May 21, 2012

The Pacification of Protest. (Photo by Nina Berman from the NATO Summit.)

Nina Berman is in Chicago photographing the 2012 NATO Summit. The Chicago Police would have liked nothing better on Saturday — or Sunday evening, when sporadic violence did break out — to go all out smashing heads. As  mitigating factors, however, the city  — having paid out a $6.2 million settlement this past January for the improper arrest and detention of anti-war protesters in 2003 — has lately felt the cost of institutional rage. At the same time, the hardball tactician that the Mayor is, he and his police force seem to have absorbed  some lessons about massive deployment; the strategic control of physical space; and the balancing of an iron fist (mixed with a sense of humor, if you can spare it) with a highest degree of emotional self control. In the photo above, Nina explains that the protester was directly in this cop’s face for a half-a-mile without the cop even flinching. Power and force is unmistakable in the way hands grip baton, but the officer’s face is a more complex portrait. If there are elements of contempt and even smugness, the sound-to-silence ratio and the eyes drilled forward reeks of new conditioning. On their best day now, it seems victory for the riot cop no longer involves cracking open a skull so much as invalidating a demonstrator’s humanity through obliviousness. Between these two faces are also overriding questions about the physical and perceptual battle these large urban demonstrations have become. How much has the focus on social justice (and the right to raise a fist) been usurped by the pacification of protest? And, as much as a police force determines channels for expression, how much of a green light is the protester really afforded now to concentrate on his or her own agenda? PHOTOGRAPHS by Nina Berman/Noor

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Nina Berman
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