Black lives, history, respect, status matters

From across the USA …

These pictures show just how large the protests against police brutality really areBuzzfeed News
Across major cities and small towns, people turned out en masse to demonstrate against the police killing of George Floyd and to call for change in the US.

… and across the decades …

This is what 100 years of racial protest looks like in AmericaBuzzfeed News
From the 1917 silent protests in the streets of Manhattan to the recent national unrest following the killing of George Floyd, these pictures capture the long and tumultuous struggle for racial justice in the US.

… to cities all around the world, right now.

Images from a worldwide protest movementThe Atlantic
Over the weekend, demonstrations took place around the world, with thousands of people outside the United States marching to show solidarity with American protests over the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. In many places, marchers also voiced their anger about systemic racism and police brutality within their own countries.

From our streets, to our museums …

‘Time to give back the swag, guys!’ British Museum unleashes Twitter storm with statement on Black Lives MatterThe Art Newspaper
“Look, I love you guys, but maybe you ought to sit this one out,” said one Twitter user, Jeff Pearce, a novelist and historian. “Unless you plan to return the looted Ethiopian treasures, the stolen Elgin Marbles and permanently return the Benin Bronzes.”

… and living rooms.

Little Britain pulled from iPlayer and Netflix because ‘times have changed’BBC News
In 2017, Lucas said: “If I could go back and do Little Britain again, I wouldn’t make those jokes about transvestites. I wouldn’t play black characters. Basically, I wouldn’t make that show now. It would upset people. We made a more cruel kind of comedy than I’d do now.” Walliams has also said he would “definitely do it differently” in today’s cultural landscape.

Times may have changed for some, but change is moving too slowly for others.

Windrush scandal: only 60 victims given compensation so farThe Guardian
Only 60 people have received Windrush compensation payments during the first year of the scheme’s operation, with just £360,000 distributed from a fund officials expected might be required to pay out between £200m and £500m.

Styles of “law” “enforcement”

Why does the Minneapolis police department look like a military unit?The Washington Post
Such protests have become common in a country where more than 1,000 people annually are killed by police, with black people three times as likely as whites to be the victims. Also common is what happened soon after demonstrators gathered to protest Floyd’s death: Police in riot gear shot tear gas canisters into the crowds and fired stun grenades and “nonlethal projectiles” at demonstrators, injuring many. It was stunningly easy to point to the same department’s gentle treatment weeks ago against white anti-lockdown protesters while those protesting against police violence were met with militarized violence.

But this too should not surprise us. Police departments have come to resemble military units, contributing to deadly violence disproportionately against black Americans. While many policies related to policing and mass incarceration happen at the local level, the militarization of police has been promulgated by federal policies.

Writing for The Conversation, Tom Nolan, an associate professor in Sociology and a former police officer of 27 years, has the research to back up this shift he’s seen first-hand.

Militarization has fostered a policing culture that sets up protesters as ‘the enemy’The Conversation
Night after night, angry protesters have taken to the street. So too have police officers dressed in full riot gear and backed by an arsenal that any small military force would be proud of: armored vehicles, military-grade aircraft, rubber and wooden bullets, stun grenades, sound cannons and tear gas canisters. […]

A study of police-involved deaths between 2012 and 2018 found that on average, police kill 2.8 men every day in the U.S. The risk of death at the hands of an officer was found to be between 3.2 and 3.5 times higher for black men compared to white men.

And there appears to be a correlation between militarization and police violence. A 2017 study analyzed spending by police departments against police-involved fatalities. Summarizing their results in The Washington Post, the authors of the study wrote: “Even controlling for other possible factors in police violence (such as household income, overall and black population, violent-crime levels and drug use), more-militarized law enforcement agencies were associated with more civilians killed each year by police. When a county goes from receiving no military equipment to $2,539,767 worth (the largest figure that went to one agency in our data), more than twice as many civilians are likely to die in that county the following year.”

As those articles show, this militarisation is not a recent shift. This is from 2014.

Why are police using military-grade weapons in high schools?Rolling Stone
For Laura Aguilar, another high school senior who co-leads Taking Action along with Davis, the weapons program is illustrative of the way students of color are treated regularly. “A mine-resistant vehicle isn’t a thing that exists for our safety. It exists for our harm,” she says. “Why are we providing all these resources to the wrong side of education?” Both Aguilar and Davis said that, while they were disturbed by the level of militarization of school police, they were not surprised. “A lot of us have already internalized it. It’s the norm for students,” said Aguilar. “We’re being policed already in our communities, and now a second time in our schools.”

And this illustration is from 2011.

Police confront demonstraters, then and nowPhil Ebersole’s Blog

Here’s a fascinating visual essay from Nate Powell on how the police, paramilitaries and (other) fascist groups are adopting the style and symbols of pop culture, as highlighted in various images from the past few days.

About facePopula
At its core, this is a child’s power fantasy finally enacted in adulthood, speaking only the language of power, the intellectual crudeness of reaction, contrarianism, opposition.

This is a canary in the coal mine (just one of many): that aggrieved, insecure white Americans with an exaggerated sense of sovereignty have officially declared their existence as above the law, consistent with a long tradition of acting and living above it – propped up by apolitical consumer trends’ normalising impact.

I think I’ll leave this here as a final word, an attempt to lighten the mood a little.

Update 05/06/2020

I’ve found a few links that go to illustrate that last chilling line in Nate Powell’s essay, about “future fascist paramilitary participants and their ushers”. There’ll be no shortage of volunteers.

The armed white men who terrorized Philadelphia’s Black Lives Matter supportersThe Guardian
Protesters reported men ripping up signs, yelling homophobic slurs, and spitting on people. And the police greeted them as friends.

And here’s one to show that this is neither a new nor a US-only sentiment.

Update 12/06/2020

Something else I’ve found that relates to Nate’s essay, above.

Creator of the Punisher is organizing a Black Lives Matter benefit to reclaim the skull symbol from policeBoing Boing
“It’s disturbing whenever I see authority figures embracing Punisher iconography because the Punisher represents a failure of the Justice system. He’s supposed to indict the collapse of social moral authority and the reality some people can’t depend on institutions like the police or the military to act in a just and capable way.” […]

Unfortunately, Conway’s insistence on what’s plainly obvious for anyone who’s actually familiar with the Punisher has not stopped the character from becoming a symbol of fascism, proudly worn by law enforcement agents who probably shouldn’t be boasting about their love of fascism.

Hong Kong paper power

The protests in Hong Kong continue. Quartz has some dramatic photos from a recent clash. It began peacefully but then deteriorated after the police started using pepper spray.

Hong Kong police clash with protesters in shopping mall
Following a standoff that lasted several hours on the street, police attempted to clear crowds off the roads by sending in riot police, eventually pursuing protesters who hadn’t dispersed from the scene into the shopping mall, New Town Plaza. There, protesters hurled objects including umbrellas, helmets, and bottles at the police, who were at one point vastly outnumbered. After reinforcements arrived, officers in riot gear charged up escalators to the various floors of the mall, using batons and pepper spray as they beat their way toward protesters. People were also seen throwing objects at police officers from upper levels of the mall.

hong-kong-paper-power-1

hong-kong-paper-power-2

The scale of these protests is quite incredible.

A bird’s-eye view of how protesters have flooded Hong Kong streets
Hundreds of thousands of people poured into the streets of Hong Kong on Sunday, June 16, and marched almost two miles (three kilometers), protesting a proposed extradition bill and calling for the city’s leader to step down.

It was the largest of three major protests against the bill that were held over eight days. More demonstrations are scheduled for Wednesday, ahead of the Group of 20 summit meeting in Osaka, Japan. The composite images below help show the enormous scale of the June 16 demonstrations.

This is just one of those images.

hong-kong-paper-power

But it’s just not about the people, it’s about how they’re getting their messages across, and how those messages are being defended.

Post-it notes are the new weapon of choice for Hong Kong’s protesters
All across the city’s districts—from its financial hub to the suburbs neighboring mainland China and outlying islands—walls big and small covered with colorful pieces of paper with the thoughts and wishes of Hong Kong people are sprouting up. Their inscriptions range from inspiring quotes by Martin Luther King, Jr. to expletive-laden calls for death to police. It’s the latest in a strategy protesters are calling “flowers blossoming everywhere,” a Chinese saying appropriated to signify that the recent protest movement in Hong Kong has now spread far from its downtown epicenter to neighborhoods everywhere.

They’re called Lennon Walls, named for the original section of a concrete staircase near Hong Kong’s government complex that was covered with Post-its during the 2014 Umbrella Movement. The name itself was adopted from the John Lennon Wall in Prague, a place where Czech youth expressed their political thoughts through graffiti and Beatles lyrics.

hong-kong-paper-power-4

(I just hope it all ends well this time.)

Faith in fakes

Everything went according to plan, the art thieves made off with an incredibly valuable Brueghel. Only it wasn’t.

Italian police reveal ‘€3m painting’ stolen from church was a copy
The town’s mayor, Daniele Montebello, was among the few people privy to the subterfuge, and had to keep up the pretence in the hours after the heist, telling journalists that losing the painting was “a hard blow for the community”.

“Rumours were circulating that someone could steal the work, and so the police decided to put it in a safe place, replacing it with a copy and installing some cameras,” Montebello said on Wednesday night. “I thank the police but also some of the churchgoers, who noticed that the painting on display wasn’t the original but kept up the secret.”

It seems nobody’s updated ArtNet News yet, even though they’re referencing this Guardian article.

Thieves just used a hammer to steal a $3.4 million Pieter Bruegel the Younger painting from a remote Italian church
Using a hammer to break the case, the thieves lifted the picture—worth an estimated $3.4 million, according to press reports—and made off in Peugeot car. Police believe two people were involved in the heist. They are now are investigating CCTV footage from around the town and the province for clues.

China’s fear of losing control

This isn’t quite the brave new world we were hoping these new technologies would enable.

Davos: George Soros calls Xi Jinping a “dangerous opponent” of open societies
Soros said he wanted to “call attention to the mortal danger facing open societies from the instruments of control that machine learning and artificial intelligence can put in the hands of repressive regimes.” Echoing recent concerns raised about China’s use of facial-recognition technology, Soros asked: “How can open societies be protected if these new technologies give authoritarian regimes a built-in advantage? That’s the question that preoccupies me. And it should also preoccupy all those who prefer to live in an open society.”

Tracing his critique of authoritarian governments to his own childhood under Nazi occupation in Hungary, Soros, who is now 88, urged the Trump administration to take a harder stance on China. “My present view is that instead of waging a trade war with practically the whole world, the US should focus on China,” he said.

The complicated truth about China’s social credit system
What’s troubling is when those private systems link up to the government rankings — which is already happening with some pilots, she says. “You’ll have sort of memorandum of understanding like arrangements between the city and, say, Alibaba and Tencent about data exchanges and including that in assessments of citizens,” Ohlberg adds. That’s a lot of data being collected with little protection, and no algorithmic transparency about how it’s analysed to spit out a score or ranking. […]

The criteria that go into a social credit ranking depends on where you are, notes Ohlberg. “It’s according to which place you’re in, because they have their own catalogs,” she says. It can range from not paying fines when you’re deemed fully able to, misbehaving on a train, standing up a taxi, or driving through a red light. One city, Rongcheng, gives all residents 1,000 points to start. Authorities make deductions for bad behaviour like traffic violations, and add points for good behaviour such as donating to charity.

Running a red light is one thing, but what if you’re a journalist investigating corruption and misconduct?

Chinese blacklist an early glimpse of sweeping new social-credit control
What it meant for Mr. Liu is that when he tried to buy a plane ticket, the booking system refused his purchase, saying he was “not qualified.” Other restrictions soon became apparent: He has been barred from buying property, taking out a loan or travelling on the country’s top-tier trains.

“There was no file, no police warrant, no official advance notification. They just cut me off from the things I was once entitled to,” he said. “What’s really scary is there’s nothing you can do about it. You can report to no one. You are stuck in the middle of nowhere.”

In China, facial recognition tech is watching you
Megvii, meanwhile, supports the state’s nationwide surveillance program, which China, with troubling inferences, calls Skynet. Launched in 2005, Skynet aims to create a nationwide panopticon by blanketing the country with CCTV. Thanks to Face++, it now incorporates millions of A.I.-enhanced cameras that have been used to apprehend some 2,000 suspects since 2016, according to a Workers’ Daily report. […]

Jeffrey Ding, an Oxford University researcher focused on Chinese A.I., believes there is more pushback in the West against deploying facial recognition technology for security purposes. “There’s more willingness in China to adopt it,” he says, “or at least to trial it.”

But there’s also less freedom to oppose the onslaught. “The intention of these systems is to weave a tighter net of social control that makes it harder for people to plan action or push the government to reform,” explains Maya Wang, senior China researcher at Human Rights Watch.

The line from Soros about the danger from “the instruments of control that machine learning and artificial intelligence can put in the hands of repressive regimes” chimes with what I’m reading in James Bridle’s new book, New Dark Age.

May we live in interesting times.

Weaponized classical music?

An interesting but ultimately depressing essay from the LA Review of Books about the uses classical music is being put to these days.

Whereas Japanese train stations are attempting to move on undesirables by playing ugly sounds only the young can hear, in other parts of the world it’s the wonderfully uplifting (to me, anyway) music of Bach, Vivaldi and Mozart that’s being used instead.

Bach at the Burger King
The inspiration for the Burger King plan, a CMCBD official commented, came from the London Underground. In 2005, the metro system started playing orchestral soundtracks in 65 tube stations as part of a scheme to deter “anti-social” behavior, after the surprising success of a 2003 pilot program. The pilot’s remarkable results — seeing train robberies fall 33 percent, verbal assaults on staff drop 25 percent, and vandalism decrease 37 percent after just 18 months of classical music — caught the eye of the global law-enforcement community. Thus, an international phenomenon was born. Since then, weaponized classical music has spread throughout England and the world: police units across the planet now deploy the string quartet as the latest addition to their crime-fighting arsenal, recruiting Officer Johann Sebastian as the newest member of the force. […]

It is crucial to remember that the tactic does not aim to stop or even necessarily reduce crime — but to relocate it. Moreover, such mercenary measures most often target minor infractions like vandalism and loitering — crimes that damage property, not people, and usually the property of the powerful. “[B]usiness and government leaders,” Lily Hirsch observes in Music in American Crime Prevention and Punishment, “are seizing on classical music not as a positive moralizing force, but as a marker of space.” In a strange mutation, classical music devolves from a “universal language of mankind” reminding all people of their common humanity into a sonic border fence protecting privileged areas from common crowds, telling the plebes in auditory code that “you’re not welcome here.”

So our metaphor for music’s power must change from panacea to punishment, from unifying to separating force, as its purpose slips from aesthetic or spiritual ennoblement into economic relocation. Mozart has traded in a career as doctor for the soul to become an eviction agent for the poor.

And as if that’s not bad enough, the essay goes on to examine how classical music is being further reduced by advertising and our ‘sound-bite culture’.

Extended musical forms allow the listener to appreciate the subtle interplay of motif and movement — and it is exactly this nuanced appreciation that quote-clipping nullifies. There is a two-part mechanism to extract and transplant a tune: detach a 15-second theme from a 45-minute symphony (where it functioned as an integrated part in an organic whole) and attach it to an alien subject. Uproot “O Fortuna” from a Latin cantata, so it can be grafted onto a Domino’s Super Bowl spot. These transplants produce jarring mashups that trigger another insidious side effect: by always quoting works out of the context the public forgets that they have a context. The spectator forgets that “O Fortuna” could be glorious in its original context because it’s absurd hyping Domino’s Pizza. In sum, in the remix media ecosystem, famous compositions degenerate from serious music into decorative sound, applied like wallpaper to lay a poignant surface over banal intentions.

Local tragedy

Teenager dies in Leeds Harehills barber shop shooting
The teenager was at Too Sharp’s The Barber Shop on Gathorne Terrace, in the Harehills area, when he was shot shortly before 13.20 GMT on Thursday. West Yorkshire Police said the man was found seriously injured and taken to hospital by ambulance for treatment, but later died. A 49-year-old man has been arrested on suspicion of murder.

A little unsettling when it’s so close like that.

Kent Police fined £100K after leaving confidential documents and tapes in disused police station

Kent Police fined £100K after leaving confidential documents and tapes in disused police station
Kent Police must pay a £100,000 fine after a potentially ‘enormous and damaging’ security blunder. It comes after confidential information, including copies of police interview tapes, were left in the basement of the former Gravesend police station.

Watching the watchers

How Britain exported next-generation surveillance
Britain is one of the most surveilled countries in the world. Studies put the number of operational CCTV cameras at between two and four million, for a population of 60 million people. The country’s national DNA database holds records on six million people. Telecoms companies are mandated to store logs of all mobile-phone calls and text messages for 12 months, and to make the data available to government at all levels. […]

In 2009, a House of Lords report described the explosion of surveillance technologies as one of the most significant changes to Britain since the Second World War. It noted:

“Mass surveillance has the potential to erode privacy. As privacy is an essential pre-requisite to the exercise of individual freedom, its erosion weakens the constitutional foundations on which democracy and good governance have traditionally been based in this country.”

This has been described as an acceptable price to pay for greater security, but studies of surveillance technology fail to support that argument. […]

Consent, the bedrock on which the agreement to be policed is based, is meaningless without comprehension, and comprehension is impossible without visibility. It is only when people are brought face-to-face with the reality of surveillance — as the Catts were, and as the people of Washwood Heath and Sparkbrook were — that they see how their privacy, and their right to be presumed innocent, have been affected.

I knew that we have more than our fair share of cameras, but I hadn’t really thought about just how widespread before. A vital read.