/or debate with what they (but not always everyone else) believe are 'reasonable' points or arguments. For example ,'Dave's a good bloke, he helped lots of young people when he was a cop; he really cared', and 'not all cops are racist'.

Phase 2: The Protector
Phase 2 kicks in when much to their confusion, everyone continues to discuss police racism, at which point their comments become more 'protective' of the reputation of the police as an institution, such as 'well you know the job is really hard; you wouldn't understand, you've not worn the uniform; and 'I never saw any racism when I was a cop' (meaning since they didn't experience it, it doesn't exist).

Phase 3: The Wounded Veteran
Further criticism of their comments, and unmet requests that they provide supporting evidence for their claims, brings on phase 3, what I call 'the big sulk'.  During this stage the comments become increasingly personal,of the 'you are a typical academic' kind, which is meant to infer that the 'ivory tower' of academia renders commentators like me disconnected from our community, usually followed by comments about all abuse and prejudice they experienced as cops to demonstrate that cops also suffered bigotry. And there is no denying that sometimes they do experience it, but our discussion was the bigotry of police, an issue that my 2 friends failed to address throughout the discussion.

Phase 4: The Asshole
And lastly, as more and more criticism of their posts piles on, as they collapse under the weight of their unevidenced, poorly crafted arguments, they move into the last phase,where their commentary turns to personal insults and bigotry.  It is in the last phase of the Asshole Trajectory, that you will receive emails and facebook posts with comments like 'well, you lot ate the Moriori, 'the haka supports domestic violence', and 'I am proud that I locked up so many of your bros', etc, etc.  It is during this phase that they finally expose themselves to be an asshole; but unfortunately an asshole who once wielded the privilege and power that comes from wearing the New Zealand Police uniform, and policed our rangatahi/youth and our communities.