New Theory & Event article with Ines Valdez and Amna Akbar on policing and race

Law, Police Violence, and Race: Grounding and Embodying the State of Exception

Inés Valdez, Mat Coleman, Amna Akbar

Theory & Event Volume 23, Number 4, October 2020 pp. 902-934


This paper theorizes police violence by elucidating the relationship between racialized violence and law. We contrast Giorgio Agamben’s generalized state of exception with Walter Benjamin’s targeted and localized account, which we complement with Saidiya Hartman’s work on periodization and affect. We argue that racialized police violence is constitutive of law because police routinely enact violence in racially targeted ways, and judicial practice sanctions this violence through predictable deference to racialized affect, legitimizing anti-Black racism as fear for safety. We conclude that a theoretical account of law and violence must include material practices of policing and enforcement, for it is the latter that, in a racial state, are, in fact, law.