PerspectivesA.G. Gancarski Jacksonville Today Contributor
Photo: Claire Heddles, Jacksonville Today

OPINION | ‘Discipline and punish’: the Duval way

Published on June 26, 2022 at 10:02 pm
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To the best of my knowledge, French philosopher Michel Foucault never made it to Duval County. And he likely never opined on whether the Westside truly is the best side or other historic questions of bygone times. But despite never having done Duval, Foucault seemed to understand what made the place tick.

His book Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison was predicated on a simple idea, one increasingly integral to social engineering writ large, and for the promulgation of power dynamics more specifically. Basically, surveillance was about control, and control about surveillance.

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“Visibility is a trap,” Foucault posited, a potential future slogan that fits our humble burg better than, say, “Where Florida Begins.” 

Whether you call potato wedges french fries or freedom fries, you probably can agree with ol’ Michel that if those in power “see” you, they will find a way to exact some existential revenge via a microaggression or two or 200.

We don’t have space for 200 today, however, so let’s land on a few.

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As locals have complained for a few days, the already overstretched Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office is about to lower the boom on the boom, so to speak, to subdue the subwoofers, in a bid to battle back against the noise pollution that is the pop music enjoyed by the youth. 

“Lower your radio volume! Starting July 1, 2022, Florida State Statute 316.3045 will once again become enforceable. What does this mean? It means that you will have to listen to your radio at a volume that is NOT plainly audible at a distance of 25 feet or more,” JSO tweeted. 

What does “plainly audible” mean? 

Suppose I am blasting Slim Whitman and a cop pulls me over. Is it enough for the arresting officer to say, “I heard a yodel,” or does “plainly audible” mean that the officer should be able to replicate the precise Whitmanian cadence of the frolicky vocal under oath?

These are questions for the lawyers who will snap up test cases for this state statute, perhaps here in the 4th Judicial Circuit for Melissa Nelson to handle as part of a pretextual stop somewhere in the county. I have no crystal ball. 

One must give props to JSO for messaging this law, given recent questions about affinity to the foundational document of the city. 

On the heels of former Sheriff Mike Williams’ extralegal relocation to Nassau County, a move that could have waited for the collapse of the housing market and the end of his term to complete, appointed and unelected Sheriff Pat Ivey said the provision requiring local residency from a sheriff was “obscure.”

As opposed to noise ordinance language in state statute, I guess it is. 

In addition to having cops stand outside with Mr. Microphones to see if they can hear all 101 strings of your 101 Strings Orchestra Songbook 8-track, or at least an actionable plurality thereof, the folks who run this city want to rummage through your recyclables and leave you a report card.

They can’t fill in potholes or figure out drainage but they are ready to grade your cardboard, can and plastic sorting — or whatever someone passing by might drop into your recycling bin. 

Recall the collapse of the program due to the pandemic, and also due to outsourcing operations to politically active contractors, leaving the city no bargaining recourse. Recall people taking material to the public parks. It was a real scene. 

Good thing no one left the city a report card then. 

Michel Foucault wasn’t the only person worried about being watched. Consider the somewhat more contemporaneous case of Florida Times-Union columnist Nate Monroe, who was followed around by a private investigator tied to a company once contracted by Florida Power & Light.

The company took a deep dive into Monroe’s personal history and obtained documentary evidence of him walking his dog and taking Ubers. If it could happen to him? It could happen again. 

Foucault’s Discipline and Punish had a line for that too: “Surveillance is permanent in its effects, even if it is discontinuous in its action.”

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A.G. Gancarski's columns were a staple in Folio Weekly for nearly two decades, and he has been the Northeast Florida correspondent for Florida Politics since 2014. He writes about the intersection of state and local politics and policy.

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