geert lovink on Thu, 20 Jun 2002 21:31:33 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Jill Dawsey: Report of Right2Fight

(posted to nettime with the permission of the author. /geert)

Right2Fight: April 27, 2002
Sarah Lawrence College, New York
Report by Jill Dawsey

The blue police barriers lining the lawn at Sarah Lawrence College are
something of a curious site: on this clear spring morning, on this
pristine campus, students lounge about, listening to music by DJ Ski Hi.
With no one to restrain, the barriers are rendered functionless. But come
closer. Instead of Police Line dates: Malcolm Ferguson, March 2, 2000,
Gideon Busch, August 30, 1999, Amadou Diallo, February 4, 1999. Each
barricade is a memorial, a tombstone, inscribed with the name of a victim
of police brutality. This art installation by Adam de Croix was part of
Right2Fight, an all day interdisciplinary event, gathering artists,
activists and victimsı families to respond to police violence in the U.S.
and abroad.

The event was organized by urban historian Dominique Malaquais and new
media artist Trebor Scholz in the wake of the recent reversal of
indictments of three police officers convicted in the torture of Abner
Louima in 1997. Including installations, Web art, film and video, graphic
work, poetry, dance and music, the day concluded with a benefit concert
for the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights by the Afrobeat band Antibalas
and renowned South African poet Lesego Rampolokeng. Right2Fight
collectively engages artıs capacity to testify, to commemorate and to
incite action, imploring us to look again at the excessive force that too
often characterizes law enforcement.

Beyond de Croixıs barricades stood a different kind of memorial Jacirıs
Memorial to 418 Villages Which Were Destroyed, Depopulated, and Occupied
by Israel in 1948. Dayr Yasin, Jarash, Qalunya the names of individuals,
but villages, hand-stitched by Jacir and numerous volunteers onto the
cloth walls of a tent modeled on those that housed Palestinian refugees
exiled from their homes after the state of Israel's foundation. Here, the
question of police violence against individuals as in de Croix's work
opens onto the policing of borders and the violence of neighboring
nations. Though Right2Fight primarily addresses the brutalizing and
criminalization of the urban poor in the U.S., it asks us to consider
systems of policing on a global scale, especially the increased blurring
between institutions of law enforcement and the military.

Inside the student center, activist groups such as the October 22
Coalition and the NYC Police Watch have set up information tables and the
walls are covered with posters and graphic works like Dread Scott's Sign
of the Times, 1999. On a yellow street sign, Scott emblazons the blocky
silhouette of a cop shooting a barrage of bullets into a figure whose arms
are raised in surrender. "Danger: Police in Area," it reads. In a similar
tactical vein, Australian artist Deborah Kelly employs the language of
advertising in an image that depicts an improbable homicide scene;  the
outline of a heterosexual couple is traced on the ground to remind us that
straights are rarely the target of sexuality-motivated attacks.

The video selections at Right2Fight were particularly effective in
highlighting the relations between violence and the effects of media, and
the testimonial capacities of video. It was a video tape, after all, that
first put police violence on trial, and on the American publicıs radar
screen, with the Rodney King beating. (Uncannily, Right2Fight coincided
with the tenth anniversary of the verdict that sparked the LA riots.) Liz
Canner and Julia Meltzerıs 1993 video documentary, State of Emergency:
Inside the Los Angeles Police Department, which examines the systemic
racism of the LAPD through interviews with officers, still feels utterly
current in light of recent cases.

Video has always articulated itself as the negative inverse of television,
the conscience of television, as Avital Ronell once put it. The
introduction of the Sony Portapak in the mid-60s allowed guerilla video
makers in the era of student protests to show what the nightly news
screened out. Over the past two years, with anti-globalization
demonstrations in Seattle, Quebec, Genoa and so on, the protest video has
re-emerged as a prominent sub-genre of video making (if it ever went
away). Rick Rowley's Seattle/Genoa counters televisionıs portrayal of the
WTO demonstrators as havoc-wreaking delinquents with the hand-held
cameraıs up-close view of protestors shielding themselves from tear gas,
water canons and rubber bullets. In This is What Democracy Looks Like by
Oliver Ressler, a Saltzburg crowd chants the video's title phrase during a
seven-hour detainment by the police.

Police Beat by Pia Lindman and Angel Nevarez examines the omnipresent gaze
of the law by focusing on police presence at the National Puerto Rican Day
Parade in 2000. The parade proceeds in slow motion, accompanied by eerily
warped ambient sounds of the street, under the surveillance of cops who
stand around looking rather bored. There are no spectacular displays of
brutality here, and the workings of force show themselves not to be
reducible to physical violence alone. (The tape is haunted, though, by the
memory of sexual assaults that followed the parade, which the police, for
whatever reasons, did not prevent, in spite of the fact that they seemed
to be everywhere.)

Among Right2Fightıs offerings of net art are Picture Projects's site, which navigates the cells and stories of
incarcerated people, and a beautiful and disturbing site by Israeli Web
artist Horit Herman Peled, which holds photographyıs truth-telling power
in tension with the ethics of viewing as images of the Gaza checkpoint,
barbed wire and women soldiers wielding machine guns appear and quickly
fade into the whiteness of the screen.

The most significant and lasting effects of Right2Fight may ultimately be
as a continuing Web project,,
providing resources and documentation of cultural production and making
simple Web tools available to activist groups. One of the questions raised
by the event, and a major task of politics in the age of global
capitalism, is how to forge meaningful links between disparate activist
issues and groups without resorting to monolithic notions of power that
efface the specificity of each struggle (e.g., the excessive police force
used on predominantly white WTO demonstrators as opposed to that used on
predominantly black youths in urban centers) potential of the Web. If
Right2Fight raises questions and juxtaposes ideas that donıt always
coalesce, this seems to the point: democracy, as Resslerıs video reminds
us, is a form of government in which it is possible to question power. It
follows, then, that cultural practices that support this ideal do not
produce a space of comforting unity, but rather one of productive
conflict. Right2Fight offers a vision of what democracy looks like, and
how we might make our right to fight count.

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