CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Thursday, November 18, 2021

Chang et al. on Race, Gender, and Policing

Stewart ChangFrank Rudy Cooper and Addie Rolnick (University of Nevada, Las Vegas, William S. Boyd School of Law, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, William S. Boyd School of Law and University of Nevada, Las Vegas, William S. Boyd School of Law) have posted Race AND Gender AND Policing (Nevada Law Journal, Vol. 21, No. 3, 2021) on SSRN. Here is the abstract:
This title of this Introduction to the Nevada Law Journal’s symposium on Race AND Gender AND Policing, is not a typographical or grammatical error. It conceives of race and gender and policing as intersectional in the strong sense of being co-constituted concepts wherein each element mutually constructs the meaning of each of the others in a never-ending circuit. The purported threat of crime by blacks has long been racialized so that black men are the threat, white women are the protected, white men are the protectors, and black women are left unprotected. Only when race AND gender AND policing are considered together—tied to one another not so much as points on a triangle converging towards the center, but instead coexisting on the same planar continuum—does the picture become significantly clearer.

To demonstrate the utility of this approach, this article looks at a series of contemporary threats of white-on-black violence. We begin with “white-caller-crime,” in which white women like Amy Cooper use calls to 9-1-1 to threaten blacks with police violence, as in the case of Christian Cooper. We then examine how police officers use their authority to sexually assault civilians, particularly cisgender and transgender women of color, such as in the stories of Jannie Ligons and an anonymous transgender woman. We continue on to other situations that turn deadly because the now predominant proactive form of policing leads to unnecessary encounters with blacks that sometimes turn violent, such as in the stories of Sandra Bland and Elijah McClain. Our analysis of the cycle of policing violence then turns to encounters where the police use overwhelming force to enter black homes, and black women are killed as collateral damage, as was the case with Breonna Taylor and Charleena Lyles. Only then do we finally assess stories like George Floyd’s, where black men’s assumed dangerousness is used to justify subduing them with deadly force. We note, however, how this type of police violence has private parallels, such as in the case of the stalking and killing of Ahmaud Arbery, again based on assumed dangerousness of black men. In this way, white private actors feel empowered to defend their property with deadly force and are shielded from prosecution in much the same way police officers are, as in the initial lack of justice in the case of Black Lives Matter protester James Scurlock. Our understanding of these incidents does not end there, though, as the aforementioned white-caller crime is another means of private violence against blacks, and it also reinitiates this cycle of policing violence.

We say all of this to demonstrate that policing’s involvement in the maintenance of race-gender hierarchy is larger in scope than has traditionally been portrayed. Our case studies show that policing should be understood as anti-black, but anti-blackness should itself be understood as co-constituted with the meanings of whiteness in general and white womanhood in particular. Harkening back to the Kerner Commission, we call for a new perspective on race and gender and policing. We conclude by proudly describing the nine essays in this symposium, which both critique the present and provide an outline for a better future.

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