In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Policing

  • Introduction
  • Policing History
  • Policing “the Crisis”
  • Policing and Incarceration
  • Policing Space
  • Policing Democracy
  • Policing Gender
  • Beyond Policing
  • Policing Anthologies

Related Articles Expand or collapse the "related articles" sectionabout

Forthcoming Articles Expand or collapse the "forthcoming articles" section


African American Studies Policing
Jodi Rios
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 September 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 September 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780190280024-0122


African American experience and policing practices in the United States are mutually determined and historically dependent—it is not possible to think of one without the other. For this reason, it is not surprising that at the time of this writing, thirty-five articles found within the Oxford Bibliographies subject area of African American Studies cite works that focus on issues of policing, and many more cover overlapping topics with those in this bibliography. While much of what is written about policing is concerned with formal practices—the people in blue, the informal policing of blackness operates at all levels of everyday life. This policing, writ large, relies on the coupling of blackness with risk and the decoupling of blackness from centuries-honed categories of “the human,” in order to produce and maintain structures of power. The interdependency between policing and antiblack violence therefore exists far beyond varying definitions of police brutality or excessive uses of force waged against nonwhite subjects. To frame solutions to “policing problems” as a matter of purging “racist cops” or instituting better training is, in and of itself, an act of violence. This frame obscures the fact that the formal and informal policing of blackness persists in doing exactly what it was always designed to do—to produce, protect, and privilege the prevailing order of society. This policing is further mediated by class and identity, such as gender, sexuality, ethnicity, and citizenship. This bibliography is intentionally weighted toward interdisciplinary scholarship and methodologies that consider policing beyond the study of best practices in law enforcement, although it includes some work on formal policing considered canonical in the fields of criminology and sociology. A politics of citation is also practiced here, which begins to address overlooked authors of color, particularly Black women, in policing literatures. Although many journal articles advance themes included in this article, this list is made up almost entirely of book-length works in order to manage what would otherwise be an unmanageable project. These books, which number around one hundred, illustrate a consistent thread running through historical and contemporary policing in the United States—antiblack violence.

General Overviews

The social, economic, and material production of the United States has relied on the violent production and policing of blackness—as less than human. In order to understand and intervene in policing practices, it is then important to recognize this history and the various ways antiblackness operates. The first overview subsection, Policing Bodies, Culture, and “the Human”, addresses how the conceptualization of the Black body and Black culture as inferior to European peoples—as a process of racialization and dehumanization—was necessary to rationalize colonization and the enslavement of African people for the purpose of building empire. The second subsection, Policing Blackness, establishes the frame through which policing is understood in this bibliography. When considering policing and African American experience, it is necessary to distinguish racial antagonisms from antiblack violence, and to recognize the unique historical and ontological positionality of blackness in the modern world. The policing of blackness relies on and enforces a logic that not only dehumanizes Black people but also attaches risk to all that is associated with blackness.

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