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

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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