Guilty Before Trial: The Image of the Criminal Migrant

World Press Photo of the Year 2013.26 February 2013, Djibouti City, Djibouti. African migrants on the shore of Djibouti city at night, raising their phones in an attempt to capture an inexpensive signal from neighboring SomaliaÑa tenuous link to relatives abroad. Djibouti is a common stop-off point for migrants in transit from such countries as Somalia, Ethiopia and Eritrea, seeking a better life in Europe and the Middle East.

I have just published a blog post at Border Criminologies, Oxford Law on images of migration.
More people and more images are in circulation today than ever before in history. The digital image and the centrality of the migrant thus mark a new period in political aesthetics. Since 2014, in particular, people have been sharing millions of digital images of the lives, travels, and deaths of migrants. For example, the image of Alan Kurdi, the dead Syrian three-year old, is now one of the most influential images of all time. An iconic photo of migrants on a beach holding their mobile phones up in the air to try and get a signal to call home won the 2014 World Press Photo Award. We think of image viewing as a passive activity separate from the legal system, but the circulation of migrant images should be taken seriously as a political act with real consequences.    
              Anti-immigrant media representations and rhetoric have proliferated—often with the effect of treating migrants as criminals before any crime has been committed.  In particular, the spread of images and rhetoric of the migrant caravan as a military ‘invasion’ of the United states have had disastrous consequences. President Trump called the caravan an ‘invasion’ and ‘an assault on our country’; the Associated Press called it an ‘army of migrants’ and tweeted about ‘a ragtag army of the poor’; and Robert Bowen murdered 11 people in a Synagogue because a Jewish refugee group supported caravan refugees. Trump even told the border patrol to shoot migrantsif they throw rocks. This aesthetic criminalization of migrants and the rise of cyber-racismhelped mobilize anti-immigrant militia groups and popular support against refugees. Now refugees are being deported from the US and detained in cages in Mexico as if they were criminals. The explicit media framing of migrants as a violent, criminal, military invasion is a an old historical tactic with a huge popular resurgence in the US and Europe…

Read the rest here.

Download pdf here.

 

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