US Policing and the State

In this blog, I synthesize multiple theories in order to produce an approach to policing sufficient to understanding police violence in contemporary US American society. While much of this approach sufficiently describes policing in neoliberal democracies generally, the unique history of the United States colors policing in specific ways.

Along the way, I will address Max Weber’s definition of the state, Mark Neocleous on the fabrication of social order, W.E.B. Dubois and Joel Olson on the color line, Martinot and Butler on sovereignty, and finally Walter Benjamin and Giorgio Agamben on states of exception.

My attempt with this blog is to communicate an approach to policing that operates in my research, but to do so for a more general audience. I understand that by appropriating the language from political theorists, sociologists and philosophers, and by attending to the origins of the ideas discussed here, the blog might be received as intimidating. I hope readers who are put off by this style of attribution will be so generous as to disregard some of the stylistic decisions I’ve made to be in both worlds, academic and public alike. These two worlds aren’t so separate. Many criticisms of the former result from a reactionary anti-intellectualism, and yet it is fair for some readers to approach citational writing as alien. Also, the suggestion that public communication not be intellectual in orientation is to presume too little of the many publics among whom this material will likely be relevant.

A Monopoly on Violence

Policing has been defined very broadly as the administration and enforcement of law with the latent authorization to use violent force in doing so. Continue reading

Troy Police Under Investigation for Pattern of Civil Rights Violations

A January 25, 2014, police riot in a bar in Troy, NY, was documented on video by numerous indoor security cameras, street-level surveillance cameras, and cell phones. They show Troy police enter the Kokopellis night club as it was closing. After an argument with a patron, Roshawon Donley, an officer pushed and then punched Donley. Other officers joined the first in then beating Donley with batons.

As most remaining patrons rushed for the exit, another group of officers began beating them with batons, many to the back and back of the head as they fled. At least a dozen patrons are seen in videos being struck with batons by police, some to the head. As such, these mostly white officers were randomly using deadly force recklessly and randomly against a crowd comprised almost exclusively of people of color.

Using surveillance footage to identify the man, police arrested Karif Burns weeks after the incident. The video shows him grabbing the baton of an officer who was beating him, seemingly trying to prevent the continuation of the deadly force against him used by an officer. For this, he was charged with attempted burglary.

But the January 25 police riot was the tip of the iceberg. A letter to the Department of Justice, signed by the pastors of the Troy African American Pastoral Alliance, the director of the Center for Law and Justice, and this author identified this as a pattern of brutality and civil rights violations.

A rundown of some of the documented and publicly known cases of police violence in Troy include:

  • In 2008, multiple Troy PD officers, including William Bowles and Jeffrey Hoover, repeated beat with fists, batons, and flashlights Jamel Dewitt and Marquese Devon Hill. The officers claimed Hill’s criminal record was reason enough to beat him so brutally, even though he was unarmed and not actively resisting.
  • In 2010, Troy PD officers were beating Shakim Miller while James Foley recorded the incident with his cell phone. Troy Officer Pollay attacked Foley, causing numerous serious injuries, including broken bones. Foley later sued the officer, winning a $90,000 settlement. Troy Police Officers Christopher Pollay, Charles Castle, Joseph McNall and George Anderson were all involved in this case. During the case, Troy Police Chief Tedesco acknowledged a pattern of misconduct and requested an investigation.
  • Also in 2010, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute student, Nicholas Nigro, was filming from his front porch a violent arrest arrest of Luis M. Lluberes by Troy PD officers Brandon Cipperly, Charles Castle, William Fitch and Justin Ashe. ”He was down on the ground and they were taking turns hitting him three times in the back of the head,” Nigro said. ”One of the officers also bare-fisted punched him in the face and people were yelling at them to stop.”
  • In 2011, John Larkins was thrown to the ground, tasered, and arrested. While cuffed inside a police cruiser, he was pepper sprayed. The officers involved include Justin Ashe, Derrick Comitale and Martin Furciniti. This was a result of a false arrest at a hospital on charges for which he was later acquitted. This use of force was ruled justifiable by internal investigators, and Troy Mayor Rosamilia pledged “vigorously defending against [the open complaint filed by Larkins].”
  • In 2012, Brian Houle was severely beaten at his home by Troy PD Officer Kyle Jones following an argument between the two on Facebook. The officer arrived at Houle’s house in uniform, on duty, and in a police cruiser. Despite receiving numerous injuries following the unauthorized entry of the officer onto Houle’s property, the internal investigation ruled this was an acceptable use of the officer’s authority and physical force.
  • In March 2013, Jordan Novak was thrown into a police cruiser by Troy PD Officer Isaac Bertos. Novak was charged with a felony for denting the police cruiser and other malicious charges.
  • In July 2013, Officer Bertos attacked Robert Washington, beating and using a Taser on him. Washington was maliciously prosecuted with a felony and other crimes for this, for which he was recently exonerated.
  • In August 2013, Troy PD officers punched and kicked Samuel Ratley and Malcolm Watson during a video-documented altercation. Watson claims the violence was initiated by the police, and the video shows escalating aggression from the officers.
  • In October 2013, Hudson Valley Community College student, Archie Davis, was accused of jaywalking and using offensive language, for which (yes, again) Officer Bertos tackled, punched in the ribs and eye and Tasered him. Davis is suing the department. Bertos joined the force in 2009, and has now been named in at least three excessive force lawsuits.
  • In December 2013, Lawrence Nesmith was beaten by Troy PD Officer Sean McMahon in a holding cell at the Troy Police Department. City officials have defended the actions of the officers involved despite community demand for further investigation and for public release of the surveillance footage of the incident.

This week, the US Department of Justice responded to the call for an investigation. Working in conjunction with the the FBI, Troy PD files on most or all of the above cases (and perhaps others) were collected.

During a February 2014 Public Safety Board meeting, Police Chief Tedesco claimed all use of force incidents are documented and investigated. If this indeed the case, the FBI and DOJ are likely to find in this paper trail a significant pattern of offensive and criminal use of force against residents of and visitors to Troy, NY, and particularly among people of color. Importantly, this paper trail will document a criminal degree of supervisory complicity in these civil rights violations, covering them up, impeding discipline, and ultimately condoning these and future abuses to the civil rights and bodies of residents of and visitors to Troy, and particularly among people of color.

While this is a positive step forward, what is the best assurance of lasting change is a community-level, autonomous and yet fully authorized independent investigation into this pattern of brutality, the Troy PD use of force policy and related investigatory processes, and into these individual cases.

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A Categorical Denial of Public Oversight of Police

Certifying Brutality

In the weeks since Roshawon Donley and others were brutally beaten by Troy Police officers, Troy city and policing officials have taken many opportunities to speak about the events. Routinely, they have described the officers’ actions on the scene as necessary, within department policy, and lawful. As shown in the video below, Police Commissioner Magnetto went so far as to say that were the same situation to happen again, he would wish for police to respond exactly as they did — by beating at least half a dozen patrons with baton strikes, including blows to the head.

A Department of Justice report from 2011 explains the current trends in use of force policies in US municipal and other law enforcement departments. “Most agencies do not allow baton use until the subject threatens the officer by assuming the boxer’s stance.” Policies informed by current research in use of force outcomes, criminal and civil case law classify baton strikes to the head and other areas of the body as deadly force. A model DOJ use of force policy states unequivocally that “deadly force is not limited to the use of firearms” and includes baton strikes to the “head, neck, sternum, spine, groin, or kidneys” and lists this use of force among ramming with a car and firearm use. The DOJ makes clear, “A subject who poses no imminent threat will not be struck with a baton or impact tool … During non-deadly force incidents, officers will use reasonable care to avoid striking suspects on the head, neck, sternum, spine, groin, or kidneys, as these strikes may constitute deadly force.”

It is rather clear that Federal standards for municipal and other policing differ widely from the activities officials in Troy wish to certify and advocate as standard practice. They echo a common sentiment among police. A US Department of Justice report found that about half of police agree, “Always following the rules is not compatible with getting the job done.”

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Video Footage Documents Police Brutality in Troy, New York

The videos below show a half hour of security camera [edit: and civilian cell phone camera] footage documenting the manufacturing and escalation of a dangerous situation by the Troy Police, where their exclusive use of violence led to wanton brutality against a number of young men and women who did not deserve or warrant such treatment.

Troy, NY, is about to be a city where people around the country and around the world who are fighting against police violence will be paying very careful attention.

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Transparency, Accountability, Legitimacy

Perhaps, rather than a linear and causal relationship between transparency, accountability and legitimacy, these function more autonomously and the relationship is instead more like a zero-sum game. 

What are the relationships between transparency, accountability, and legitimacy as they are mobilized in discourse related to contemporary acts of governmental and corporate elites and their agents, particularly acts that leave civilians harmed?

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CFP: The Police and Theory of the State

Call for Papers:

The Police and the Theory of the State

Deadline: 28.02.2014

The editors of Theoria invite contributors to interrogate contemporary political and social theory through the lens of policing, with the view of connecting politics and policing. Well documented reflections based on a variety of case studies would be welcomed, with a non exclusive privilege given to the ‘Global South’.

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Call for submissions on Critical Technology Studies

The following call for papers has just been released:

Minority Report: The Rise and Fall of Critical Technology Studies

Open Session CFP for the Joint Meeting of Society for Social Studies of Science (4S) and Sociedad Latinoamericana de Estudios Sociales de la Ciencia y la Tecnología (ESOCITE)


August 20 – 23, 2014 | Buenos Aires, Argentina
Organizers: Ben Brucato (RPI) & Gretchen Gano (ASU)

Technology Studies aims to render technology comprehensible in historical, social, and political terms. A subset of this work we call Critical Technology Studies (CTS), holds that technologies are forms-of-life with intrinsic features that produce or merge with certain political and social arrangements. Under this premise, technologies are not like a hammer that can used and put down at will; instead they represent a kind of embedded legislation that structures human behavior and ideas (Winner 1986). Central CTS thinkers such as Lewis Mumford, Jacques Ellul, Langdon Winner and others not traditionally cited in STS such as Verbeek and Borgmann have given us a framework to interrogate how technical demands can overrule capacities for civic comprehension and democratic control of complex technologies. Counter to the social constructivist narrative that relevant actors are ever busy negotiating our technological reality, CTS suggests that pervasive technological systems can tightly constrain and sometimes confound social and political action.

Although STS owes an intellectual debt to the trailblazing works of CTS, its key contributors’ methods and insights are marginalized in the field today. In an interdiscipline where scholarship is often embedded in its scientific and technical focus, with many in our ranks enrolled in the innovation enterprise, the time is ripe for a minority report on Critical Technology Studies. Organizers invite contributions that unpack and challenge the view that critical technology scholarship is merely anti-technological Luddism grounded in sidelined arguments of determinism.

We seek submissions that:

  • reenergize our understanding of the primary claims of CTS;
  • trace the critical reception of CTS within STS;
  • connect CTS with parallel political commitments, such as those of neo-Luddites (i.e. Kirkpatrick Sale) and social activists (i.e. the anti-nuke movement);
  • apply CTS to contemporary studies of innovation;
  • propose new areas of inquiry for CTS.
We encourage those seeking additional information to visit
Deadline for abstract submissions: March 3, 2014. 
Abstracts should be no more than 250 words.
Languages accepted: English
To apply, submit an “individual abstract” via the 4S portal at
Once you have a user name and password, go to submit proposal > submit new proposal > paper abstract. After entering your details, check the box beside Open Session #45. Minority Report: The Fall and Rise of Critical Technology Studies.
More conference information:
More panel information:
Contact: Ben Brucato ( or Gretchen Gano (

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If the WTO protesters were right, why didn’t they win?

Yesterday, The Atlantic published an article that declared “Seattle’s 1999 Protesters Were Right.” Author Noah Smith correctly explained that they were mocked and maligned. He writes “the Seattle protests came to seem as not only silly, but also misguided.”

But Smith explains that nonetheless history has shown the WTO protesters were “mostly right.” “Almost everything the Seattle protesters have warned us about has come to pass, much of it a direct result of the WTO’s actions in 2000,” he writes.

So what are the reasons we didn’t succeed and they did?

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Raising the minimum wage: What does it mean to be “lifted out of poverty”?

In the present economic environment, “lifting 5 million out of poverty” will bloat what Newman and Chen call the “missing class,” those who are “decidedly not middle-class Americans” and yet “beyond the reach of most policies that speak to the conditions of life among the poor.”


The Huffington Post today reported on a study from University of Massachusetts-Amherst economist Arindrajit Dube.

Together they claim that a proposed Federal minimum wage increase from $7.25 per hour to $10.10 “could help lift nearly 5 million people out of poverty.”

If Congress were to go through with a plan backed by President Barack Obama to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 an hour, it would reduce the poverty rate among Americans between the ages of 18 and 64 by as much as 1.7 percentage points… That would bring about 4.6 million people out of poverty directly and reduce the ranks of the nation’s poor by 6.8 million, accounting for longer-term effects.

A $10.10 minimum wage would help to reverse some of the damage done by the Great Recession. The economic downturn, which technically ended in 2009, and recovery have been marked by high unemployment and stagnant or falling wages. After the recession, many jobs that did return were low-paying — with many offering just minimum wage or close to it.

Three-fifths of the new jobs created during the economic recovery paid low-wages, according to an August 2012 analysis from the National Employment Law Project, a left-leaning advocacy group focused on low-wage workers.

The combination of many Americans not working at all or working for not that much money contributed to a 3.4 percent increase in the poverty rate during the recession that has not abated. A $10.10 minimum wage could go a long way in reversing some of that economic damage, according to Dube.

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