The Police Man’s Burden: Race, Masculinities and the Politics of Legitimate Violence
Dr. Jennifer Carlson
Sociology and Government & Public Policy
University of Arizona
Abstract: Focusing on 79 interviews with current police chiefs in Arizona, California, and Michigan, this talk draws on police attitudes on gun policy to argue against the Weberian assumption that states and state agents monopolize legitimate violence—or at least struggle to do so. It starts from a simple analytical move: Whereas the bulk of scholarship on public law enforcement focuses on urban settings, this talk juxtaposes police’s perceptions of urban, suburban, and rural gun violence. The talk details how police chiefs across jurisdictions construct criminal gun violence according to two overarching tropes: (1) gang- and drug-related gun violence involving black and brown perpetrators and victims in urban spaces and (2) active shooting-related gun violence involving white perpetrators and victims in suburban and rural spaces. Detailing masculinity as a bifurcated axis along which racialized policing is enacted and amplified, the analysis shows that police chiefs selectively embraced two models of the state’s relationship with legitimate violence: police militarism and police populism. Police persistently embraced police militarism with respect to criminal gun activity associated with black and brown suspects and communities, such as drug- and gang-related crime, championing their identities as Warriors. In contrast, police articulated police populism with respect to lawfully gun-owning Americans, often marked as white and middle-class, situating themselves as Guardians. Bringing an analysis of gender and race to bear on the Weberian assumption, the talk suggests an integrated model of policing that explains how masculinity and race intersect in police work not just to produce criminalization (that is, with respect to Warrior policing and blackness) but also impunity (that is, with respect to Guardian policing and whiteness).