Reading about how public space is experienced and managed in the UK has been helpful in understanding how much of public space is symbolic space. The paper excerpted below makes a strong case for how policies justified by a narrative of public disorder, like the UK’s Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (introduced by the 1998 Crime and Disorder Act), disproportionately impact “young people’s ability, and desire, to access public space.”
Jacqui Cheer, the chief constable of Cleveland, and the Association of Chief Police Officers’ lead on children and youth, said society was becoming “quite intolerant” of young people in public spaces, and the public and police were too ready to label “what looks like growing up to me as antisocial behaviour”.
She said police and public had to understand that antisocial behaviour “is not just being annoying or being in the wrong place at the wrong time or there’s more than three of you”. (Nov 2013, Guardian UK)
Donna Marie Brown. Young People, Anti-social Behaviour and Public Space: The Role of Community Wardens in Policing the ‘ASBO Generation’ Urban Studies 2013 50: 538
A case in point is that, in an attempt to measure perceptions of anti-social behaviour, the British Crime Survey (Home Office, 2007) lists ‘teenagers hanging around on the street’ as one of seven key variables.This problematically conceptualises the mere presence of young people in public spaces as equating to an actual measure or instance of anti-social behaviour.
Within England and Wales, over 40 per cent of the [Anti-Social Behaviour Orders] ASBOs served have been given to people under 18 (Crawford, 2008). Alongside the ASBO, a range of other enforcement measures were introduced under New Labour, including the Dispersal Order where people (invariably young people) can be moved on if in groups of two or more and thought likely to behave anti-socially (see Crawford and Lister, 2004). Serving young people with legal notices that banish them from public spaces shows how patterns of behaviour, which have been associated with young people for a long time, have become subject to processes of criminalisation. This is particularly concerning, given that: “Recent literature on youth in Western societies has shown how for many young people the street is still often the only autonomous spaces that young people are able to carve out for themselves” (Gough and Franch, 2005, p. 156).
As a number of studies have highlighted, young people report higher levels of victimisation of anti-social behaviour than adults (Crawford, 2008; Wilson et al., 2006). Perhaps somewhat ironically, the threat that young people feel in public space—not just from other young people, but also adults, police enforcement agents, etc.—contributes to their desire to congregate in groups so that they feel safer (Burney, 2005). Research has frequently noted how young people’s intention to remain safe in public space by hanging out in groups, is perceived as threatening behaviour to other users of public space (Malone, 2002; Pain, 2006). Young people are statistically more likely to be victims of anti-social behaviour and crime than perpetrators of such actions; consequently, it is important to remain critical of the popular discourses and policing practices which have been produced and used to reinforce today’s young people as the offending ‘ASBO generation’ (Verkaik, 2005). We need to appreciate more fully what public space means to young people, why they want to use it in certain ways and what this means for other users. By opening up the channels of communication between young people and adults, the groups could perhaps reach a better understanding of how their behaviour in public space affects one another, thus leading to more inclusionary aspirations for, and behaviour in, public space.
…the imaginations of urban life in colonized zones interacts powerfully with that in the cities of the colonisers. Indeed, the projection of colonial tropes and security exemplars into postcolonial metropoles in capitalist heartlands is fuelled by a new ‘inner city Orientalism’. This relies on the widespread depiction amongst rightist security or military commentators of immigrant districts within the west’s cities as ‘backward’ zones threatening the body politic of the western city and nation. In France, for example, postwar state planning worked to conceptualized the mass, peripheral housing projects of the banlieues as ‘near peripheral’ reservations attached to, but distant from, the country’s metropolitan centres. Bitter memories of the Algerian and other anti-colonial wars saturate the French far-right’s discourse about waning ‘white’ power and the ‘insecurity’ caused by the banlieues – a process that has led to a dramatic mobilization of state security forces in and around the main immigrant housing complexes.
Indeed, such is the contemporary right’s conflation of terrorism and migration that simple acts of migration are now often being deemed to be little more than acts of warfare. This discursive shift has been termed the ‘weaponization’ of migration (Cato, 2008) – the shift away from emphases on moral obligations to offer hospitality to refugees toward criminalizing or dehumanizing migrants’ bodies as weapons against purportedly homogenous and ethno-nationalist bases of national power.
Amidst the global economic crash, so-called ‘homeland security’ industries – sometimes more accurately labeled by critical commentators the ‘pacification industry’ – are in bonanza mode. As the post 9/11 US paradigm of ‘Homeland security’ is being diffused around the world, the industry – worth $142 billion in 2009 – is expected to be worth a staggering $2.7 trillion globally between 2010 and 2012. Growth rates are between 5 and 12% per year.
Importantly, the same constellations of ‘security’ companies are often involved in selling, establishing and operating the techniques and practices of the new military urbanism in both war-zone and ‘homeland’ cities. The main security contractor for the London Olympics– G4S, more familiar under its old Group 4 moniker – the world’s largest security company, is an excellent example here. Beyond its £130m Olympic security contracts, it operates the world’s largest private security force – 630,000 people - taking up a myriad of outsourced contracts. It secures prisons, asylum detention centres, and oil and gas installations, VIPs, embassies, airports (including those in Doncaster and Baghdad) and infrastructure and operates in 125 countries.
The new military urbanism is stealthy and insidious. Its circuits and boomerang effects operate beyond democratic scrutiny to in turn undermine democratic rights of dissent. Above all, its various elements work together to stealthily constitute a new notion of ‘normal’ urban life. This is based on preemptive surveillance, the criminalisation of dissent, the evisceration of civil rights, and the obsessive securitisation of everyday life to support increasingly unequal societies.
[Image and adapted text from the project homepage]
I’ve been thinking recently about the relationship of academics to the wider community. Participatory Action Research is one method that tries to reconfigure the typical researcher/researchee divide. Instead of doing research on people, research is performed with people.
The Morris Justice Project is a collaborative research team of neighborhood residents in the south Bronx sponsored by the Public Science Project that has spent two years documenting experiences of policing in their 40-block community near Yankee Stadium. Going systematically block-by-block, the researchers surveyed over 1000 people, then analyzed the data to get an in-depth understanding of the neighborhood’s experiences with police. The findings challenged NYPD claims that their “stop-and-frisk” practices were improving community safety.
Morris Justice is a Participatory Action Research (PAR) Project. PAR is an approach to research rooted in the belief that valid knowledge is produced only in collaboration and in action, and that those typically “studied” should be architects of the process. Morris Justice is guided by the critical social knowledge of residents of a NYC “hot spot,” a neighborhood that is subjected to a disproportionate amount of aggressive and discriminatory policing in the name of “community safety.” It is an in-depth investigation into the lived experience of NYPD’s “hot spot” policy and “stop and frisk” practices, and the community’s vision of community safety.
Researchers flipped the pseudo-objectivity implied in crime maps. “We call our process “critical mapping” because we use maps interrogate and speak back to the ‘official’ maps that label our neighborhood a ‘hot spot’ of crime.” Stop and Frisk policies are often justified using aggregate crime statistics. Their research uncovered and then visualized the aggregate community harm done by stop and frisk.
Watch the following video. Designed by the Public Science Project, it depicts NYPD police stop for the entire 12 months of 2011.