Tag Archives: Criminology

Food For Thought 1: Ferguson, Missouri

In this blog, I will talk about the events surrounding Ferguson, Missouri and how I can apply the ideas of Ericson and Agamben to this situation. On August 9 2014, Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, was shot and killed by Darren Wilson, a white Ferguson police officer. Protests have erupted as a response to Brown’s death. Most of these demonstrations started out peacefully but escalated to a point where people started vandalizing and looting stores. This resulted in the police responding by firing tear gas and rubberized bullets at people and arresting dozens of them. It doesn’t help that the racial tensions were getting high as the dominant black community had to answer to a majority white police force. Although some of these police measures have caused most demonstrations to simmer down, there are still a small pocket of demonstrations happening. There are many that have criticized the way the police have handled the situation, seeing that they have begun to be more militarized. The use of the military to enforce civilian law requires congressional approval, but what happens when the police become so militarized that you can no longer distinguish between military forces and police forces?Though Ferguson has already been under an unofficial state of martial law, there is no more debate. The militarized police state is not technically the military, but now it can not be denied. Ferguson is under martial law” (Garrison, 2014). Missouri Governor Nixon had declared Ferguson a state of emergency and deploying national guards in anticipation to the results of the grand jury that would determine whether or not Darren Wilson is guilty.

Due to the increasing civil unrest within Ferguson, it has led to Gov. Nixon to enter Missouri into a state of emergency and imposing a curfew and deploying the National Guard fearing the result of the grand jury’s decision. A state of exception is where a persons right is temporarily suspended. In this state of emergency, we can see how the rights of these citizens are being suspended as a form of national safety in case the decision of the grand jury upsets the citizens. The events surrounding Ferguson Missouri have been one of the most televised in media and has been a powerful way of framing the position of the government on this whole situation. Due to current state of Ferguson where there are some protestors that actively loot and vandalize properties, it was deemed that Ferguson was in need of reinforcements. However, are heavily armed soldiers that have sniper trained on protestors really necessary? According to Ericson, we are now relying on the state to reduce our fear by creating environmental and political initiatives to change our perceptions of the world around us. Even though much of our fears embedded through the use of different tactics by the state (Ericson, 2007). Society is shown via the media that they are under some sort of dangerous threat by the state that can lead to irrational fear and the only way to deal with this is by letting the state handle it by using their own initiatives. Sometimes It can be good that society is preparing for the unknown danger ahead but can it be justified? According to Ericson, Counter law takes on two forms. Law against law and surveillant assemblages are where “new laws are enacted and new uses of existing laws are invented to erode or eliminate traditional principles, standards and procedures of criminal law that get in the way of preempting imagined sources of harm (Ericson, 2007). According to Agamben, he characterizes the West as a totalitarian, in which exceptional measures have become normal, so that states of exception are more or less models for their governance (Pavlich, 2011, p.158). Agamben goes on to say how normal legal principles, standards and procedures are suspended because of a state of emergency. It becomes a slippery slope when legal order is broken in order to preserve social order. Agamben fears how the state of exception is no longer an exception but is now a normal state (Agamben, 2005). We can see how this has being introduced to our society be it post 9/11 America where counter law is used to manage terrorism risks. One could say that by issuing Martial Law it could be used as a preventive measure if the people were to riot after the decisions are released. However, the people of Ferguson have their rights essentially stripped away from them as a preventive measure for riots if the decision of the grand jury prove to be unfavourable.

References:

  1. Garrison, D., (2014). It’s Official! Martial Law in Ferguson: Governor Brings in National Guard taken from: http://www.dcclothesline.com/2014/08/18/governor-brings-national-guard-ferguson-now-officially-martial-law/
  2. Pavlich, G. (2011). Law and society redefined. Don Mills, Canada: Oxford University Press.
  3. Ericson, R. V. (2007). Crime in an insecure world. Cambridge: Polity.
  4. Agamben, G. (2005). State of exception. Nova srpska politička misao, (1-4), 135-145.
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Looking Ahead: Deconstruction and Justice

At first glance, my reply to Derrida’s claim “Deconstruction is Justice” is that of agreement. For all its clarity and poignancy, the answer is not easily deduced. To make sense how the agreement came to be, the internal workings of the text require critical analysis. The practice of deconstruction is to unlock provisional conventions and to make space for unanticipated patterns of being (Pavlich, p. 170). The presence of concepts and of definitions is at all times over the horizon. It is a reflexive relationship between openness and closure. The modus vivendi—our way of life—carried with our language and our text will always stand on the end of a new frontier. For Derida and all human beings, everything is language. The power of language and of words comes to define us, unite us, and separate us from others and from ourselves. To ascribe a single definition to a word is to take away its vitality. Justice, like language, is something that is in constant ebb and flow. Weber (2005) claims that justice is “of the incalculable and the unpredictable” (p. 38). It is through the process of deferring to other terms and to calculable externalities—such as law—where infinite concepts, like ‘justice’, may create “meaning, being, and presence” (Pavlich, p. 170). In this sense, one cannot revise a few definitions to the exclusion of all others.

The concept of justice is circular. The end is unknown and its beginning is undistinguished. From where I stand, Derrida (1997) is not mistaken when he claims that “Deconstruction is Justice”. The concept of justice is something that is on the verge of becoming but requires an externality to make it known. For instance, at one point in time it was legally permissible for a husband to rape his wife in Canada without legal ramifications involving responsibility (Criminal Code, 1970). In 1983, Bill C-127 was introduced into legislation to create space for conversation and to make martial rape a criminal offence. From this perspective, it can be said that justice could not be materialized in and of itself; it required the externality of law. Justice may also be observed as a measure that asks for or demands others to state what it is or what it is not. Although it is held that “law does not guarantee justice anymore than justice guarantees good law” (Pavlich, p. 173). Consequently justice, like deconstruction, is provisional and subject to reversal.

The concept of deconstruction is something that happens from within that which already exists or is said to exist. It is shaped by one’s sociological and political context (p. 174), which creates meaning and understanding through language. Deconstruction as a practice is holistic as it opens up concepts that have not been fully unpacked. For concepts and texts that appear fixed or fully understood, deconstruction becomes crucial. In summary, both deconstruction and justice are concepts that favour innovation and development; bridging the gap between theory and process, abstract and concrete. To deconstruct justice is to make possible the unattainable and provisional moments in time. Justice cannot be made a reality in and of itself. It is constantly evolving, changing shape and is in need of other words, subjects and objects that are not present. Life is not static and neither is the praxis of deconstruction or justice.

References

Bill C-127, S.C. 1983, c. 125.

Criminal Code of Canada, R.S.C. 1970, c. C-34.

Derrida, J. (1997). Deconstruction in a Nutshell: A Conversation with Jacques Derrida. Edited with a commentary by John D. Caputo. New York: Fordham University Press.

Pavlich, G. 2011. Law & Society, Refined. London: Oxford University Press.

Weber, Elisabeth (2005). “Deconstruction is Justice”, SubStance 34(1): 38-43

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Making Nature Against the Law

In the twenty-first century the illegal status of cannabis in Canada is ‘immoral, unjust, and intolerable’. The first drug law implemented in Canada was the Opium Act of 1908 when Deputy Minister of Labour Mackenzie King was concerned with an increase of use among Caucasians (Grayson 2008, p. 73). Opium was the Chinese migrants drug of choice. The cannabis plant achieved its criminal status when it was added to the Opium and Narcotic Drug Act in 1923. Today, the possession and trafficking of marijuana falls under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (S.C. 1996, c. 19) as a schedule II narcotic. As a first conviction, offenders face a maximum penalty of 6 months in jail or a $1000 fine, or both, when possessing 30 grams of marijuana or less. Without a doubt, the debate over cannabis illegality is neither new nor unique. With this in mind, it is recognized that many others believe the law to be one that is unjust and intolerable. I often wonder how citizens in a “free and liberal democratic society” claim such status when the people do not hold sovereignty over their own bodies? It is often argued that the use of cannabis is potentially harmful, however it is destructive to the welfare of our nation state and humanity when living organisms becomes prohibited. John Finnis’s framework on Law and Flourish Human Life can be used to argue that Canada’s cannabis law is unjust, as it does not further the common good by criminalizing personal choice and suppresses sociability and friendship by forcing users to partake in secrecy. For Finnis, “justice is about fostering the common good in a community” and concerns interactions and duties with others (Pavlich 2011, p. 37). Likewise, Pavlich would argue that the law prevents the formation of shared objectives that serve everyone. This point could be applied to any arbitrary law and be taken out of context, although this law is unique to others as it is victimless. Criminalizing the production, usage and distribution of cannabis essentially causes more harm and victims than if it were to be legal. For one, the production of the plant often involves the stealing of electricity and bypassing usage meters in order to meet the markets supply and demand while keeping their costs low and workers off the electrical grid (Dehaas, 2012). This then places higher cost onto the legal customers to pay for the lost power. Secondly, the usage of the cannabis plant has been proven to be less harmful than other legal counterparts such as alcohol and prescription painkillers (CBC, 2012). Thirdly, the vast distribution and demand for cannabis has resulted in billions of dollars in revenue for organized crime (Nelson, 2010). The current illegality of the organism appears to be one of hegemony—the way in which elites have their interests be adopted as the common interests—through successful lobbying on behalf of those who are benefitting by it’s illegality (e.g., law enforcement, prison industry, pharmaceutical companies, etc.) as it ensures job security for its ‘combatants’ and produces wealth in industries profiting off of its synthetic counterparts in modern medicine. The time to end prohibition of this plant is long overdue.

“If people let government decide which foods they eat and medicines they take, their bodies will soon be in as sorry a state as are the souls of those who live under tyranny.” – Thomas Jefferson

References

CBC. (March 23, 2007). Alcohol, tobacco worse than pot, ecstasy: study. CBC News, Health, http://www.cbc.ca/news/health/story/2007/03/23/alcohol-tobacco.html (accessed on September 21, 2012)

Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (S.C. 1996, c. 19)

Dehaas, J. (June 23, 2011). Grow-op electricity thefts “like a five per cent surcharge”. Macleans, News, http://oncampus.macleans.ca/education/2011/06/23/grow-op-electricity-thefts-like-a-five-per-cent-surcharge/ (accessed on September 21, 2012)

Grayson, K. 2008. Chasing Dragons: Security, Identity, and Illicit Drugs in Canada. Toronto: University of Toronto.

Nelson, A. (April 20, 2012). How Big Is The Marijuana Market? CNBC, News, http://www.cnbc.com/id/36179677 (accessed on September 21, 2012)

Pavlich, G. 2011. Law & Society, Refined. London: Oxford University Press.

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