Even before the algorithmic predictions we have today, predictive guilt has been a cornerstone of police work. In the Supreme Court’s decision in the case of Terry v. Ohio, the court ruled that “a police officer may stop a suspect on the street and frisk him or her without probable cause to arrest, if the police officer has a reasonable suspicion that the person has committed, is committing, or is about to commit a crime and has a reasonable belief that the person ‘may be armed and presently dangerous.’”56 A 2010 report titled Platform for Prejudice explains that the Nationwide Suspicious Activity Reporting Initiative “reflects the new philosophy called Intelligence-Led Policing. The term itself is misleading. Pre-Emptive Policing, the more accurate term, emphasizes surveillance and seizures of individuals before a criminal ‘predicate’ exists.” While some, including the authors of this report, may note that pre-emptive policing is hardly “compatible with American Constitutional principles such as the presumption of innocence and the warrant requirement,” we can also consider how, as Simone Browne has shown, the practice is consistent with the long history of racial surveillance endured by Black people.57
Forensic DNA phenotyping, in turn, gives officers license to suspect anyone who fits the generic description of the image. As Stanford bioethicist Pamela Sankar cautions, “[i]t seems possible that instead of making suspect searches more exact, the vagueness of FDP descriptions might make them more vulnerable to stereotyping. Of course, the same might be said of most descriptions the police are handed when it comes to certain suspects. Other descriptions, however, are not based on genetics.”58 That is, when the bias is routed through technoscience and coded “scientific” and “objective,” a key feature of the New Jim Code, it becomes even more difficult to challenge it and to hold individuals and institutions accountable.
And yet, as Britt Rusert so poignantly chronicles in Fugitive Science: Empiricism and Freedom in Early African American Culture, Black scientists, scholars, and artists have resisted and subverted racist science at every turn. Their radical empiricism takes special issue with the visual dimensions of scientific racism, producing a counterarchive that offers “competing visual evidence” of Black humanity and sociality and refuting the derogatory images of scientific writings and the popular press alike. Drawing upon Shawn Michelle Smith’s discussion of the “scopic regime” that supported scientific racism, Rusert demonstrates that “[t]he ground of the visual became a key site upon which African Americans waged their battle against racist science, print, and popular culture in the 1830s and 1840s.”59 And the battle still rages!
Racial representations engineered through algorithmic codes should be understood as part of a much longer visual archive. The proliferation of digitized racial visions, from HP’s blurry blackness to Google’s gorilla tags, is also an occasion for the creation of subversive countercodings. After it was revealed that the Miami Police Department used images of Black men for target practice, a movement of clergy and other activists initiated the hashtag #UseMeInstead circulating their own, predominantly White photos. In another form of subversive visualization, activists called out the way media outlets circulate unflattering photos of Black youths murdered by police or White vigilantes. They used the hashtag #IfTheyGunnedMeDown and asked the question “Which one would they use?” with dueling photos of themselves looking stereotypically “thuggish” (e.g. not smiling, wearing a hoodie, throwing up hand signs, smoking, or holding alcohol) and “respectable” (e.g. smiling, wearing a graduation gown or suit, playing with a baby, or wearing a military uniform).