Weekend Reading

There is a tendency, when examining police shootings, to focus on tactics at the expense of strategy. One interrogates the actions of the officer in the moment trying to discern their mind-state. We ask ourselves, “Were they justified in shooting?” But, in this time of heightened concern around the policing, a more essential question might be, “Were we justified in sending them?” At some point, Americans decided that the best answer to every social ill lay in the power of the criminal-justice system. Vexing social problems—homelessness, drug use, the inability to support one’s children, mental illness—are presently solved by sending in men and women who specialize in inspiring fear and ensuring compliance. Fear and compliance have their place, but it can’t be every place.

When Walter Scott fled from the North Charleston police, he was not merely fleeing Thomas Slager, he was attempting to flee incarceration. He was doing this because we have decided that the criminal-justice system is the best tool for dealing with men who can’t, or won’t, support their children at a level that we deem satisfactory. Peel back the layers of most of the recent police shootings that have captured attention and you will find a broad societal problem that we have looked at, thrown our hands up, and said to the criminal-justice system, “You deal with this.”

Yik Yak users may be all looked over by algorithms of standards and grace, but these are mere thumbs in a cracking dam. Standard social media anti-harassment features make the classic mistake of confusing structural violence for individual bad behavior. This is precisely why community policing on these sorts of apps is a Sisyphean task: Unable to address the underlying structures of oppression, they settle for whack-a-mole reporting features and ultimately rely on toxic communities to regulate their own toxic behavior.

[…]

Just as they believed anonymity was the source of the app’s innovative ability to extract honesty, Yik Yak’s founders… also believed it was the source from which all the problematic behavior flowed. But its voting system, too, plays a critical role. It’s hard to think of voting as a harassment vector because it seems more like a tool for making decisions, not an opportunity to be hateful. In a system where votes determine a post’s ability to command future attention, they serve to manifest and police a community’s discursive norms. But entire communities can be harassers; indeed entire nation-states have been unified by categorical discrimination, promulgating norms grounded in defining others as unclean, dangerous, or otherwise marginal.

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