Geography in Action – Two recent events

As i have been involved in a big move from London to Boston/Brookline my attention has been to drawn to a couple of news stories in which geography, as I understand it, looms large.


A recent legal ruling in New York City cast doubt on the legality of police stop and frisk powers. The New York Civil Liberties Union tells us that these powers have been used more than 4 million times since 2002. Around 9 out of 10 of those stopped have been completely innocent of having done anything illegal. Close to 90% of these stopped were black or Latino.  This is a stark example of the politics of (im)mobility  that mirrors similar practices from London’s past with the so-called ‘sus’ laws of the 1970s. But this is not just about non-white people being stopped from moving around the city. Movement at the bodily scale was also implicated.  The New York Times reports that the Judge who has questioned the legality of the practice “noted that officers routinely stopped people partly on the basis of “furtive movements,” a category that officers have testified might encompass any of the following: being fidgety, changing directions, walking in a certain way, grabbing at a pocket or looking over one’s shoulder.” (New York Times 12 August 2013). This forms part of a long history of ‘furtive movements’ that have been policed, regulated and disciplined in the workplace, in leisure activities (such as dance), in transit spaces (such as airports) and simply moving through the city.


On arrival at Heathrow Airport, David Miranda, the partner of the Guardian journalist, Glenn Greenwald, was detained and questions without legal representation for nine hours. Glenn Greenwald had been reporting on the NSA leaks by Edward Snowden. Miranda was detained under anti-terrorism laws from 2000. Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act. There are many disturbing aspects to this incident. But one that caught my eye as a geographer was the way in which schedule 7 defines certain spaces as ones in which it is possible to detain a person for up to 9 hours without legal representation or any charges being made. It is only at airports and other border spaces that the police can act in this way. An innocent person detained in these spaces has fewer rights than an actual terrorist being detained in a police station. Anywhere else in the UK such actions would be entirely illegal. Miranda is only the most high profile person to be stopped under these laws. As with the stop and frisk laws there has been considerable concern that schedule 7 unfairly targets minority groups. Geography Matters.