Last Friday St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson and St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar went on live public radio to fire the latest volley in the battle of truth vs. meaning, which started with the first protests in Ferguson when people took to the streets calling for #JusticeforMikeBrown.
Referring to the early days of protest in Ferguson, Belmar said, “We didn’t use rubber bullets. If they’re actually rubber bullets, they’ll kill you. We did use tear gas. We did use smoke. We did use pepper balls — different things such as that. We did use armored trucks. But you know what? We didn’t use those on peaceful protesters. We used that on unfortunate criminal activity that spun out of the protest.”
This statement is a doing a few things at once:
Distancing police from violence that leads to death.
Bullets = death, so they deny any type of bullet was used.
Replacing the idea of rubber bullets with weapons that are not automatically linked to death, such as pepper balls.
Advancing a core frame of criminals and criminal activity.
Police force is justified when dealing with criminals.
When I was growing up I could have been considered a thug. The short of it, I was a teenage punk rocker, I was smart, and I hated authority. And the only thing I hated more than authority were Nazis.
It wasn’t just me, it was the scene. In the 90’s Nazi skinheads were growing in organizational power and form. There was a story that passed around my high school. Once, a New York City hardcore band was playing a show in town. A bunch of Nazi skinheads flooded into the venue with baseball bats, cue balls in socks, and rolls of quarters in their fists, some real medieval stuff. And what did the punk and hardcore kids do? They fought them.
For me, and a bunch of my punk friends, it was a simple politic: Nazis are racist, racists are bad, if we allow racists at our shows then our shows are racist, we all loose (historical supported fact). Therefore you couldn’t sit out, there was one choice: we stomped Nazis.
Then things get complicated Sometimes I long for those days when it was easy to just point to a skinhead and say, “See that bonehead right there? Let’s stomp ‘em” and know that I was fighting the good fight.
Of course, those days were only easy because my understanding of racism was simple. For my teenage punk rock self, racism was racial prejudice expressed physically or verbally.
But, as Michelle Alexander writes in The New Jim Crow, there is a “…widespread and mistaken belief that racial animus is necessary for the creation and maintenance of racialized systems of social control. The unfortunate reality we must face is that racism manifests itself not only in individual attitudes and stereotypes, but also in the basic structure of society.”
This semi-weekly feature scours the internets for news of the Robot Apocalypse (#RoboApoc). I rate each item on a scale of 1 to Skynet.
1. There’s an app for that. A family of Georgia teens created Five-O, an app that allows people to rate their interactions with the police. The people who conceptualized and designed the app – Caleb, Ima, and Ahsa Christian – range in age from 14 to 18.
#RoboApoc Rating – 1. Given the recent killing of Mike Brown by Ferguson, MO. police officer Darren Wilson, this app is super timely. Any app that makes it easier to hold people in power accountable is great. And the fact that this app was designed by teenagers means we may have a new generation of tech savvy freedom fighters on our side, the robots haven’t won yet.
2. Wearable chairs? A Zurich based start up called noonee has developed the chairless chair. Basically you strap a couple of exoskeleton legs on, and when you drop into sitting position it they will take you weight. This ridiculous CNN article, which actually dives into the health concerns of sitting all day, proclaims you can even run with the wearable chair strapped to your legs.
#RoboApoc Rating – 1. The promotion video above explains how the wearable chair is good for employees (keeps them injury free) and employers (keeps workers injury free and efficient), the only problem is they show a factory worker on an assembly line. Ha. Humans don’t work on assembly lines (in the US), robots do.
4. Human friendly. The 7th International Workshop on Human Friendly Robotics is happening in Pisa, Italy in October. I learned about the workshop when I was researching CYBERLegs (more about cybernetic legs in a forthcoming posts). Apparently the workshop will address, “The technological shift from classical industrial robots, which are safely kept away from humans in cages, to robots, which are used in close collaboration with humans.”
#RoboApoc Rating – SKYNET! If there is a workshop to intentionally talk about Human Friendly Robotics there must a be a fairly large trend of Not Friendly Human Robotics, and by looking at the webpage for this workshop, the friendly side could use some help.
5. The Silver Set. In an article for Harpers Magazine this month, journalist Jessica Bruder writes about the growing trend of seniors who take to the highways in RV’s and campers in search of seasonal work. In an interview with Alternet Bruder mentions CamperForce, an Amazon.com program that specifically recruits “work campers” for seasonal work in the company. Beyond the insanity of making seniors give up their homes and roam the country in search of work, there is the added old news that Amazon.com (two years ago) bought Kiva Systems Inc., a integrated warehouse management system that includes robots that follow stickers on the floor bringing products to pickers and packers.
#RoboApoc Rating – 8. The semi-robotization of what was previously considered unrobotizable (because of the human spacial relations skill that robots can’t replicate) is frightening enough. Combine this technological advancement with pushing vulnerable seniors back into the workforce and you have what many are predicting is the future of work in this country – temporary, contingent, precarious, seasonal. What is most troubling about this is that as technology rapidly evolves and companies keep up; workers, the organizations that traditionally protect workers, policy, and culture are not moving quickly enough. The robots are already here, and they are making our jobs easier and less.
The 21 year-old inventor of the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset is offering to outfit the Ferguson police department with special versions of the crowd funded device. White police officers can wear the headsets as they go about their policing business, but instead of seeing the people around them as they are, they will see and hear old white people.
The statement continued, “According to recent research in race perceptions and bias, elderly white people trigger the least amount of bias in younger white police officers– the intended users of the headsets. By removing the trigger of bias and the accompanied perceived threat, the headset creates a situation where police officers can respond to actual circumstances, such as assessing whether a suspect is actually carrying a weapon and/or behaving in a threatening manor.”