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Five questions about the StepTalk ‘Policing in the US: What’s Feminism Got to Do with It?’

Police killed Eric Garner 9 years ago (‘I can’t breathe’) when he resisted a search. Now everyone will consent to stops and searches. Law Professor and author Josephine Ross looks to feminism: what police call consent, feminists would call submission. During the lecture on Wednesday 31 May, Josephine Ross will look at consent from different perspectives.

Five questions to Joery Matthys, Assistant Professor at the Institute of Security and Global Affairs, who invited Josephine Ross and organised this StepTalk.

Why did you organise this event?

Joery Matthys: 'As a member of the team Policing Studies within the Institute of Security and Global Affairs (ISGA), I believe it is important, and it’s actually one of the stated goals of the team, to connect theory and practice, translating academic perspectives towards a broader audience. A StepTalks lecture, which takes place in the entrance hall of the Wijnhaven building of the The Hague Campus of Leiden University provides an excellent opportunity to do this. It is an open setting where everyone is welcome to engage in fruitful discussions and new insights.'

Why did you invite Josephine Ross?

Joery Matthys: 'Prof. dr. Josephine Ross is currently on a sabbatical, travelling around Europe. When I heard she was going to be in The Netherlands end of May, I jumped on the opportunity to invite her, so we could connect again. I enjoyed a presentation she gave at the annual conference of the European Society of Criminology last year. She was part of a European research project that looked at Stop and Search actions by the police in a number of countries, looking at legal and practical differences, but also evaluating the value of such actions for police to reach their objectives, which turned out to be quite limited. That was certainly surprising to the police, because they often see it as an essential tool.'

What is this event about?

Joery Matthys: 'This event is actually based on the research project around Stop and Search actions. In the United States and in many other countries, there are actually strict rules about the use of this tool and other similar tactics. But the strict rules and procedures seem to vanish when consent is given. Personally, I considered consent to be a generally straightforward principle in this context. If you delve deeper into this however, it is clear that ‘consent’ can be hugely problematic. We accept that when we talk about bodily integrity in cases of sexual assault for example, but I for one never really made that connection. So this event is about clarifying this further, and looking at consent from a different perspective.'

'Feminism offers a new lens to understand why policing is so resistant to change and creates ‘interest convergence,’ encouraging those who care about women’s bodily integrity and freedom from sexual harassment.' - Prof. dr. Josephine Ross

Why is this topic so important?

Joery Matthys: 'I could answer this question myself, but I thought it would be better to actually put this question to Prof. dr. Ross. Here is her answer: ‘The US is a cautionary tale. Except when a video captures officers choking a Black man to death for a minor crime (or other notorious killings), aggressive policing continues without consequences. Both American and European human rights activists seek ways to restrain police actions that demean individuals and frighten communities. Feminism offers a new lens to understand why policing is so resistant to change and creates ‘interest convergence,’ encouraging those who care about women’s bodily integrity and freedom from sexual harassment to also support the same goals for victims of unwanted police encounters.’

Why should students join this event?

Joery Matthys: 'To broaden their perspective on this topic. To see how the theories we talk about actually relate to the practice of policing. And really, in short, for all the reasons I just mentioned above.'

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