A recent This American Life Episode ("How Cops See It, pt.2", 2/13/2015) begins with producer Robyn Semien relaying her experience of watching the video of Eric Garner’s strangulation alongside a white NYPD officer. Unsurprisingly, the officer maintained that the video documents justified use of force where Semien sees deadly police abuse; a difference of perspectives. But this exchange ignores a fundamental aspect of this disagreement between viewers: the officer’s interpretation is a state based and endorsed form of close reading. Inscribed in handbooks, cited in courtroom defenses of police, these claims of justification are not subjective judgment (“how cops see it”) but enunciations of an entire policing apparatus that extends from this street corner to houses of legislation.
This hermeneutic machine metes out sanctioned violence and enforces the given distributions of life and rights, working in and through the “unending exhibition of the real” that Jacques Rancière situates at the heart of contemporary police logic (Disagreement, 31). Of course, for Rancière the police are not just the officers kneeling on Garner’s and, in the video posted here, Oscar Grant III’s backs before killing them but the entirety of civil society and the political sphere, regulating bodies and capacities. According to Rancière “the police is… the opposite of politics,”(31).
Laid out in a grid are six separate video perspectives, labeled by source (five cellular phones, one surveillance camera) from the Fruitvale BART Station platform at the start of New Year’s Day 2009. The cell phone videos remain trained on the young black men presenting amise-en-scène of the police distribution of bodies and roles leading up to Johannes Mehserle’s shooting Grant in the back. I have excised the fatal shot that follows from the video because its interpretation is already a police matter, given over to the very system that pulls the trigger. Without that they present a “distribution of the sensible,” as Rancière refers to the aesthetic, in which the police order confronts a cacophonous but unanimous response expressing a dispute, a disagreement, over this distribution of bodies. Where the police order defines what does and does not count as evidence, the aesthetic overflow, the excess of sense and its redistribution, link the viewer and these witnesses in the immediacy of their denunciation of what is clearly visible but is rendered inadmissible by the mechanism of an interpretation bent on asserting a hierarchy of sense data.