I currently have a public exhibit in Grenoble, France as part of a project I worked on with the Open Society Foundations about police profiling in Europe. The video interview can be found here. The exhibit focuses on victims of discriminatory identity checks, who describe the significant impacts of these experiences, such as deep humiliation, trauma, fear, mistrust in the police and a feeling of being second-class citizens.
On 20 October, 2017, the majority beat officers’ police union, ‘Alliance’ mounted a small protest in front of the exhibit, criticizing it as “anti-police” and covering it with their own posters, seen here. The exhibition was displayed in a main square in Grenoble, in front of the police prefecture (the Ministry of Interior representative at local level), and was authorized by local authorities. Another police union also circulated a leaflet, similarly criticizing the exhibit as “anti-police” and noting that it “dirties a noble profession.” Less than 48 hours after the police demonstration, the exhibit was completely defaced.
This is an issue of free speech, which is increasingly under threat in society today. I write this at a moment of great anger and fatigue about rights under attack that I thought were sacrosanct, and moreover a way of life that characterizes our culture in both America and many parts of the world. Voices from the fringes are currently the loudest in our public spaces and forum, drowning out reason, civility and a sense of human progress towards a more just and inclusive world.
For those that experience discrimination and abuse, this kind of destruction of a means of expression can add new trauma. It also fosters a climate of increased polarization and conflict, obstructing constructive dialogue and reform.
That being said, it is important to note great appreciation for the French police and recognize the amount of pressure they have been under, especially in recent years, due to terror attacks in France. This project is not about pointing blame, but about raising awareness of how to police better in a manner that is both fair and effective. Arjan Kasius, a police inspector that I interviewed (seen below) said: “My police colleagues need to be aware that the minute they ask someone for their ID, or just take a quick look in someone’s car…it has a really huge impact on the person being subjected to the check…It is really important that you maintain a connection with the residents in your work area…including residents from foreign countries.” Grenoble, France is a city with a generally left-leaning local government, so there are complex local politics playing into these events.
This exhibition with my work and the incident of intolerance in France is but a tiny example of the daily attacks that, when added up, form a bulwark against all I believe in and the laws that are enshrined in the US constitution and other democratic societies and governments around the world. This is a moment of testing. A moment to consider the alternatives, if we let the voices of intolerance and hatred, and ultimately fear, control the public space.
I want to express from my heart what I’ve seen with my humble eyes and the simple fact that the most socially advanced, prosperous and enlightened societies in the world are the ones with more freedom of speech. While this can sometimes mean that we must listen to voices we find abhorrent, at least citizens are able to express themselves and allow the people to decide what is right or wrong, good or bad, and what kind of society we want to live in.
We must protect this fundamental right. What is happening today in some parts of the world, especially in the United States, is a concerted attack on free speech by the extreme right. They are using the bully pulpit to push others to deny their freedoms, then turning the argument around to claim that the “other side” is denying them their basic right.
Social media has actually created a dangerous playing field that often has negative results. Whilst we have more voices in the public space than ever before, the manipulation of algorithms and resulting silos of information and opinions has created a dangerous moment where we talk, fear, and deny more, and listen and empathize less, ultimately dehumanizing us and leaving us more separated than ever before.
There is free speech, and there is incitement to violence and hatred. Among other scattered incidents around the nation, we have seen this play out in Charlottesville and at UC Berkeley, a university widely considered to be one of the centers of the free speech movement in the 1960s. It is imperative that we find a way to come together and not allow these incitements to backfire on our society and shut down or erode one of the fundamental freedoms we have. It is a right and freedom that helps define us and allows for a multiplicity of voices; for satire and self deprecation, for insight and wisdom, and above all, for the freedom to express ourselves.
Here are some informative articles to read further.
Photos from other displays of the ‘Egalité Trahie’ exhibit on their Facebook page.
The coalition to End Ethnic Profiling in France.
Regarding the University of California Berkeley and its recent controversies with right-wing speaking engagements
The role that social media sites like Twitter and Facebook play regarding free speech
The definition of hate speech and its connection to the First Amendment
Tags: Awareness, blog post, city hall, damage, destory, Ed Kashi, Europe, exhibition, France, free speech, freedom, French, fundamental right, government, Grenoble, immigrant, immigration, Is Free Speech Dying?, Journalism, Open Society Foundations, opinion, outdoor, outside, Photo Essay, Police, Profiling, protest, public, VII Photo