In what’s become a springtime ritual, the Austin Police Department last month shot and killed a black man in East Austin, this time an eighteen-year-old who was sleeping in his car at the time. Davey D and the D&HH Project have video, new stories, links, and more, emphasizing the response from the people living in the area where the shooting occurred, which could fairly be called a riot: eight wounded police officers, eight damaged police cars, and a handful of arrests.
Local politicians and media put on their sad, rational faces when talking about the killing and did their usual routine about waiting until all the facts are in and what a tragedy it is for the community. Their job was made a lot easier when it was revealed that the victim, Nathaniel Sanders Jr., had been arrested a couple of times before for various crimes, including a few days earlier for robbery, giving them a chance to rehearse pieties about kids gone wrong and wasted opportunities. The implication being that we can’t rush to judgment until the investigation is complete, but the facts are also irrelevant because the kid put himself in a bad position.
In other words, what I wrote two years ago applies to this police shooting as well, but what is perhaps more prominent this time is the city’s attempt to modulate the affective response to the shooting. As the Austin Chronicle put it:
The somber mood in the council room reverberated from the grimmer scene on Springdale Road. Afterward [Mayor] Wynn briefly discussed efforts in the making to reach out to Eastside residents for “dialogue” — “beginning with the churches” — and cited the reportedly restrained response of Nathaniel Sanders Sr. to the news of his son’s death. “The father of the young man showed remarkable restraint and patience,” Wynn said. “He sets a remarkable example for us all.”
But as the videos show, there was no “grimmer scene on Springdale Road” — the scene was marked by anger, indignation, and refusal. The Chronicle decidedly adopts the point of view of the police, who were indeed grim-faced, but mischaracterizes the neighborhood’s reaction to the shooting and agrees with the mayor that “restraint and patience” are the proper emotional registers. For the city, the spontaneous riot of the politizen has to be stifled and stilled, and this is best achieved by (attempted) regulation of the affective responses to the event. Appeals to calm, rationality, and patience are, in this instance, attempts to depoliticize political actions that exceed the city’s management abilities.