Monday, June 29, 2015

Watching a moment of the police watching people

Earlier today, I was out in downtown Sudbury running some errands. Before I came home, I stopped to have some fast food. I was sitting, munching on my pizza, and watching out the window of the establishment.

Across the street, sitting on a ledge, was a group of people -- about eight in total, all visibly Indigenous, about half a dozen men and two women. It's a lovely day here, and they appeared to be enjoying the weather and casually socializing.

As I watched, a white woman police officer approached by bicycle. She noticed the group. She stopped. She initiated conversation. They talked for perhaps five minutes. I have no sense of the content of their conversation, but the body language was calm and at ease throughout, from all parties.

I'm speculating, here, but I would bet that given the ways that policing institutions tend to rhetorically present community policing, the most positive possible frame in which the officer could present the interaction would be as an instance of establishing and maintaining relationships with people she sees all the time in the area she patrols -- about being friendly, about being community-oriented, about being available. She might even believe that.

I have lived in or right next to the downtowns of Canadian cities since 1998 (barring about fifteen months). As such, I have spent lots of time doing lots of different things in urban downtowns. I've walked. I've sat. I've chatted. I've shopped. I've strolled. I've cycled (though not much). I've stood. I've sauntered. And I -- middle-class white guy that I am -- have never had a police officer make a point of initiating casual conversation with me, in all of those 17 years.

So. Not a shocking point, particularly to racialized and colonized people, but one worth making anyway for the rest of us: That casual interaction that I observed, which would be so easy to see through a lense of whiteness and say, "Oh, isn't that nice," and which even the officer involved could easily see as progressive and community-oriented, is really just another moment in a long string of such moments for racialized (especially Indigenous and Black) folks...whatever the individual officer's intent, the institutional and social purpose is for it to be a moment of making clear to people whose bodies are socially marked as "threat" and "deviant", who are the targets of disproportionate and repressive police attention, that they are seen, they are watched, they are surveilled, they are noticed.

(And now back to the non-writing things that have been occupying most of my free moments over the last month....)

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