Signal boosting: WeCopwatch

The Establishment has an interview with the creators of WeCopwatch, a group that trails police officers and records their activities during arrests so as to corroborate allegations of police brutality. (emphasis mine)

The WeCopwatch members spotlighted in the documentary — Kevin Moore, David Whitt, and Ramsey Orta — have stepped behind the lens to record police brutality in New York, Baltimore, and St. Louis.

In addition to revealing the importance of exposing abuse, the documentary shines a light on the aftermath of such activism. Orta’s video of Eric Garner’s last words-turned-mantra, “I can’t breathe,” as he died in a headlock on a sidewalk in Staten Island went viral, prompting him to take several interviews. Copwatch reveals this made him a target for the police, who surveilled him until he was brought up on charges. Orta was eventually arrested and found with a gun, and later charged with second-degree criminal possession. Ramsey, too, was arrested, on gun charges and for domestic violence; he maintains his innocence on the latter, and says he’s been harassed by the police since filming Garner’s death.

Copwatch points out that this might be the “cost” that members of the grassroots organization face as they challenge a broken system set up to fail them at every turn.

The film, which just had its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival, has plans for more festival appearances in the U.S. and Europe in the coming weeks, and is currently pursuing digital and theatrical distribution. I spoke with director Camilla Hall about police brutality against African Americans, knowing your rights, and the process of making her crucial film.

Read more here.

Vague rhetoric and female “spaces”

Siobhan — then you agree that cis women have a right to their own spaces, that trans women have privileges from having been brought up as boys, and that cis women have a right to talk about how their female bodies shape their experiences of oppression?

This is an extremely common tactic I see deployed in criticisms of my work. I don’t know if the people using it realize just how loaded some of those word choices are, and I wanted to pause a moment to unpack that.

For starters, a lot depends on what exactly we mean by the word “spaces.” Are we talking about a Sunday scrap-booking club or a crisis shelter? The differences between the two touch many areas–legal, practical, ethical, just to name a few. A private interest group needs absolutely no justification for setting its boundaries. In addition, no self-respecting trans person wants to curry favour with people who treat them like they’re untouchables. But when trans women (and it’s usually trans women who are the subjects of exclusion) talk about accessing “female” spaces, we’re not typically signing up to be the subjects of mockery at a poncy tea party. We’re usually talking about accessing the same life-or-death safeguards as cis women, those precarious flotation devices tossed overboard in a desperate bid to keep the drowning above water.

The problem is when a service that typically falls under “public accommodations” is treated as if it were legally and morally equivalent to a private interest group. The standard sleight-of-hand for the trans-exclusionary type is to drop a byline about “supporting trans resources” but unsurprisingly, not a single “womyn-born-womyn” radfem cent ever actually goes to trans-specific startups for that exact purpose. If a particular jurisdiction has few or no resources to help trans women in crisis, I feel fully justified in interrogating the motives of trans-exclusion from the existing services. It is, after all, directly and immediately contributing to the catastrophic civil and health outcomes of trans people.

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Commercial break

I’ve been preparing for Edmonton’s BECA conference for a couple weeks now, so I haven’t been keeping up the queue as diligently as I normally do. As a result, we’re back to business soon–just a few days to actually give my presentation, unwind, do things that are not rated PG-13–and the snark is on as usual.

Have some commercial break music:

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Transmisogyny is still misogyny

I think most feminists would do a double-take if they had received the endorsement of evangelicals, but not Meghan Murphy. Undeterred by the fact that the Conservatives have selected her to share the limelight alongside evangelical pastor Paul Dirks, Murphy has the privilege of taking her transmisogyny to a national stage as a “witness” for the Senate’s third reading of Bill C-16.

The sad part is that there are legitimate critiques of Bill C-16. Advocates pointed out (and I’ll admit I was a bit late to the party on this one) that trans women are already disproportionately targeted by police and are therefore more likely to be represented in prison–the same prisons that would house hate crime offenders for longer periods of time thanks to Bill C-16’s hate crime provisions. But that’s not the argument Conservatives or Murphy are making.

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The significance of “Papers, Please” in xenophobic America

Just following orders? Ethicists don’t generally buy that. Nonetheless it’s a testament to video games as a medium that you can be confronted with that reality through Papers, Please.

Papers, Please is an honest examination of the practical limits of resistance for anyone working in immigration and a demonstration of how oppressive states use bureaucracy to obscure their abuses. The increasingly complex rules for who you admit to Arstotzka don’t just exist to arbitrarily increase the game’s difficulty.

It’s a bureaucracy suffocating you under an avalanche of regulations, guidelines, and checklists so you don’t have time to think about the “why” of what you’re doing. The legalistic framework surrounding every aspect of your life and job serves to separate you from your own morality, replacing it with a series of rules and regulations. You may have been assigned a job without consent, you may have to screen refugees and immigrants according to nonsense criteria, and your family can be forcibly relocated at any time… but it’s all legal. And if you have a moral problem with any of those laws, confronting them makes you a criminal.

A state that requires self-immolation in the act of genuine resistance is a state designed to enforce compliance. Part of Papers, Please‘s power is that it doesn’t offer you a heroic path out of your dilemma. There are no good options: you’re either enforcing these rules and therefore you become part of the problem, or you are doing what you can to subvert those rules, and in doing so, you put your life and the life of your family at risk. All for seemingly meaningless results, since you have so little agency as an inspector that any commonplace acts of defiance seem futile.

The bureaucratic grind of your border inspector’s life is compounded by how devastatingly poor you are. If you aren’t fast on the first day of the job (where the rules about who to admit are their most simplistic), you’re liable to be dangerously low on money very quickly. Papers, Please has 20 separate endings, and only one of them involves your inspector managing to more or less successfully complete their mission. The majority of playthroughs will find you in an impossible position.

The severe poverty of Arstotzka and Papers, Please‘s intentionally oversized portrayal of despotic overreach can strike many Western players as a profoundly alien experience, but many of the structural hurdles your border agent faces are written into the marrow of Western democracies as well.

Even before Donald Trump, American immigration policy was a labyrinthine horror show of red tape. ICE as a tool for targeting the most vulnerable immigrants en masse predates Trump as well. We’re only seeing it utilized now as a larger scale vehicle of state terror. The key difference between your inspector in Papers, Please and the federal agent staffing an airport checkpoint is that your inspector never signed-up for any of this. You were forced to become a cog in this machine.

Read more about it here.


Public Accommodations for Bigots: A Modest Proposal

On June 28th, 2016, Trav Mamone, a colleague of mine on FreeThoughtBlogs rather humbly suggested to that the solution to all the trans bathroom brouhaha was to ban the actual offenders of public violence–cis men–from public accommodations. We just couldn’t take the risk, they argued, since the vast majority of sexual violence is carried about by cis men. I thought at the time that it was a capital idea, but I see now that it is an unfair and incomplete solution, and so I am compelled to voice my disagreement with them.

Us women are so busy being protected by men, see, that we seldom have time to really think about our circumstances. In the name of “saving us,” these conservative men have previously stripped us of our healthcare, blamed us for crimes committed against us, imprisoned us for having miscarriages, and supplied us with poisoned drinking water. Clearly, they have a track record we can trust, right? We can’t ban them from public spaces!

“But Siobhan,” my intrepid readers ask, “surely you are writing this because you have discovered something to the contrary?”

Quite so. I was thinking that there surely must exist some form of circumstance where all freedom-loving Americans can publicly and loudly void their bowels without being subject to invasions of privacy from the opposite sex. I mean, we already have solid stalls between ourselves and another stranger, but do those stalls do anything to stop those insidious infiltrators of the opposite sex, from hearing, and later remembering in nightmarish fever dreams, the grunts and tribulations of our digestive system? Why it would be positively indecent for men to learn that women poop, sometimes vigorously so!

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