If you spend enough time waiting for trains in St. Pancras International station, you will realise that there are very few trash cans. As someone whose bag has seemingly less to do with carrying “my things,” than functioning as a vessel for transporting various trash accumulated throughout the day, this lack of public bins in the station proved to be annoying, but tolerable. Often, I would aimlessly pass through the space of the station towards the abstract two-word destination, that I would sometimes quickly repeat in my head as I looked for it: “trash can”
During these frequent and seemingly ongoing wanderings, I also became familiar with the regular announcements which would be broadcasted throughout the station. At some point, the safety announcements part of the “See it. Say it. Sorted” campaign indirectly resolved why trashcans were so scarce – allowing for the blunt realisation, “right, there aren’t any trash cans because they are worried that some people might put bombs in them.”
Part of the announcement, “Please report anyone who is acting suspiciously or those who look suspicious” evokes the susceptibility of trash cans to be targets of ‘suspicious’ activity, and at the same time, confuses the ontology of suspicion. What is the discerning difference between someone who is committing a suspicious act and someone who would, therefore, be inherently suspicious? Was I a person who looked suspicious while throwing out my trash, or a suspicious person looking to throw out my trash?
Evidently, I was neither. Throughout my daily commutes via the station, I was never alerted by anyone on the occasions in which I emptied my bag in the suspicious fashion of holding it up from the bottom and directly funnelling debris into the bin – nor for simply being ontologically suspicious. Perhaps if it were 1981, during the intense IRA bombing campaign of that year, which actually led to the reduction of public trash cans throughout London Underground stations, I, or someone like myself who immigrated to the UK from the US with an Irish passport, would tick the boxes for being a “suspicious” person. However, I fear that the type of profiling which is currently engendered by TFL’s announcement, is far more prevalent and sinister than the past hypothetical one I’ve conjured in regards to my own nationality.
Parsing through the TFL statement; there are people whose actions are singularly their own; and others, whose vulnerable identities are essentialized, mutilated, and framed to fit within a predetermined fear-mongering narrative. Since TFL doesn’t outright specify these naturally suspicious people, it accommodates for coded prejudices according to the prevailing shared social bias and discrimination of the day. Consequently, to say something here along the lines that TFL needlessly vindicates migrants and Muslims through its public safety announcements, would not have immediate journalistic footing. So I guess until there is a strong dissident response to this kind of cryptic subjugation, we can continue to think about these villainized silhouettes during the extended period of time while searching for that far between trash can.