Anders Haahr Rasmussens blog

Om skrammel og umenneskeliggørelse

Til alle, der måtte lægge vejen forbi New York, kan jeg anbefale et besøg på Beauty Bar på 14th street, især mellem kl. 18 og 23, hvor man kan få sig en pænt stærk cocktail og en manicure for sølle 10 dollar. Sådan en omgang fik jeg i går, og mens jeg sad der med min vermouth-grand marnier-whiskey on the rocks og fik pudset fingrene, fortalte min veninde Cecilia mig om Collyer-brødrene, Homer og Langley, der levede sammen i New York i første halvdel af det 20. århundrede og samlede ufattelige mængder skrammel i deres lejlighed i Harlem, hvor de flyttende ind i 1909 og boede til de døde i 1947. På det tidspunkt var Homer blind, plaget af gigt og således bundet til sengen, hvor Langley bragte ham mad, især appelsiner, hundredvis af appelsiner hver uge, i et forsøg på at få hans syn tilbage. Der skete så det, at Langley snublede en dag, han var i færd med at bringe Homer mad. Det satte gang i en lavine af skrammel (brødrene havde samlet godt 180 tons sammen), der begravede Langley. Homer endte med at sulte ihjel, og politiet endte med at lede byen rundt efter Langley i tre uger, indtil de fandt hans rottegnavede lig under dynger af gammel skrammel få meter fra, hvor de havde fundet Homer. Den dag i dag, 65 år senere, er det stadig sådan, at brandmænd i New York bruger udtrykket en 'Collyer', når de bliver kaldt ud til en overfyldt lejlighed.

Det fortalte Cecilia, hvortil manicuristen sagde, at hun var glad, så længe de ikke brugte forkortelsen NHI. Den brød hun sig ikke om. NHI, fortalte hun, står for No Humans Involved og skulle være en forkortelse anvendt af politiet i forbindelse med forbrydelser med ofre, der enten er prostituerede, kriminelle eller på anden måde tilhørende samfundets periferi.

Det lød ærlig talt for gyseligt til at være sandt, så nu har jeg siddet og søgt lidt rundt omkring, og det viser sig at være rigtig nok. For eksempel kom det frem i forbindelse med Rodney King-sagen i 1991, at offentlige ansatte i Los Angeles' retsvæsen rutinemæssigt anvendte NHI-forkortelsen, når der var tale om krænkelser af unge sorte mænds rettigheder. Ifølge et essay, The Endless Dream Game of Death af Luis Rodriguez, begyndte politibetjente hos LAPD tilbage i 1980'erne at bruge udtrykket som en måde at negligere ofrene for voldelige optøjer mellem bander. 

En databasegennemgang af akademiske jura-artikler viser, at udtrykket er blevet brugt "not only as a racist 'code word', but also in reference to any people not regarded as worthy of 'personhood' – prostitute rape victims, extremely violent criminals in prisons, etc."

NHI optræder sågar i Oxford English Dictionary fra 1973: "U.S. Police slang no humans involved, an informal classification assigned to a crime giving it low priority because its victim is regarded as having a low social status."

En kunstnergruppe i San Diego lavede i 1992 en række udstillinger og begivenheder under navnet NHI - No Humans Involved som en reaktion på en lang række mord, 45 i alt, der fandt sted i Sand Diego mellem 1985 og 1992, kendt som "The Prostitute Murders". I 1990 bekræftede en politibetjent over for avisen Sacramento Bee, at mordene ikke blev taget så alvorligt af myndighederne: "These were misdemeanor murders, biker women and hookers. We'd call them NHI's -- no humans involved."

Under en performance i et galleri bekræftede både en politibetjent og en ambulancelæge i gæstebogen, at NHI-forkortelsen stadig blev brugt. Politibetjenten beskrev, hvordan han var blevet instrueret i at ignorere menneskeligheden hos ofre fra livets "mørke sider".

Alt det her satte gang i en masse tanker, også i forhold til hvorvidt NHI-tankegangen kan overføres til en dansk kontekst. Fx bor jeg til hverdag på Nørrebro og tænker på, hvordan ofrene for de mange skyderier og overfald, der har været de senere år, er blevet dækket af medierne og sådan set også opfattet af mig selv som noget, der ikke rigtig vedkommer mig, og ikke rigtig påvirker mig. Jeg tænker også på historier fra prostitutionsmiljøet, hvor sexarbejdere fortæller om, hvordan deres problemer med vold ikke bliver taget alvorligt af myndighederne, som tvært imod krænker kvindernes rettigheder gennem ulovlige razziaer.

Endelig kom jeg til at tænke på Judith Butler, for det slår mig, at det meste af hendes arbejde kredser om netop spørgsmålet om menneskelighed. Her opsummeret i et citat fra hendes bog Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence.

"The question that preoccupies me in the light of recent global violence is, Who counts as human? Whose lives count as lives? And, finally, What makes for a grievable life?

Butler er selvfølgelig mest berømt for sine bøger om køn, der vel kan siges at handle om, hvordan man rettelig bør gøre sit køn eller være med det for at sikre sig at blive genkendt som et fuldgyldigt menneske af ens omgivelser. Men hun har også beskæftiget sig en del med krig og Mellemøstkonflikten, og nu fandt jeg så lige det her interview fra 2003, som jeg synes er virkelig godt, både fordi hun er en hel del mere klar i mælet, end hun vanligvis er på skrift, men også fordi det taler meget direkte ind i spørgsmålet om, hvorvidt der er No Humans Involved. Ja, nu tror jeg bare jeg vil citere en hel masse fra interviewet (som fandt sted kort tid efter den amerikanskledte invasion af Irak) og så ellers stikke af uden de store forkromede konkluderende tanker. Tak for at du/I læste med.

"The question is: What are the conditions under which we find that we are responsive to other human beings? Becoming responsive—seeing or sensing suffering, responding to it. (...) what are the conditions under which we care about the conditions of life itself? Why do we care about living beings including human beings? Where or how does that happen?"

"It has to do with humanization and dehumanization. How do people become humanized, how do we come to understand them to be human beings rather than some distant entity we could never hope or desire to understand? Let me try to explain what I mean. One thing that happened post-9/11 was that The New York Times ran obituaries. They appeared in every issue, with a picture. The person was always smiling, and then there was a vignette about them or something about their families. They always had hopes and dreams and they always came from some place, had hobbies. The loss of life was viewed, then, as a real grievous loss.

I think that public grieving is a good thing. People need to be grieved; loss needs to be acknowledged publicly, because it helps to confer a sense of reality on the loss but also because it makes it known that this was a real life. Obituaries do this. The life doesn’t simply get erased. It gets imprinted and remembered. This strikes me as a dignified thing to do…

Today, I heard a radio announcer read the names of the American soldiers who had been killed. Now supposedly there are already two hundred Iraqis who are dead but we will never hear those names. We’re never even going to learn how to pronounce those names. We won’t have little vignettes, narratives about where they lived, what they were doing and what they wished for in their lives, what their deepest connections were or their most passionate loves.

I think that manipulating the terms by which lives are acknowledged as lives, and deaths as grievable is part of a kind of effort to dehumanize those to whom we do violence."

-- So that we can do violence to them without grieving!

"Yes. How can you eviscerate a life that is not considered a life? I worry about the obituary as a form of nation-building in this way. Here is a good example of what I’m getting at. An Arab Christian group in San Francisco submitted names to the San Francisco Chronicle of some Palestinians who were killed by Israeli violence. They put it in obituary form and submitted it to the paper. The Chronicle said that they couldn’t accept it without proof of death. Then the same group went and found the proof of death in Ha’aretz, which is a relatively progressive Israeli newspaper which reported these deaths. Once the proof of death was submitted, the Chronicle said, “Well, this doesn’t fit our obituary format”—no reason was given for why this was so—“but you can submit it as a memorial.” So then the same group wrote it up as a memorial and submitted it again. The submission was as follows:

In loving memory of Kamla Abu Sa’id, 42, and her daughter, Amna Abu-Sa’id, 13, both Palestinians from the El Bureij refugee camps. Kamla and her daughter were killed May 26, 2002 by Israeli troops, while working on a farm in the Gaza Strip. In loving memory of Ahmed Abu Seer, 7, a Palestinian child, he was killed in his home with bullets. Ahmed died of fatal shrapnel wounds to his heart and lung. Ahmed was a second-grader at Al-Sidaak elementary school in Nablus, he will be missed by all who knew him. In loving memory of Fatime Ibrahim Zakarna, 30, and her two children, Bassem, 4, and Suhair, 3 all Palestinian. Mother and children were killed May 6, 2002 by Israeli soldiers while picking grape leaves in a field in the Kabatiya village. They leave behind Mohammed Yussef Zukarneh, husband and father and Yasmine, daughter and age 6.

The memorial was rejected with the claim that the Chronicle was worried that if they published this memorial it would offend a certain number of their readers, that it would be publicly offensive.

This makes the point in a rather outrageous way, since it seems to me we have to ask, Under what conditions does the grieving of lives become publicly offensive?"

(...)

"It won’t do just to grieve one’s own. We need to extend our notion of who is grievable so that we are not just grieving on the basis of established identifications. Until we learn that other lives are equally grievable and have an equal demand on us to be grieved—especially the ones that we’ve helped to eliminate—I’m not sure we’ll really be on the way to overcoming the problem of dehumanization."

Ifølge Butler er det både mediers og filosoffers opgave at muliggøre denne evne til at sætte sig i andres sted:

"I think that one of the tasks of philosophy—as well as of practicers of non-violence, of internationalism, and of a responsible media—would be to engage in a serious process of cultural translation, so that we might actually have a broader conception of how human beings do make meaning in their lives and what gives their lives meaning. (...) We’re imagining the worthy life as an American life where voting is the ultimate political act and consumer freedoms are the most important freedoms."

Selv oplevede hun en form for identifikation med de irakiske ofre for invasionen, da nogle få amerikanske medier rent faktisk beskrev omstændighederne i detaljer:

"The descriptions we got, even yesterday, of the soldiers who were surrendering—what they were wearing, their old clothes, they hadn’t eaten or showered, they had old Russian rifles that don’t work very well anymore. In hearing this one could get a sense of the enormous poverty of that place and its broken infrastructure. The lights are off in Baghdad as we speak. One can’t help wondering what that is like, to live in a city without electricity, and wondering who needs the electricity for medical reasons, and what about the children whose milk is going sour. And then we hear about the dead children of Basra. Is this situation really so unthinkable to us? Do we really not, in some sense, know them? It seems to me there are certain shared conditions of existence that we have with these individuals. Grief equalizes us."

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Kommentarer

claus raunholt jensen

Der findes ikke-mennesker, hvis ansigter er gåder, som går tabt i det grå og som ikke er genstande for empati. Der er de lokale, dem man passerer - bumserne, tosserne, luderne og de skumle. Og der er de fjerne - fattige skravl i fattige lande, ofre for krig og spekulation, eksotiske fjæs med tomme øjne i et TV-indslag, som snart forsvinder.

Mennesket nægter at konfrontere sin egen død og vil ikke forbindes med det, der har et strejf eller en stank af død: Sygdom, tab, fallit, fiasko, uduelighed og pine. Derfor hader vi dem, der minder os om dette grænseland. Vi vil ikke vide af deres snavsede hænder og fortabte blikke.

Således hader vi en del af hvad vi kan blive, og er skyldige i selvforagt. Politikere, hvis sans for det der lurer er undervurderet, har ofte misbrugt denne triste tilstand. Hver gang der skal skæres i sociale ydelser, hver gang de svage skal hænges ud eller have en opsang kan de magtfulde trække på dette lager af kollektiv selvforagt.

Lise Lotte Rahbek

Måske er vi også bange for at bumsernes, tossernes, ludernes og de navnløses mangel på kontrol og prestige skal 'smitte af' på os,
hvis vi omgås dem og tager dem lige så seriøst som deres modsætninger.

Hvis vi ignorerer dem, kan vi lade somom, de ikke er der..

Steffen Gliese

Lad mig i forlængelse af denne glimrende blog anbefale DNA, årets præsentationsforestiling fra Danmarks Scenekunstskole (formerly known as Statens Teaterskole), der spiller i Skuespilhuset. Den forekommer mig i høj grad at behandle nogle af disse problemstillinger.