When I was about four years old, the concept of a pattern was explained to me. There are things, I was told -- singular events, instances, data points -- and then there is the way those things are arranged. The part that confused me then (and still confuses me now, in some cases) , is that that arrangement -- the pattern those things constitute -- can sometimes have properties that the things themselves don't have. For instance. Consider the asterisk:
The asterisk is small. It appears roundish, it has snowflake-like fingers. And that's about it. But consider the asterisks:
* * * *
The asterisks are in a row. We could draw a straight line through all the asterisks. The pattern they constitute has certain properties. For one thing, it's made of up asterisks (no individual asterisk is so constituted), and of asterisks that are equally spaced along a particular line.
Yesterday I went to a talk by Nancy McHugh . The talk was part of the annual FEMMSS conference (an organization devoted to, among other things, feminist epistemology). Her talk was on institutional epistemic injustice in the prison system. It was on carceral oppression, especially as it relates to end-of-life issues.
It was heartbreaking. I barely held it together.
Dr. McHugh talked about her students (incarcerated individuals in a program called "Inside Out"). She talked about how the systems and processes put in place not only dehumanize them in the sorts of ways we might imagine (by making them exist in literally blank spaces, wear exactly what the other inmates are wearing, and beg for food from guards with almost absolute power over the movement of their bodies), but also in more particular, epistemic ways.
The carceral system is meant to rob individuals of knowledge, and of the capacity to produce such knowledge. After a while, inmates will internalize a sense of hopelessness when it comes to advocacy. Even when that advocacy is as simple as getting basic medical care. Dr. McHugh spoke of a woman who went to the infirmary complaining of pains in her chest and arm, who literally died of a heart attack in front of a nurse who kept telling her, "You're just trying to manipulate me. You're fine. Stop pretending."
This woman was refused authority over even the most basic kind of self-knowledge.
I could go on, but I have two concrete points that I have to make this morning.
- There are patterns of injustice in South Bend
Here are two:
- Aaron Knepper, a police officer of the SBPD, has displayed a pattern of abusive behavior. He has attacked citizens unconstitutionally, escalated a traffic stop and sent a man to the hospital with head injuries, taken advantage of a man with developmental disabilities for his own pleasure, attacked (and then lied about attacking) a Notre Dame football player according to multiple witnesses. (Read more here.)
- Chief Ruszkowski, the SBPD more generally, and now the mayor's office have displayed a pattern of neglect. The Chief dismissed community concerns about Knepper. He laughed in front of an auditorium full of community members -- including members of the Franklin family -- and declared Knepper "harmless," despite the fact that Knepper has been found guilty of violating constitutional rights of a citizen in our community. Is that not harm? Mayor Pete Buttigeig said to a secret meeting he held last Thursday with hand-picked community members that he believes Knepper has "done nothing wrong." Done nothing wrong? Does the mayor not believe violating constitutional rights is wrong? He cannot possibly believe this. The only explanation for this is that he -- probably on the advice of his legal council -- is trying to establish the belief that Knepper has not displayed a pattern of abusive behavior -- because if the mayor knows that Knepper has displayed such a pattern, and he takes no action, he is failing to protect the residents of South Bend against one of his own employees. The mayor is not dumb. He knows this is what he is doing. He is lying for legal and political gain. He ought to be ashamed of himself. But I have no desire to try and reach Pete morally (I've tried, and he's shown that he is, systematically, uninterested in ethical considerations).
So why even bring it up?
2. The mayor of South Bend and the Chief of police know or should know that Aaron Knepper has displayed a pattern of abusive behavior, and is currently harming the residents of South Bend by his continued employment at SBPD. They have constructive notice because of the pattern of notices (I have a record of at least four attempts to engage on this issue), and because they continue to dismiss these claim (I have a record of at least four refusals on the part of the administration to engage on this issue). This pattern and practice of dismissing or not addressing clear violations of rights might pierce the veil of sovereign immunity.