Monday, June 22, 2020

Black Lives Matter: Will it lead to reform of Police Forces in the USA?

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Police in riot gear | Source: AJ Alfieri-Crispin via Wikimedia

The spontaneous eruption of the “Black Lives Matter” protest after the unfortunate death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police has once again put the spotlight on the operational methodology of the police department at different cities around the USA. There is a chorus across the country, more so in the Democratic Party strongholds to do fundamental reorganization of the police force by focussing on community policing. Some of the extreme and radical activists have gone so far to demand “defund the police” and re-distribute its budget to marginalized communities, municipal corporations and necessity institutions.

“There is no magic switch to turn off and boom there’s no police department,” said Alex Vitale, a sociology professor at Brooklyn College. She released a book named ‘The End of Policing’. The book has become a manifesto for protests and police-reform advocates. The defund development calls for diminishing networks' dependence on police for various administrative problems like, observing the homeless, settling household quarrels, restraining understudies, reacting to upheavals by individuals with mental illness, paring down violence in neighbourhoods, and proportional reaction to minor inconveniences like somebody attempting to pass a fake $20, the allegation that set off the police call that resulted in Floyd's demise. The funds saved by reducing the workload of police could be utilised by social and community workers to resolve street feuds. “When we talk about de-funding the police, what we're saying is invest in the resources that our communities need,” Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza told NBC News.

There are cities which have approached this reform in a positive manner. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio has decided to shift the money from NYPD budget to youth recreational programs. A whopping $150 million is being pulled out of the LAPD by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. This money is proposed to be invested in healthcare systems and build peace centres. Similarly Portland and Oregon have consented to pull police from state funded schools. A few Minneapolis organizations, including the government funded school region, the University of Minnesota and the Park and Recreation Board, have moved to diminish or end their agreements with city police.

Dallas has earlier experienced the positive results of diverting emergency mental health calls, not only on hospitals but also police to non-police establishment when in 2018 RIGHT Care  was provided $3 million funding to look after these issues. Since the program started, ambulances and emergency vehicle calls for individuals encountering emotional wellness inconveniences have declined in the south-local region of Dallas where the program works, which has opened up officials to manage different calls, authorities said. This transition was also done after the outcry over the shooting of a schizophrenic man holding a screwdriver in 2014 and subsequent defence of police personnel by the police boss David Brown.

Law enforcement officials and conservative activists believe that de-funding police would lead to an upsurge in criminal activities. President Donald Trump has started making this as a key plank of his re-election campaign while the Former Vice President Joe Biden, who is running against Trump, also came out against de-funding police.

It is therefore too early to predict whether the current phase of “Black Lives Movement” after the death of George Floyd will be successful in bringing some substantial reform in the working of police forces across the cities of the US or the momentum will be lost with some incremental tweaking here and there.  

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October 23, 2020 3:57 PM

Male gaze, their female guardians and sports-wear

In Helen Cixous’ essay, ‘The Laugh of Medusa’, she urges women to redefine what their body means to them, not just physically but also socially, emotionally and politically. This could happen by re-writing about your body in a way you deem  fit, the expression you identify with and separating it from how your body has been written about by men. The expression could be how you view your body separate from the patriarchal lense.

It is no secret that a woman’s body is subject to critique. While clothing for men is just a tool to cover themselves as per the surrounding environment, clothing for women isa social and political narrative that dictates their life or as we affectionately call it ‘culturally appropriate’.

The clothing style could vary. It could be a woman covered head to toe in a Burqa, it could be a woman who decides to wear sports-wear in a park or it could be jeans and a top. Everything is critically evaluated by men and by women who work towards protecting the male gaze.

The male gaze is a heterosexual way of looking at female bodies that sexualises these bodies into an object. It is a gaze that runs on the self-affirmative notion that the bodies of women, and what they do with it, is directly linked to how they  appear in front of a man.

In a recent incident in Bangalore, India, popular Indian actress Samyuktha Hegde was abused and threatened by senior political leader of the congress party, Kavitha Reddy,  for wearing sports-wear, in Bangalore’s Agara Lake park. She was exercising with her friend.

Kavitha Reddy initially claimed she was in indecent attire and went onto morally police and then later abused the actress and her friend.  A supposedly progressive political leader gets uncomfortable by what women are wearing. It breaks into an argument and a fight where the politician is supported by five to six men. Later on, the police appear to be appeasing the politician instead of the women who were harassed. Although she did apologise, her apology came after her video went viral, and as a protection for her own political reputation.

To look at Samyuktha Hegde’s clothing as a threat is to view her clothing as an act of obscenity therefore bullying her identity and sense of agency and reducing her to sexual object, who, by putting her in public, apparently gives the men present a right to look at her? Nevermind that she was there to workout like everyone else, her actions were confused as to how men look at her. In the video posted by the actress, the politician is surrounded by men who are championing her on. The politician choses to side with the patriarchal figures in shaming these women. Asking to protect from the male gaze is a far stretch but punishing women for the male gaze is where we should draw a line.

What roles does Kavitha Reddy play? She is the guardian of the male gaze. We find her in our mothers, in our grandmothers, in aunties and sometimes our friends. She understands a woman’s body as an object that is there to be looked at by men. She gets angry at women for wearing certain kinds of clothing but she is not angry at men for looking. The agency in this case always belongs to men.

When Cixous asks women to re-define their identity, she urges us to strangle the moral police that comes alive in such instances. It is the moral police that shames women for wearing clothes that don’t flatter their bodies or clothes that do flatter them. She urges us to reflect upon the source of such vigilance. Do we shame other women because we believe in what we are saying or our identity is partially (or  wholly) shaped by the male gaze?

Whether we chose to wear a burqa, or a dress, or variations of the new type clothing produced everyday, the crux of the matter is that it should not worry anyone apart from the one wearing it. The identity of a woman, sexual or otherwise, has to be redefined to be separated from the men and their gaze. We have to draw a line otherwise people in power will continue to abuse their power and preserve patriarchy and male gaze.

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