In Mute magazine, Sam Dolbear, who is a caregiver to a person with autism, writes about how a seemingly minor incident he witnessed in London's Granary Square epitomizes the security paranoia and subtle oppression of Brexit-era London. The incident involved another caregiver, who was told by a security guard—apparently without provocation or reason—that "if we see anything or are alerted to anything suspicious, you know our first response has to be physical force." For Dolbear, this remark demonstrates that, in a society obsessed with "safety" and its own crumbling identity, anything or anyone even slightly out of the ordinary is automatically treated as a threat. Here's an excerpt from the piece:
These incidents reflect a structural problem with police and security firms more generally, who can do nothing but equate 'suspicious behaviour' with assumed guilt. This assumed guilt is the basis for the legitimate act of physical force. But the problem is that which defines “suspicious behaviour” is subjective at the same time that it is already constituted by objective and institutional structures of racism and discrimination. The police and security firms attribute guilt to 'the suspicious' but those who are 'suspicious' are already defined for them. The way the security guard spoke is revealing. 'If we see [...], our response must be....'. Even if she didn't speak for the company's official position, she did speak on behalf of the implicit logic of the security companies. We must act to make you safe.
The recent release of two new mass-market books on autism — Neurotribes (2015) by Steve Silberman and In Another Key (2016) by John Donvan and Caren Zucker — reflects a growing interest in the condition. As vast surveys of autism's history, it is remarkable the extent to which each book largely ignores the relation between the condition and everyday violence and the anxiety of the threat of that violence everyday. Silberman’s history especially reads as an ode to capitalism’s ability to harness all neuro-types, whether in Silicon Valley or Silicon Roundabout or even at the Knowledge Quarter behind King's Cross. As if to reflect the physical nature of Granary Square itself, Silberman conceals the history of violence and intimidation in favour of a shiny vision of the future. Knowledge clusters as if there were no cops at all.
As London transforms ever-more intensely in the image of capital's glass front, it contains less and less space that is open and accessible. Granary Square is private – sold to Australian Super, Australia’s biggest superannuation/pension funds, in January 2015 – but public access is granted. Like a medieval liberty, the people are granted the freedom to roam but it is a freedom withdrawn at any moment from behind asphalt hillocks or surveillance cameras. A place for everyone is eventually a place for no-one, or, more precisely, a place for a select group of people who already felt safe and comfortable in this city anyway. As more and more areas in London face increasing (semi-)privatisation and securitisation, this is a struggle over freedom and to whom it might be granted.
Image: Granary Square, London.