Donald Mitchell Examines Control Over City Streets
|Professor Donald Mitchell
Rights over control of public spaces was the subject of the lecture delivered
in West Hall on December 11 by Professor Donald Mitchell of Syracuse University.
Entitled "Pretexts, Paranoia, and Public Space: Rethinking the Right
to the City After 9/11," the talk was hosted by the Prince al Waleed
bin Talal Center for American Studies and Research (CASAR).
Mitchell's argument concerned the controversial issue of the American
law-enforcement authorities gaining legal control over city streets by
randomly banning people from certain public spaces. Mainly, he delineated
the instances of intensified monitoring of public spaces brought on by
the culture of fear and paranoia engendered by the terrorist attacks on
America in 2001.
According to Mitchell, the government of the United States has legalized
over the past few years an ever-increasing usage of public spaces, such
as skyscrapers, sports stadiums, parks, and city streets. Because the
American Constitution does not clearly stipulate that people are entitled
to access public spaces without restraint, this right has established
the extent to which police and intelligence forces may "deem certain
individuals' presence in public spaces legitimate," which encompasses
a wide variety of people performing different kinds of daily activities.
In today's America, "paranoia reigns supreme", said Mitchell.
Loiterers, strollers, black men on fatherly errands, bird watchers, mothers
with cribs, and even members of the press constitute "potential terrorist
threats" and can be promptly arrested when their presence in a public
place becomes unwelcome.
The act of trespassing after 9/11 has been redefined as a kind of "encroachment
on the authority of the state," said Mitchell, adding that all people
in America will continue, in theory, to encroach on each other's privacy
and space until their status as potential terrorists is unequivocally
resolved. He concluded that the current culture of paranoia can only be
attenuated by "fighting for a world of productive difference"
in which the right to urbanity and a city's public spaces are greatly
Mitchell, who is a Distinguished Professor of Geography at Syracuse University,
is a recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship. He is currently working on a
new project called:"Bracero: Remaking the California Landscape, 1942-1964."
His latest book, with Lynn Staeheli, The People's Property: Power, Politics,
and the Public, has just been published by Routledge.