In 2015, Americans learned that public authorities in Ferguson, Missouri had imposed a ‘predatory system of government’ on poor black citizens through the police force. Yet, political scientists had few theories for describing how people in highly policed neighborhoods come to understand state authority – the ‘hidden curriculum’ – and how they innovate in response.
How is the power of state agents like police, school resource officers, and probation officers interpreted, resisted, or deployed by the citizenry? What discourses and ideologies do race-class subjugated communities draw on to make sense of their interactions with street level bureaucrats? How do they characterize the nature and logic of their citizenship? How does policing shape collective memory and politics across city spaces and across the municipal ‘diaspora’? Which ideas are contested? What visions of public safety and aspirations for justice emerge? This paper explores these questions using a new technology, Portals, to initiate conversations about policing and incarceration in communities where these forms of state action are concentrated. Portals are gold virtual chambers where people in disparate communities can occupy the same space and converse as if in the same room. Based on over 500 recorded and transcribed conversations across ten neighborhoods in five cities (Baltimore, Chicago, Los Angeles, Milwaukee, and Newark), we analyze patterns in collective political discourses around the police and argue that a common form of distorted responsiveness and institutionalized expendability is what characterizes the relationship between policed communities and the state. Methodologically, we argue that by creating a ‘wormhole’ in places under-sampled in traditional survey techniques, and, crucially, by making access to these wormholes easy and free, Portals transforms the capacity of disparate people and communities to define their narratives, create connected political spaces, and expand the possibility of studying politics in beneficially recursive ways.
Vesla Mae Weaver (Phd, Harvard, Government and Social Policy) is the Bloomberg Distinguished Associate Professor of Political Science and Sociology at Johns Hopkins University and a 2016-17 Andrew Carnegie Fellow. Weaver is broadly interested in understanding racial inequality in the United States, how state policies shape citizenship, and the political causes and consequences of the growth of the criminal justice system in the United States. She is the author (with Amy Lerman) of Arresting Citizenship: The Democratic Consequences of American Crime Control and Creating a New Racial Order (with Jennifer Hochschild and Traci Burch). Weaver’s research has been supported by fellowships from the Russell Sage Foundation, National Science Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and the Brookings Institution. She has served on the Harvard/NIJ Executive Session on Community Corrections, the APSA Presidential Taskforce on Racial Inequality in the Americas, and the Center for Community Change’s Good Jobs for All initiative. She is at work on a new project, the Faces of American Democracy, that will map patterns of citizenship and governance across cities and neighborhoods and another on the politics of intra-racial class inequality with Jennifer Hochschild.