Robocop: Policing in the Digital Age

Ever since the Mesherle verdict I’ve been thinking about policing in economically depressed communities of color. Here I am, a few months later in Detroit, a city that has been ab-used by the single-minded objectives of neoliberal economic policies, and all I see are cops in unmarked cars seeming to stake out every corner as far as the eye can see.

It seems they are everywhere, always surveilling, watching, waiting for something to go down. As I drove around trying to find my friend’s place in downtown Detroit, I was reminded of a blog I started shortly after Oakland went up in flames for the second time. Even though this blog is unfinished, I thought I’d publish it anyway. Here goes:


I think I was 8 when I saw Robocop, the Paul Verhoeven film about the robotic future of law enforcement in a destitute Detroit. As an eighties kid, I remember a lot of  dystopic sci-fi visions of the future, androids and cyborgs terraforming on far away planets and ‘original’ humans directing resource extraction on mars and the moon. Well, we’re nine years away from 2019 and Los Angeles hasn’t quite turned into the L.A. we saw in Blade Runner, but there are interesting things happening up in the Bay that move us closer yet to full-on robotic and digitized policing.

(For the record, I’m suspecting that ‘drone-cops’ are probably not a far off idea, given that drones are such popular tools of international policing, er, warfare for the US Government. Moreover, as the US Military continues to “train” and “mentor” local police departments, we’ll continue see the ongoing militarization of community policing. I know drones are “unmanned aerial vehicles,” but who’s to say that “unmanned terrestrial law enforcement agents,” controlled remotely by cops in a huge gaming room aren’t on the horizon?)

If you’ve been following my posts, then  you know I’ve been thinking about justice, prisons and policing a lot lately. Overall, I’ve been suggesting that dysfunctional social conditions and the prison industrial complex are the problem, rather than this convenient and amorphous figure we call “crime.” Crime, in my view, is an effect, not a root cause. Nevertheless, public attention remains focused on this symptom and all attempts to keep “everyone” safe from “criminals” are directed at smothering, removing or otherwise relieving us of the symptom.  In the process of serving and protecting “the people” we are told that there may be some collateral damage – cops make mistakes too, right? An innocent person locked up, wrongfully murdered or subjected to excessive force; it’s all a part of the process, or so the logic goes. Yet, where I come from, the likelihood of being collateral damage is high, so since 1992 we’ve been vigilant about recording cops and thanks to improving video technology we’ve managed to catch some pretty egregious instances of police brutality on video.

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