To challenge the legitimacy of policing today, the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement looks to the past, developing what I call the genealogical critique of policing. This critique details often-ignored chapters in policing’s development—slave patrols, complicity in lynchings, vigorous enforcement of Jim Crow, and the criminalization of Blackness—with the goal of reframing recent police brutality against Black Americans as the latest in a long history of racial violence. My paper situates BLM’s critique within political theory’s genealogical tradition and shows how it unsettles widely held assumptions about the police. Specifically, the genealogical critique (1) uncovers aims of policing absent from standard justifications for it, (2) alters the moral meaning of current police failures, and (3) dispels reputational myths enjoyed by police. The paper closes by considering the complex relationship between genealogical critique and ideology in the context of current debates over policing.
About The Speaker
Ben Jones is the Assistant Director of the Rock Ethics Institute at Penn State and received his PhD in political science from Yale University. He does research in moral, legal, and political philosophy and the history of political thought. He is the co-editor with Eduardo Mendieta of The Ethics of Policing (New York University Press) and author of Apocalypse without God (Cambridge University Press). Much of his current work focuses on normative analysis of police policy and institutions. He currently is working on a book manuscript entitled “Making Protection of Life a Priority: The Ethics of Police Deadly Force.” This project examines how existing law and police practice fall short of prioritizing the protection of life—a principle found in many use-of-force policies—and what that principle demands of police and democratic institutions that oversee them. Before joining Penn State, he worked on criminal justice reform in the nonprofit sector for over eight years and directed the campaign that repealed Connecticut's death penalty.