Sandy Speaks – in honour of Sandra Bland – is an art project/chat bot that aims to increase education and transparency about prison and surveillance
In the past two days, we’ve seen two black men killed, again, at the hands of police. Terence Crutcher and Keith Lamont Scott both lost their lives as police deemed them dangerous enough to shoot to kill. Devastatingly, it’s an increasingly familiar story. We’ve seen lives and loved ones marked by hashtags, with Philando Castile and Alton Sterling also killed just two months ago.
In July 2015, Sandra Bland’s final 90 minutes of life were spent in police custody after she was pulled over for a minor traffic violation. The stop escalated into her being arrested after a state trooper alleged she had assaulted him. She was found hanging in the Texas jail cell where she was being detained and the trooper was placed on administrative leave for failing to follow police procedures.
Sadly, Terence, Keith, Philando, Alton and Sandra won’t be the last people to suffer at the hands of police brutality, and for anyone who is faced with this, the question 'what are my rights?’ is likely the first thought in their head.
American Artist is a New York artist who makes work about culture and technology in America, he also officially changed their birth name as “both a declaration and an erasure”. As part of New Hive’s just launched, three-week series of net art and editorial commissions that explore topics such as privacy, surveillance, and prison reform, American Artist has created a chatbot named Sandy Speaks. The bot is programmed to respond to questions from computer users about prison statistics, state surveillance strategies, and the failure of surveillance in cases like Bland.
In an artist’s statement, American Artist writes, "The conflictual relationship between United States law enforcement and the public is mediated through surveillance. In lieu of strategies such as dash cams, body cams, and pedestrian cell phone footage – sold as strategies to keep police officers under control – police brutality and lethal use of force has escalated.
"Sophisticated technologies may be implemented in an effort to proliferate documentation of police behaviour, but ultimately this footage is within the control of those who seek to protect their own interests."
The artist encourages users to ask questions about Bland as well as prisons and surveillance, such as: What can you tell me about prison?, What about surveillance? How do I know if I'm detained?, How do I know if I'm free to go? What is Black Lives Matter?, What is racial discrimination?, What is police brutality? Am I required to put out my cigarette if I get pulled over? What are my rights if I get arrested?, Can I film police? All of which are answered by the bot.
“Had Sandra been able to live tweet her time in jail, or to make a cell phone video from inside the jail, what insight would she offer to the facts of her case, and how would she advise people of colour in order to survive in a police state after her experience?” – American Artist
"Thinking about how to frame a work around her transition from hyper-visibility during her arrest to tragic invisibility at her time of death I imagined what Sandra would have said during her time in jail had she been granted a level of exposure similar to that which was applied to her encounter with the police,” explained American Artist. "Had Sandra been able to live tweet her time in jail, or to make a cell phone video from inside the jail, what insight would she offer to the facts of her case, and how would she advise people of colour in order to survive in a police state after her experience?”
The bot and project are named after Bland’s YouTube videos, “Sandy Speaks”, in which she often discussed and educated viewers on police brutality and the Black Lives Matter campaign, as well as the harassment of people of colour by police. The bot also borrows Bland’s greeting of "Good Morning Kings and Queens!” as it attempts to pick up where she left off. Fascinatingly, the more questions asked of Sandy Speaks in the session, the more intelligent the bot becomes, learning with each question. "As she receives those questions, she will acquire new answers,” said American Artist. "As such, it represents the beginning of a larger conversation between the public and law enforcement. The beginning of the conversation won't be smooth, but rather awkward because society is still learning the kinds of questions it should be asking and what level of transparency it is entitled to demand. And Sandy Speaks is still learning how to respond."
Ask Sandy Speaks questions below: