Caesarean Policing

Laura Oldfield Ford- untitled flyposter

A little over 12 months ago I wrote this post outlining some of the logic the pre-emptive arrests before the Royal Wedding operated under. Today, a court ruling found that the arrests were lawful. While, in legal terms, it is debatable whether this represents a significant advance on pre-existing powers, in practical terms it has had a powerful effect on the way police and the public perceive powers of arrest. On this same day the news broke that police had begun arresting former graffiti artists:

Having been arrested, they were questioned about what they considered petty matters – accusations of criminal damage in the ’90s, questions about websites and magazines that they were involved in. After being briefly questioned about these seemingly irrelevant matters, they were told that they were to be bailed until November on the condition that they did not use any form of railway in London (overground, tube or tram), carry spray paint (or other graffiti tools, presumably) at any time, or travel within a mile of any Olympic area. That includes the Olympic Park, the ExCel center and other Earls Court locations, Greenwich park, Hampton Court Palace, Hyde Park, Lord’s Cricket Ground, North Greenwich Arena, The Mall, The Royal Artillery Barracks, Wembley Arena, Wembley Stadium, Wimbledon and a host of out-of-London locations.

It’s a unpleasant trying to think about the clusterfuck going on around the Olympics. Massive militarization of the olympics and beyond, the failure of G4S (and their awful song), workfare scandals, cleaners’ camps in awful conditions, the brand police, missiles on tower blocks, silenced protest, twitchy torch relays, and social cleansing, are still just  small parts of a larger, terrible tapestry. Mark Fisher, in the introduction to the collected Savage Messiah (which, apt to its name, appeared on my doormat this morning) describes this as a “banal science fiction telos, as the Olympic Delivery Authority transformed whole areas of East London into a temporary photo opportunity for global capitalism”. Its this sense of a crushing inevitability; like a bee with its abdomen removed, the political class endlessly sips from the PR cup, so determined to have nothing ruin the Olympics, they make them unbearable. A series of semiotic mishaps reinforce this; The BBC advert that depicts the walls of the Olympic Stadium as the walls of the nation itself, the police figurine merchandise.

The consequential logic of this feeds in to what we might call ‘Caesarean Policing’; a more precise term than ‘pre-crime’. Caesarean in two senses: Firstly, that the criminal subject is brought into being without the labour of the court process. This is of course a gendered and medicalized metaphor, but that is because we are dealing here with gendered and medicalized power- preserving the integrity of a feminized, pacified body politic. Secondly, the exceptional power by which Caesar himself seized office; in the pseduo-mythology of Roman power Caesar is both the pre-emptive body and the pre-emptive sovereign. Here this old form of power meets with new technologies of power and control to facilitate a mode of policing.

The biggest mistake here would be to assume that this is a neutral, automatic, and automated procedure. Indeed this is how the Olympic apparatchik justifies their own binding to, and deployment of, this form of power; the Olympics are timeless, eternal, and they will happen according to plan (or else Zeus presumably takes vengeance). But that obscures the fact that what is being protected is a deployment of affective, immaterial, experiences in the service of capital as the pageantry and excitement of sports forms an excuse for a subsidized platform for sponsorship (quite literally a platform, in the case of one particular abomination).

The most telling and most important aspect of the games and their policing will be in 3 months time; will the troops leave London? Will the Olympic sites be re-used? Will those arrested get a court date? Will we be able to develop a new vocabulary of power to describe the new order? What is left in the wake of the Olympic day of judgement over which no judge presides?

PS: If you find yourself the victim of pre-emptive arrest, arrested on a protest or encounter other Olympics-related legal problems contact Green and Black Cross or (if you are local to the Olympics) Newham Monitoring Project visit for info about groups working on these and similar issues.

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One Response to Caesarean Policing

  1. Graham Joncas says:

    There’s another possible sense to your Caesar metaphor which, as is illustrated in the case of the graffiti artists, may be even more apt. Here’s a passage elucidating the phrase “like Caesar’s wife”:

    The phrase is especially applied to public officials whose conduct must be free not only from actual misdeed but from any suspicion of wrongdoing. Plutarch tells us how the expression arose. A young nobleman Publius Clodius was accused of a religious crime in which Pompeia, the wife of Caesar, was implicated. Caesar divorced Pompeia, “but being summoned as a witness against Clodius, said he had nothing to charge him with. This looking like a paradox, the accuser asked him why he parted with his wife. Caesar replied, ‘I wish my wife to be not so much as suspected.’

    The trope “innocent until proven guilty” is now effectively meaningless as police adopt what might cynically be called ‘modal terrorism’. The (unincarcerated) citizen no longer is or is not a criminal subject, but is fractionally so, their likelihood of recidivism being statistically quantifiable.

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