In Sri Lanka, A Perpetrator State Demands Non-Violence

By Vindhya Buthpitiya. April is a month of celebration in Sri Lanka, marking the beginning of the astrological new year. This April, the mood in Vavuniya remained, as it has for many years, not one of merriment but frustration and despair. On the 14th, New Year’s Day, the Tamil families of the disappeared marked 1881 days of continuous protest. ...

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  • In Sri Lanka, A Perpetrator State Demands Non-Violence
    By Vindhya Buthpitiya. April is a month of celebration in Sri Lanka, marking the beginning of the astrological new year. This April, the mood in Vavuniya remained, as it has for many years, not one of merriment but frustration and despair. On the 14th, New Year’s Day, the Tamil families of the disappeared marked 1881 days of continuous protest.
  • Three Weeks of Urban Warfare in Ukraine
    By Samir Puri – The argument that cities have become the main battleground in armed conflicts has been granted further credence in the first three weeks of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Russia’s armed forces have advanced via three main axes of attack into north, east and south Ukraine. As of 16 March, Russia’s advance on Kyiv comprised of three components in a bid to approach the capital city from multiple angles. Russian forces also sought to envelop Ukraine’s second city, Kharkiv; to overwhelm the southern cities of Mariupol and Kherson; and to expand the separatist republics that are centred around the cities of Donetsk and Luhansk.
  • Gang Entry and Exit in Cape Town: Getting Beyond The Streets in Africa’s Deadliest City
    In a different life Patrick could have inherited a criminal empire. “Growing up, gangs were kind of in my blood. My family, all of my uncles – my mothers’ brothers – my grandpa and his brothers they were all part of this gang”, said the 29-year-old former member of the Laughing Boys. His family founded and still holds considerable sway in the gang. “I grew up believing this is the way of life for me and my family”, he said. The Laughing Boys are one of a hundred or so gangs fighting to control lucrative drug markets in Cape Town, South Africa. Most gangs in the city can be found in poor, under-serviced, and segregated township communities like Patrick’s.
  • Police, Provocation, and Politics: Perspectives from Istanbul
    By Deniz Yonucu – The puzzle addressed by Police, Provocation, Politics was sparked by the coexistence since the mid-2000s in Istanbul’s racialized and dissident working-class neighborhoods of intense police surveillance and militarized spatial control alongside armed and masked revolutionary vigilante activities and gang activities. In this book, I ask, what are the conditions that have made this conflictual and yet long-enduring coexistence possible?
  • We Can’t Give the Police What We Don’t Have: A reflection on policing in contemporary South Africa
    By Ziyanda Stuurman 3 February, 2022 The South African Police Service (SAPS) is in perpetual crisis. In what is often described as the most unequal country in the world, the police service that reformed from a police force with a long and brutal colonial and Apartheid past, now struggles to prevent and investigate crime. In Read more
  • Moving Cocaine from the Field to the Streets: The cocaine supply chain in the Americas
    There is a clear relationship between the expansion of unfettered free markets and participation in the drug trade. Neoliberal policies have led to increasing inequality, insecurity, and a general deterioration of quality of life for the poor and working classes in Latin America. With few other options for survival, these people are easy recruits into the drug trade.  The cocaine trade integrates marginalized territories that have been abandoned by the state into global markets and acts as a driver of development.
  • Have cities become the main battlegrounds in armed conflicts?
    As the recent takeover by the Taliban in Afghanistan unfolded, Afghan cities featured prominently in the reporting. City after city, and finally the capital Kabul, fell into the hands of the Taliban. In many cases, these takeovers happened without major violence or resistance from the security forces of the former government. But Afghan cities have also been arenas for large-scale fighting and attacks during the war between the internationally-supported former government and the Afghan Taliban. This violence has included terror attacks against civilian targets, a form of violent tactic that often targets cities. Recent wars in Ukraine and Syria have similarly seen major battles in cities. Examples like these, as well as broader debates in the literature on urban violence, suggest that cities are increasingly becoming the main battlegrounds in contemporary armed conflict. However, is there evidence to support this analysis?
  • The Honduras National Party: A Criminal Federation?
    In November 2021, Honduras will be electing a new president and possibly a new party to rule the Central American country for the next four years. The two main political parties –the ruling National Party (PNH) and the opposing Liberal Party (PL)– are currently plagued by allegations of corruption and organized crime.
  • The Making of Los Plebes
    By Eduardo Giralt September 22, 2021 Eduardo Giralt is a Venezuelan film-maker and director. He is the co-director of the recent documentary, ‘Los Plebes’ (2021), that tells the story of a young group of Mexican sicarios and their lives with drug cartels. This blog accompanies our Street Talk interview with Giralt that can be viewed Read more
  • Never-ending pacification: Negotiated order-making at Brazil’s urban margins
    Between 2008 and 2016, the state authorities of Rio de Janeiro rolled out a programme of “police pacification” across many of the city’s favelas (informal settlements). The programme sought to establish permanent police presence in these territories, which had long been key operating sites for the city’s three major drug trafficking factions (the ‘Red Command’, ‘Third Command’ and ‘Friends of Friends’). The stated aims were to reduce the violence linked to Rio de Janeiro’s drug trade and weaken the traffickers’ control in the favelas: both were presented as pre-conditions for allowing the state to operate more effectively within them and improve public security across the wider city. Whether consciously or not, the name chosen for the programme invoked a long and global history.
  • On French policing, racial inequalities, and the République: making race in the colorblind matrix
    Energized by the echo of Black Lives Matter, French protests against police violence and racism reached new levels last summer. As Assa Traoré, now a national figure of the fight for racial justice, claimed resonance between George Floyd’s killing and the death of her brother in police custody, elected officials took a strong stance in reaffirming that comparing the two events was impossible. ‘France is not the United States’, declared ex-Interior Minister Christophe Castaner. Behind this assertion is a popular French belief that, while the American nation is prone to systemic racism due to the legacies of slavery, French acts of racism only fall under the category of individual behaviour. France, somehow protected by its Republican ideal that disregards differences in order to ensure equal treatment, would be spared from institutional forms of racism.
  • Xi Jinping’s “Sweeping Black” Campaign
    In 2018, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) launched a nationwide “Sweeping Black” (saohei chu’er) campaign aimed at rooting out corrupt grassroots officials who provide “protection umbrellas” to the mafias and criminal organizations. The campaign received such great attention that it had been dubbed one of President Xi Jinping’s signature campaign to shore up the Party’s legitimacy and resuscitate eroded public confidence
  • The Pandemic and Southeast Asia’s Illicit Drug Economies
    A year has passed since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Narratives of change and transformation prevail in our ways of explaining the pandemic’s significance and impact. However, one activity that appears to defy this perspective is the illicit drug economy of Southeast Asia.
  • The Micro-Geopolitics of Organised Crime: A Framework to Read Criminal Groups in the 21st Century
    Not long after Mexican president Felipe Calderón launched a strategy to counter organised crime in 2006, Mexico’s criminal underworld experienced drastic changes. It became more violent and polymorphous, small organisations multiplied while becoming more localised, and it started drawing income from a range of markets rather than one single criminal enterprise such as drug-dealing.
  • The Militia Challenge in Cities
    Militias are a widespread phenomenon across the developing world, from medium-income countries in Latin America and Africa to war-torn ones such as Afghanistan and Iraq.
  • A Confused State: The Lessons of Ayotzinapa
    “Fue el estado.” It was the state: that was the cry that emerged in the days after 43 students were disappeared in the city of Iguala on September 26, 2014. In the years since, it has remained a rhetorical pillar of protest and activism, an accusation loaded with historical significance and political consequence. But what, exactly, did the state do? What, even, do we mean when we talk about the state? These questions challenge many broad assumptions about organized crime and violence in Mexico and the relationship between criminals and state actors.
  • Cells, groups and support networks: urban battles in Colombian cities
    Images of the Colombian conflict are usually framed by scenes of jungles, mountains and remote rural areas, but rarely of urban spaces. These images might sell the idea that cities are spaces with little relation to conflict, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Back in September, after the peak of the pandemic, the streets in several Colombian cities were lit on fire by popular protests, vandalism and the usual brutal response from the police.
  • Prisoners, family, and the pandemic in Brazil
    By Renan Araújo November 9, 2020 The consequences of punishment go far beyond an individual in custody. On a macro level, when considering a criminal justice system’s disproportionate targeting of minorities, its effects are influential enough to define the livelihoods of entire ethnic groups. For example, in the United States, African-Americans are incarcerated in state Read more
  • Why Nigeria’s Youth Are Protesting for Police Reform
    “Police Is Your Friend.” Nigerians say this slogan of the Nigeria Police Force (NPF), which polices the country’s 200 million people, with laughter and resigned frustration. Decades of NPF misconduct and ineffectiveness understandably have led many Nigerians to view the police with skepticism. On October 8, the tensions boiled over into nationwide protests after a video showed police officers shooting a man outside a hotel in Lagos–Nigeria’s commercial capital and home to more than 13 million people.
  • Neither ‘Power Vacuum’ nor ‘Criminal Anarchy’: Colombia’s Peace Meltdown
    In the last month, a spike in massacres has shocked Colombians. Despite Colombia recently registering its lowest homicide rate in the last 46 years, massacres – defined by the UN as the killing of three or more people in a single incident – have increased by roughly 30% since President Ivan Duque took office in 2018.
  • Smaller Prisons are Smarter
    By David Skarbek September 15, 2020 There is a growing consensus across the political spectrum that the United States incarcerates far too many people and that this has tragic and unjust consequences that fall disproportionately on socioeconomically disadvantaged groups and minority communities. Yet, not only do we lock up too many people, but all too Read more
  • Brazil’s Primeiro Comando da Capital (PCC) Takes Flight
    By Ryan Berg July 18, 2020 The coronavirus pandemic is causing tectonic shifts in Latin America’s organized crime landscape. Weak state institutions provide criminal groups an opportunity to fill voids of socioeconomic and security provision, while homicide rates have soared in several countries as groups contest territory and police presence has waned (or been directed Read more
  • Criminal Governance in the Time of COVID-19
    In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, multiple news outlets, think tanks, public intellectuals, and academics have reported and reflected on its impact on criminal governance. Even before these unusual times, criminal governance was a topic of growing importance in the research agendas of many social sciences and regularly grabbed the attention of media outlets. Yet, despite the numerous academic articles and journalistic works on the topic, it is often not clear what exactly the term ‘criminal governance’ means.
  • Why Violence Does Not Work for Social Movements
    Even though violence is not endorsed by most activists and Black Lives Matter supporters, important questions are raised about the link between violence and social movement outcomes. Social scientists have long had an interest in related questions: “Does it matter? Do violent protests get activists what they want?”
  • On Protests and Policing: A Conversation with Cathy Lisa Schneider
    In a special interview, UVRN spoke to Professor Cathy Lisa Schneider, author of ‘Police Power and Race Riots: Urban Unrest in Paris and New York’ about her research on policing and the current wave of protests following the murder of George Floyd.
  • Reconsidering The Streets: Making and Breaking Street Culture in Cape Town
    Cape Town is one of the world’s deadliest cities. The vast majority of the killing takes place in its townships, some just a short drive away from the stylish city centre. Turf wars, revenge killings, and gang initiations contribute to an average of more than two gangland murders per day – about one third of all homicides in and around the city.
  • When urban violence enters your home: testimonies from Caracas, Venezuela
    “I have known about many homicides that have occurred during this quarantine, especially among young people. Just a few days ago, a young man was thrown off a building from the eighth floor because of a family row. Also, two young men were killed by state security forces”. (Testimony from a community leader in western Caracas when asked about violence during the ongoing COVID-19 emergency).
  • Montevideo: Between violence and urban fragmentation
    Uruguay currently suffers from the highest levels of insecurity and crime in the country’s recent history. Data prior to the 2002 economic crisis shows that structural factors such as unemployment and poverty were closely associated with the increase in crime in the period 1986-2002. However, between 2004 and 2015, Uruguay has made progress in the social and economic dimensions and has reduced its levels of poverty and inequality measured in real terms. This, however, happened alongside an increase in crime rates. The link between structural variables and crime seems not to be as linear as it had been claimed and is questioned both by academics and policymakers. This article argues that other causes – namely, drug trafficking and urban fragmentation – have influenced the increase of crime, and specifically of homicides, in Uruguay.
  • Rule, support and buy: Making sense of Mafia strategies in the COVID-19 aftermath
    While COVID-19 continues to spread across the world, analysts and scholars grow increasingly more focused on the so-called “phase 2” of the pandemic: the one of reopening after the lockdown period. What we surely know so far about phase 2 is that it will be characterised by a serious economic crisis (similar in impact to the 1929 Great Depression, according to some) and, potentially, by a consequent criminal infiltration in the formal economy. Italy finds itself under the spotlight not only as one of the worst hit countries by the health crisis itself, but also as the homeland of what is arguably one of the oldest criminal organisations in the history of humankind: the Mafias. In this post, I will analyse the role of Mafias in the actual crisis and outline its potential development in the aftermath of the pandemic, with an exclusive focus on Mafias’ activities in Italy.
  • From Managua to Cape Town – dealing drugs in the time of COVID-19
    From individual local initiatives all over the world to the one million people volunteering to support the National Health Service in the UK, there have been many uplifting stories about people coming together and helping each other as COVID-19 continues to spread across the world. Some of these initiatives have however been surprising. This for example includes the case of drug-trafficking gangs in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, who have helped impose lockdown curfews in the city’s poor favelas. Their justification for this has been that “we’re imposing a curfew because nobody is taking this [pandemic] seriously”, something that some have welcomed in the face of the Bolsonaro government’s disastrous response to COVID-19.
  • Urban Violence and Southern Theory During the Pandemic
    by Roxana Pessoa Cavalcanti 1 May 2020 We are in the middle of a global pandemic. It is a sunny day here in the UK but the emotions around us are disjointed from the beauty of spring: fear, panic, sadness and anxiety mixed with a dose of hope. My children are being ‘home-schooled’ during the Read more
  • Why Coronavirus gives organized crime momentum to shine and flourish
    In late March 2020, amidst the global crisis caused by the spread of the novel coronavirus COVID-19, organized crime groups began to make headlines as caring social actors in their communities. In Southern Italy, local mafias acted as alternative social welfare-providers by financially supporting businesses that faced bankruptcy caused by Coronavirus-related lockdowns and by providing free groceries to communities. In several Brazilian favelas, gangs and militias took matters into their own hands, spreading information on curfews and other restrictions via social media and patrolling the streets to ensure compliance with the curfew.
  • Criminal governance during the COVID-19 lockdown in Mexico
    Experts are wondering how the implementation of curfews and lockdowns around the world will affect criminal governance in countries with a persistent presence of organised crime. In the case of Mexico, the effects are yet to be seen, but some events are signalling that criminal governance may strengthen in some regions of the country.
  • Prison Violence as Urban Violence
    By Andrea Varsori 4 April 2020 Introduction The current Covid-19 pandemic is likely to have wide-ranging impact on most academic fields within the social sciences. The study of urban and criminal violence is similarly likely to be affected. With economic and social activities coming to a standstill across cities, some criminal and insurgent groups see Read more
  • Contesting Peace in the Postwar City
    By Ivan Gusic 26 February 2020 Postwar cities – i.e. cities which no longer experience war yet are still socio-politically contested – tend to be one of the most entrenched and volatile flash-points when societies transition from war to peace. These cities are often dangerous for citizens to live in; they tend to function either Read more
  • Thomas Abt – a Bold New Plan for Peace in the Streets
    An interview with Thomas Abt, author of Bleeding Out: The Devastating Consequences of Urban Violence – and a Bold New Plan for Peace in the Streets.
  • Navigating Dahiyeh: Security in Lebanon’s Southern Suburbs
    By Kelly Stedem. In this piece, I show how Hizbullah polices its neighborhoods, providing security and protection to local residents, while simultaneously undermining the role of the state in providing such security services. Insights into the local provision of policing are based on eight months of fieldwork conducted between 2017 and 2019, as well as observations made while working for local NGOs in South Beirut between 2011 and 2014.
  • Medicalizing Conflict – The Risks of Public Health-Based Approaches to Conflict Resolution
    By Malte Riemann and Norma Rossi 10 November 2019 Medical approaches to violence prevention are progressively being adopted by various governmental and non-governmental actors around the globe. For example, the World Health Organization has made violence ‘a public health priority’ and centered its global strategy for violence prevention around the public health model; the World Read more
  • Chile: A tale of two countries
    By Lucía Dammert. Why have the Chileans taken to the streets? Chile has been a model for many Latin American countries. After 17 years of a cruel dictatorship, the Chilean political elite developed a democratic process that lowered poverty rates, consolidated economic growth and modernized urban infrastructure. However, during democratization the so-called
  • Rage Against the Sectarian Machine
    By Sara Fregonese. Lebanon’s protesters have looked beyond sectarianism. Now the state is closing its ranks.
  • Ethnography as ‘Risky Business’
    By Kees Koonings, Dirk Kruijt, and Dennis Rodgers. Ethnography is an inherently rewarding but at the same time ‘risky’ research methodology: ‘high risk, high gain’. It is fraught with uncertainties, practical obstacles, challenges and pitfalls. Ethnographic researchers are unsure (or cannot and should not know beforehand) how it will work out and with what results.
  • Ethnography and violence
    By Dennis Rodgers and Gareth A. Jones. Violence is a phenomenon that sheds bright light on the particularities of the relationship between ethnography as method and as writing. On the one hand, the methodological nature of ethnography means that ethnographers are inevitably forced to take on greater than normal moral and physical …
  • Can soldiers solve Brazil’s crime problem?
    By Christoph Harig. Governments across the globe try to counter violent crime by deploying military forces. European countries such as Belgium and France have stepped up their armed forces’ internal anti-terror and policing role. Only recently, South Africa deployed troops in order to ‘help the police “restore law and maintain order”’ in …
  • Evictions as Urban Violence: Karachi’s Violent Planning Regime
    A child crawls on a pile of rubble that was formerly his home in Machar Colony, an informal settlement located in Karachi’s District West. Trapped by the debris and violence wrought on by Karachi’s latest evictions.
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