Tomorow, October 27, 2015, we will commemorate the tenth anniversary of the death of Bouna Traoré and Zyed Benna, two teenagers of Clichy sous Bois (North-Eastern Paris banlieue) who died in an electric transformer after being illegitimately chased by the police. For this reason, I chose this date to publish the second issue of The Funambulist Magazine, dedicated to suburban geographies (with significant contributions about the French banlieues). But, before tomorrow, I wanted to present a photographic report of a small investigation accomplished yesterday about the architecture of four police stations in the Northern banlieues.
For an important amount of the banlieues inhabitants, in particular the Black and Arab youth, the police incarnate a daily reminder of the structural antagonism at work against their neighborhood and their bodies. As explained in a past article entitled “The Banlieue Battleground: Designing the French Suburbs for Police/Military Interventions,” this antagonism reached its peak during the nine years of Nicolas Sarkozy’s executive mandates (four years as Minister of Interior and five as President) between 2003-2004, and 2005- (see the Karsher declaration, only a few days before the death of Bouna and Zyed) 2012, but it never really dissolved since then — the current Prime Minister, Manuel Valls, also formerly Minister of Interior shares a certain amount of similarities with Sarkozy’s politics, despite being part of the Socialist Party. The strategy of the State vis-a-vis the cités (high density public housing in a low density urban fabric) consists in a gradual withdrawal of its service and an increase of police control. The latter’s violence is characterized by disrespectful discourse, systematic identity control, random chase and/or arrests, and sometimes, the use of a potentially lethal arsenal coming from a prolific security market. The following photographs attempt to show that architecture as well constitutes a weapon both symbolic and effective reinforcing the strong antagonism developed by the police against the banlieue youth. The police stations’ architectures, through their spatiality, their aesthetics and the care in the materials used (brick for the Aubervilliers one, and even some marble imitation for the Pierrefitte one, see below) attempt to present them as authored works, designed by architecture offices that also conceive libraries, schools, housing, etc. However, the agenda of this architecture is fairly explicit to anyone who knows their antagonizing context: these police station are built to respond to the potentiality of a “siege” undertaken against them — a rather odd hypothesis when one knows the police arsenal — by what they imagine to be hordes of barbarian youth (paranoia is necessary to maintain the antagonism). The walls of these stations are thus opaque with various degrees of inclination (a well-known technique by 17th-century fortress architects!), the more transparent parts are elevated, out-of-reach, and the sidewalks in front of their entrances are made inaccessible for vehicles through the presence of metallic cones (ubiquitous on the Paris sidewalks). Architecture is weaponized here again, and architects should be held accountable for the responsibility of their contribution to the antagonism developed by the State and its police towards the banlieue inhabitants.Read more
Once again, I feel the absolute urge to write in order to join the voices gathered against the Apartheid imposed on Palestinian bodies by the Israeli government, and its recent tightening, in particular in Jerusalem itself (see recent article).
The Western mainstream Press, as usual, is preparing the appropriate conditions for the Israeli army to deploy its violence without a strong reaction from their respective governments. It does so through a verbal and pictorial narrative that depicts violent, masked and uncontrollable Palestinian youth throwing stones at Israeli soldiers and vehicles. A few other media have been providing the violence of the conditions in which these scenes have occurred, but this is not what I would like to do here. Instead, I would like to reflect on this very act of throwing stones: what does this act reveal about the state of Apartheid, and the role of Palestinians within it?
A series of new measures executed by the Netanyahu administration recently significantly increased punishment (up to four years in prisons and substantial fines) towards Palestinian that throw stones against its army. But it also constructs the legal conditions in which the Israeli army could use live fire (0.22 caliber live rounds) on stone throwers — sometimes through undercover agents as we saw yesterday — in an absolutely literal manifestation of the asymmetrical antagonism we are describing here, echoing the voluntarily “disproportionate” military response of the loose rockets launched from Gaza by heavy, precise and dreadful bombardments. Asymmetry is the most obvious way of looking at the fighting forces in presence. Nevertheless, reading the situation only through this filter constitute a mistake in the assessment of these forces through their means, and not through their very reason to fight: while the Israeli soldiers fight to enforce order in a state of Apatheid, Palestinians fight for their life as Amira Hass points out in a column yesterday in Haaretz.Read more
Map below created by Léopold Lambert for The Funambulist (2015) / license: Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommerical-ShareAlike 4.0 / A similar map, more focused on the center of Jerusalem itself was published in The Funambulist Magazine‘s first issue to illustrate the article “Jerusalem: Dismantling Phantasmagorias, Constructing Imaginaries” by Nora Akawi.Read more
Map created for the purpose of this article (see the full version below) / Download it here in high resolution (8 MB) / (license: Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommerical-ShareAlike 4.0)
This article and map are in the continuity of the five others made in the past year (cf. “The Banlieue Archipelago,” “Another Paris,” and “15-minute walk from a train station” maps) and, more generally, to the on-going series of articles about the Paris banlieues (suburbs).
On October 26, 2005, recently re-nominated Minister of Interior Affairs (i.e. chief of the police), Nicolas Sarkozy, who will be elected President two years later, was visiting the banlieue of Argenteuil when he addressed a person at her window: “You’re tired of this scum [racaille], aren’t you? Well, we’re going to get rid of it for you!” (see video). The next day, Bouna Traoré and Zyed Benna, two teenagers from Clichy-sous-Bois, died of electrocution while they were trying to run away from the BAC (Brigade Anti-Criminalité, i.e. a particularly aggressive branch of the police in the banlieues), chasing them illegitimately (see past article). These two events sparked the important revolts of the banlieues that were only responded with a state of emergency and more police control. Although Sarkozy’s policies and speeches have been consistently relying on fundamentally racist and colonial principles — many of uf will remember the 2010 speech of Grenoble about immigration or the 2007 one in Dakar about “Africa, not having yet entered history” — we can give him the benefit of the doubt that his definition of scum (racaille) consists in people despising the law and arrogantly disobeying it, regardless of their race.
Let’s thus keep this definition in mind while introducing a piece of legislation that directly addresses the social (and by extension, racial) segregation that spatially organizes Paris and its banlieues: The SRU Law (Solidarity and Urban Renewal), voted in December 2000, obliges each municipality counting more than 3,500 inhabitants — other exemptions include the impossibility for a municipality to build more on its land — to comply with the ratio of 20% of its total housing to be social housing. The map presented below shows the quasi-totality of Paris’s urban area and its municipalities, including the 20 arrondissements that compose Paris proper. Municipalities showed in green are compliant with this legislation, and those in bright green even includes more than 25% of social housing — the 95 cités showed on the map in white are, of course, almost exclusively in these municipalities. On the contrary, the map shows no less than 149 municipalities that are not compliant with the law, including 60 that do not even reach a percentage of 10% (in red). For instance, Sarkozy’s city, Neuilly-sur-Seine — he was its mayor between 1983 and 2002 — counts less than 5% (1,435 out of 30,448) of social housing. Hence the question that gives its title to this article: “Who is the scum now?”Read more
Part 1: Hannibal Directive
On July 2, 2015, architect and intellectual Eyal Weizman gave a lecture at the Médecins Sans Frontières headquarters in Paris in which he presented the latest research of Forensic Architecture. Since 2012, this think tank, founded and directed by Weizman at Goldsmiths University of London, has investigated several dozen geopolitical events for which the “testimony” of architecture and/or objects was interpreted in order to be presented as evidence for prosecution of state responsibility in these events. A few of these cases investigate Israeli and U.S. drone strikes, respectively in Gaza and Pakistan. One involves the deliberate lack of assistance given to a drifting migrant boat in the Mediterranean Sea. Yet another focuses on a former concentration camp buried in former Yugoslavia.
The organization’s most recent research consists of the reconstruction of events in Gaza that immediately followed the capture of an Israeli soldier on August 1, 2014, during the so-called “Operation Protective Edge” (which killed 2,220 Palestinians, including 1,492 civilians, and displaced more than 500,000 others in July and August 2014). The comprehensive and meticulously documented report covering a single day in the conflict has now been released in the form of a collaborative online publication by Forensic Architecture and Amnesty International under the name “Black Friday.”Read more
In 1966, Michelangelo Antonioni released his first English-language film, Blow Up, in which he introduces a photographer played by David Hemmings, who realizes in his dark room that he may have captured the evidence of a crime on one of his photographs. Intrigued by a detail in the background of the picture he took, he undertakes to ‘blow up’ this detail (something proper to film photography) to a point where he is able to confirm his suspicion. Similarly, a few days ago, I realized that the most updated Google Earth data for Gaza consisted in photographs taken on July 29, 2014, the day when the Israeli army bombed the single power plant of the Strip (see this July 2014 map to understand the electric power supply in Gaza). The photographs show a large cloud of smoke spread over the land of Gaza as an evidence of the dreadful action of the Israeli army against the 1.8 millions inhabitants of the Strip, since those of them who were not directly suffering from the destruction of their homes had nonetheless to face shortage of electricity, clean water and sewage because of the power plant bombing (see past article). Google uses a mix of satellite and aircraft photography in order to compose their representation of the Earth and, just like in Antonioni’s movie, we could think of a coincidence for the satellite to be present a few moments after the bombing, and it has been suggested to me that Google deliberately kept this imagery as a form of geopolitical positioning. However, the last murderous siege on Gaza (July-August 2014) cannot be compared with the crime depicted in Blow Up: there is no coincidence or, rather, the coincidence is continuous.Read more
A few days ago, Orit Theuer, a recent graduate from the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts, shared with me her thesis project (2014) investigating the 1949 Armistice Line between Israel and the Palestinian territories on the West Bank of the Jordan River, which was under Jordanian control until the beginning of the Israeli occupation in 1967. This line is more known as the “Green Line” and Theuer’s work allows us to explore its path and debate of its hypothetical obsolescence.
Many people who produce knowledge around the territorial struggles at work in historic Palestine, experience a fascination for cartographying their spatial components. Nevertheless, maps and aerial photographs can potentially disincarnate the issues at stake if they’re not complemented by other documents ‘on the ground’ bringing the viewers to the earthly realms of bodies and materiality. Theuer thus undertook to drive as close as possible of the totality of the Green Line path from its North intersection with the Jordan River, to its Southern one with the Dead Sea (see map below) and associated photographs she took to each aerial view of the Green Line. Her main site of investigation is less the territories on both sides of the line than what I like to call, “the oxymoronic thickness of the line” (see the 2010 graphic novel Lost in the Line as one instance of it) and the ambiguous legality applied in it. A similar approach in Palestine has been undertaken by Decolonizing Architecture Art Residency directed by Sandi Hilal, Alessandro Petti, and Eyal Weizman in their research “The Lawless Line” (2010) about the West Bank areas’ lines as defined by the 1993 Oslo Accords. As Theuers reminds us in the beginning of her Atlas of No-Man’s Land, the Green Line was originally defined by both the Israeli and Transjordanian commanders of Jerusalem in 1948, respectively Moshe Dayan and Abdullah el-Tell. Drawn in precarious conditions considering the future impact of its path — the story goes that it was either on the ground or on a military jeep’s bonnet — the line could not acquire the mathematical ‘purity’ that its definition entitles (a line has no thickness) since it was drawn by “three to four millimeters wide” grease pencils. Based on the scale of the map on which it was drawn (1:250,000), the thickness of the line is no less than 80 meters, a substantial space of legal ambiguity. Moreover, this thickness increases with a significant degree in the region of Jerusalem where the line occasionally splits (another oxymoron) into two between Dayan and el-Tell’s paths (in red on Theuer’s maps). As Theuer recounts, the zone between the two lines has a real juridical precedence in the ambiguity it constitutes as the 2003 trial “Eitan Kramer vs. The State of Israel” attests. The 168 pages of the Atlas of No-Man’s Land reconstituting the totality of the Green Line’s path show us the paradoxical ‘full-ness’ of the line’s thickness: towns, fields, roads occupy its liminal space despite the lack of legal definition proper to it.Read more
NYPD’s Domain Awareness System / Photograph by Shannon Stapleton/Reuters
In a recent article (May 15, 2015), the investigative news platform Mediapart, reported the use of a crime predicting algorithm by the French Ministry of Interior since the end of 2014. This type of algorithms that predicts the degrees of probability for crimes to occur at a given place and a given time, has been used for the past few years by various police department in the United States, as well as the in the United Kingdom. The Los Angeles Police Department and its Real-Time Analysis and Critical Response Division, in particular, relies on the private (!) company PredPol in order to organize the location of police patrols in the city (see a 2014 article in The Guardian). Of course, when talking about these algorithms, Philip K. Dick’s short story, Minority Report (1956) and its cinematographic adaptation by Steven Spielberg (2002) are invoked as the prophecy that announced such policing practices. Minority Report indeed describes a police force able to arrest people before they are about to commit a crime based on predictions made by three “precogs.” The vision developed by this fiction insists on the potential fallibility of this system and the problem of arresting someone for a crime (s)he has not yet committed. However, what I would like to shortly examine here, is rather what the use of these algorithms implies in the way a society is structurally conceived.
The first thing that ought to be said might be candid, but there seems to be a fundamental problem in the fatality of criminal behavior that these algorithms imply. As I wrote in a previous article about police and the notion of “law enforcement,” the very fact that such a thing as ‘anti-riot police’ exists, implies that the State anticipates that demonstrations against it would be fundamentally illegitimate and should thus be suppressed by a branch of police designed for it. Crime predicting algorithms register themselves in the anticipative function of the police, which might appear as an obvious function to us, but that can actually be dated historically as a recent paradigm. Anticipation requires a set of incriminating criteria that essentially rely on collective and/or individual subjectivity, not on any legal basis, since one cannot be legally accused of “already resembl[ing] his crime before he commits it,” as Michel Foucault states in his 1974-1975 Lectures at the Collège de France (Abnormals, 2004). This collective and/or individual subjectivity obviously involves racism as a determining influences and the overwhelmingly numerous cases of police officers searching, arresting and sometimes killing non-White bodies in the Western world are here to remind us of this.Read more
Maps created by Léopold Lambert for The Funambulist (June 2015) / Access a high-quality version here (12MB) (license: Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommerical-ShareAlike 4.0)
Two recent events involving the policed/militarized evacuation of a swimming pool based on the ethnicity of the swimmers have recently came to light. 1. McKinney, U.S. /// On June 6, 2015, in McKinney, a suburban town of Texas, a group of African American children who were celebrating the end of the scholar year by organizing a pool party in the local swimming pool were evicted from it by the police. Some of them were arrested and insulted, and one Black teenager girl was violently assaulted by a White police officer before being crushed onto the ground by the same officer for long minutes. We can suspect that we would have never heard of this sickening event if it was not for a clear video showing the totality of the assault — in this regard, it is crucial to see that the cut images massively shown in the press reflects less the violence of the assault than do the long minutes of the video during which the young woman, sobbing, had her face in the ground, the police officer pressing his weight on her back. I am adding here a small map of what I believe is the spatial context in which this racist assault occurred (I found it through a few information found in articles, as well as from the visual indications of the video itself), since the aim of this article is to understand these two events through the spatial politics at work in both situations — a situation that I do not know specifically in the policed neighborhood of Craig Ranch in McKinney, Texas, but that evidently do not escape from the structural racism the characterize the relationships between the American forces of police and Black bodies.Read more
Last Tuesday, I attended a lecture of Dutch artist Jonas Staal at the Centre for Research Architecture in Goldsmiths (London). Among other things, he was introducing the last work accomplished through his brilliant project of New World Summit in which he invites representatives of black listed and/or stateless political organizations of the world to present their struggle and debate with other members of the summit. I recommend to everyone to have a close look at the four occurrences of the summit since 2012 (in Berlin, Leiden, Kochi, and Brussels), but through this article, I would like to insist on one particular aspect of Jonas’s lecture, when he described his recent trip to the self-governing canton of Cizîre in Rojava (Syrian Kurdistan) where a new mode of governance is currently practiced in the vacuum of power created by the Syrian civil war. This canton, situated in the Kurdish area where Syria meets both Turkey and Iraq, is to be distinguished from the two others in Rojava: Kobané and Efrîn. Jonas explained that despite a common goal aiming at the creation of the State of Kurdistan, the Rojava revolution movement, as well as the Kurdish Women’s Movement (who presented their manifesto for a Democratic Confederalism at the last New World Summit) operate independently from the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party), which tends to adopt a relatively dated mode of governance compared to these younger movements.
When presenting the photograph above, Jonas described the inverted hierarchy of the various parliaments operating in this mode of governance: when we are used to observe the strong decisional power of national parliaments, decreasing as the scale of governance becomes smaller (regional, departmental, cantonal, municipal, neighborhood-based, etc.), the Rojava revolution movement, Jonas says, has adopted an exact inverse principle. Neighborhood parliaments have the strongest ability to take important decisions for the territory on which it operates, when cantonal and even more so, national, parliaments’ authority operates to a lesser extent. As simple as this inversion sounds, it appears to me that such a mode of governance can radically change the way political life is practiced. In order to attempt to explain why, I propose two points that are radically engaged by this principle: territorial and body scales of governance and intensity-based citizenship.Read more