ACJS Today: "On the Criminalization of Dissent: Deconstructing Official Oppression in an Age of Neoliberalism"

The criminalization of dissent has been a
common feature of neo-liberal governance in the
current period of capitalist globalization. It has
accompanied various structural adjustment and
free trade policies as the required force to impose
such programs on unwilling publics. Police
violence has been a constant feature of
alternative globalization demonstrations.
Examples of escalating state attacks on
opponents of global capital include tear gas
attacks; use of rubber bullets and concussion
grenades; illegal searches and seizures;
surveillance and beatings of arrestees; and, most
severely, the deaths of people at the hands of
police, as in Genoa and England.
Over the last two decades many (most) of
the Western liberal democratic states have
initiated broad-ranging policies and practices
infringing on civil liberties, limiting or removing
procedural rights for those targeted by the state
and restricting the mobility of migrants (labor)
with tougher immigration refugee laws and the
heightened securitization of borders. Among
the countries that have enacted sweeping
changes to legal practices since 9/11 are
Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada,
Denmark, Finland, France, Germany,
Greece, Ireland, the Netherlands, New
Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden,
Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the
United States (see Epifanio, 2011). Although
legislation such as the USA PATRIOT Act in
the U.S. is well known, other examples are
the Anti-Terrorism Act in Canada and the
Gesetz zur Bekämpfung des internationalen
Terrorismus (Law for Fighting International
Terrorism) in Germany. As Epifanio
suggests, the extent of repressive
transformations, curtailing previous rights of
citizens, has been dramatic, “eventually
leaving the security laws of no liberal
democracy unchanged” (p. 400).
Indeed, recent transformations call
into question, even unseat, assumptions of
liberal democracy. They represent real threats
to, and in some cases the removal of,
fundamental pillars such as due process,
presumption of innocence, right to disclosure
of evidence, open hearings, timely
processing, even habeas corpus. In the U.S.,
there is legal opinion that practices such as
mass online surveillance violate the
Constitution (Associated Press, 2013). Often
these transformations have been effected
through discourses and practices of racial
profiling (Shantz, 2010a, 2010b).
Ironically, the criminalization of
dissent has become a central feature of liberal
democracies. Much public attention has been
paid to more dramatic manifestations of the
criminalization of dissent carried out against
protesters and activists in street demonstrations
and protests. In part, these manifestations have
involved the deployment of force and violence
by police against civilians. At the same time,
police have developed practices, such as mass
arrests and preemptive arrests, that target,
search, detain, and process large numbers of
people regardless of their specific activities or
involvement in a protest. One particularly
troubling innovation has been the practice of
so-called kettling, in which police corral people
on the streets (protesters, pedestrians, workers,
and observers alike) into alleyways or side
streets and then prevent them from leaving
(putting them in a “kettle”), arresting all
present. In Toronto during the G2 meeting of
2010, more than 1,000 people were arrested,
the largest mass arrests in Canadian history,
most through police kettling (Malleson &
Wachsmuth, 2012). Kettling has also been used
recently during protests in Denmark
(Rawlinson & Ferguson, 2009), France (ECHR
News, 2011), Spain (Ouziel, 2011), the United
Kingdom (Joyce, 2010; Malik, 2011), and the
United States (Wright, 2011). Note that people
are arrested and detained without suspicion of
having engaged or planning to engage in a
criminal act (indeed, most are released without
charge, conveniently after the political
economic summits are over). A court decision
in the UK in 2010 found kettling to be illegal,
yet the practice has continued even in that
national context (Doctorow, 2011).
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