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Extended Stay: i.e. “The More Things Change, the More Things Stay the Same”
Carceral Architectures of Policing: From “Mass Incarceration” to Domestic Warfare
The Fallacy of “Mass Incarceration”
The ascendance of a national discourse on “mass incarceration” during the first two decades of the twentieth century calls for rigorous critical attention. In addition to its wide circulation as a rhetoric of coalescence—for academic, activist, nonprofit, journalistic, public policy, popularcultural, and state mobilizations—the phrase has canonized a relatively coherent narrative structure, based on a generalized assumption that such juridically sanctioned, culturally normalized state violence is a betrayal of American values as well as a violation of the mystified egalitarian ethos that constitutes US national formation. 1 In his 2015 address to the National Forum on Criminal Justice, legal scholar and former president of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice Jeremy Travis resonates this durable reformist bildungsroman:
The unifying theme that we must keep in mind is this: we live in an era of mass incarceration because we have chosen, through policy choices, to dramatically expand the use of prison as a response to crime. There is a corollary to this finding: If our democracy got us here, it is our democracy that must get us out of here. 2

Here, it is the tyranny of the (white/multiculturalist) “we” that animates the subject of patriotic outrage and asserts a universalized American accountability, bypassing the long historical facts of particular peoples’ alienation from the nation-building project.

“Mass incarceration” evidences an ideological formation that shapes the language and policy of the contemporary (abortively “post-racial”) racist state while expanding the conceptual and political scope of a punitive and racist approach to policing, criminalization, and human capture. Craig Willse offers a critical method that illuminates how the racially criminalized condition of “homelessness” is not only a systemic outcome of economic, cultural, and juridical relations of dominance, but also a violently normative discursive regime that assembles institutional power by rigorously obfuscating the modalities of life produced by such systemic dominance:

The construction of “homelessness” as a problem has in fact obscured the material conditions that produce housing deprivation, proliferating expertise and management techniques while allowing housing insecurity to expand… In fact housing systems and their inhabitants are conformed through relations of capital and sociolegal regulation. In other words, the life organized by systems of housing insecurity and deprivation does not precede those systems. Rather, housing systems produce the lives contained within, shaping, for example, vulnerability to living without shelter as an expression and experience of racialized subordination in labor market and consumer economies. 3

Following Willse’s analytical and theoretical approach, i am concerned with how “mass incarceration” has become a strangely generic term of twenty-first-century liberal-progressive coalescence. The rhetoric of “mass incarceration” hails a broadly reformist consensus that selectively displaces, appropriates, obscures, and/or overtly dismisses radical and abolitionist approaches to carceral state violence, gendered racial criminalization, and anti-Black social liquidation. How, then, does the discourse of “mass incarceration” spread the subtle absurdities of a multiculturalist, post-racial liberal agenda by subsuming the targeted casualties of the racial-colonial carceral state under the terms of a “mass”? What are the extended consequences of a “mass incarceration” reform narrative that rests on the premise that the criminal justice regime is not functioning as its founders and most fair-minded administrators intend it to function? The narrative structure of mass incarceration misapprehends the cultural-political fallout of carceral domestic warfare. The long historical consequences of the dynamic, carceral marshaling of police power, criminal justice policy, and racialized national culture are transgenerational, and they have fundamentally deformed the capacities of targeted communities to reproduce within a sociality that is constituted by the logics and juridical-policing protocols of gendered racist state violence.

Recent grassroots formations like Chicago’s We Charge Genocide, for example, demystify the targeted (hence not “mass”) casualties of carceral domestic war and demonstrate why it may be necessary to depart from mass incarceration discourse and its implicit reliance on false equivalences, fraudulent (white/multiculturalist) humanist universalisms, and generalized erasure of anti-Blackness as the structuring formation of dominance and violence that animates the modern regimes of policing and criminalization in the US and elsewhere. 4 Here, i am following João Costa Vargas and Moon-Kie Jung’s definition of anti-Blackness as “structured, ubiquitous, and perduring disadvantages for Black people and structured advantages for nonblacks. Such articulated disadvantages and advantages take place in the realms of ontology (how individuals constitute and define themselves as such), sociability (lived social experience), and access to resources… The likelihood of social and physical death is a direct function of antiblackness.”5

Anti-Blackness, in this conceptualization, is the epistemic, aesthetic, ontological, and political condition of colonial, chattel, and modern socialities and not merely a secondary expression or consequence of otherwise nonanti-Black social formations. To the extent that anti-Blackness constitutes sociality as such, it permeates the institutionalizations of private property, criminal justice, law enforcement, and post-emancipation approaches to incarceration. A radical recognition of the long carceral genealogy of anti-Blackness structured We Charge Genocide’s grassroots work between 2014–2016, which authored a story of the historical present tense that exemplifies a critical, abolitionist, Black radical departure from the political telos of mass incarceration narrativity. 6 Defined as “an intergenerational effort to center the voices of the young people most impacted by police violence,” We Charge Genocide articulated its mission through a Black radical and Black feminist radical tradition that drew on the legacies of Ida B. Wells and the Civil Rights Congress.7 Typical of its narrative praxis, We Charge Genocide excoriated the American Civil Liberties Union in 2015 for its weak, uninformed negotiations with the Chicago Police Department over its notoriously racist “stop-and-frisk” policies. 8 We Charge Genocide confronted and re-scripted the ACLU’s reductive understanding of Chicago policing:

We understand police violence to be rooted in historical and systemic anti-Blackness that seeks to control, contain, and repress Black bodies through acts of repeated violence. Stop and frisk should be understood as a tool police use to punish Black people just for being. Police violence is always state-sanctioned violence, and further strengthening narrow supervision of police action by elites will never address that. This is why any legislative or law-based campaign to address police violence requires not just policy change, but an actual transformation of power relations between communities of color and the police. 9

We Charge Genocide’s narrative praxis exemplifies a form of creative, collective critique that disrupts and transforms the common lexicon of “police brutality” while bringing urgent, incisive attention to the historical present tense of ordinary peoples’ normalized encounters with state-facilitated and state-condoned social evisceration. This radical genius emanates from a shared, complex comprehension of the United States as an accumulation of multiple generations of institutionalized dehumanization. Following We Charge Genocide’s narrative logic: before there was “mass incarceration,” there was already incarceration, structured in the logics, geographies, and architectures of anti-Black policing and chattel genocide.

The (anti-)social formations of militarization, criminalization, and patrolling are historically central to the construction, reproduction, and institutional coherence of the white Civilizational project’s most classical iterations in racial plantation slavery, racial colonialism, land occupation, genocidal conquest, and post-emancipation apartheid. It is dangerous, however, to conflate the martial institutionalization of such relations of dominance with a transhistorical dependence on white bodily monopoly (or even majority) within the institutional geographies of personnel, administrative leadership, and bureaucratic management.

“Join LAPD” as Warfare/Diversity Mandate:

The Carcerality of White Reconstruction

The notion of “White Reconstruction” names a historically persistent, continuous, and periodically acute logic of reform, rearticulation, adaptation, and revitalization that constitutes worldmaking and white social and ontological self-making within the changing humanist (and modern) projects of Civilization/Manifest Destiny/Progress, etc.10 While its logics of (anti-)social formation are inseparable from a chronic global white supremacist modernity, it is nonetheless possible to identify when its projects unfold with an intensity that is period-specific: like the long half century that followed the formal juridical abolition of the US apartheid order, often called the “post–civil rights period.”

The most recent, ongoing period of White Reconstruction encompasses a racial-political complex—a dynamic interaction of institutional protocols, jurisprudence, policy, popular and state cultural productions, and public discourses—of liberal reform, prima facie institutional inclusion (and the accommodation of disfranchised identity claims, like diversity, multiculturalism, etc.), capital accumulation, hetero-patriarchal dominance, industrialized ecological expropriation, territorial occupation, and criminalization of profiled bodies and targeted geographies. This complex, which is relatively symbiotic (though sometimes apparently chaotic and contentious), includes the unfolding, quaking, and convulsive reactions against the liberationist rebellions and social-political transformations that defined the mid-to-late-twentieth-century Western racial-colonial order: from the US-based Black freedom and anti-apartheid Civil Rights movements to revolutionary anti-colonialist struggles and feminist insurgencies worldwide. The crystallization of this ensemble of transformation, reform, and reaction raises epochal questions: How do the terror of gendered white supremacy, the violence of anti-Black sociality, and the Civilizational order of conquest, colonialism, and militarized white occupation (e.g. gentrification, Zionism, settler nationalism) outlive the formal abolition of specific racist state and social regimes? How do the living, collective, accumulated experiences of this terror, violence, and colonial occupation toxify and constitute once-excluded peoples’ access to rights, civil subjectivity, and other forms of political recognition within the reconstructing Civilizational order?

What if the sociality of the “post–civil rights” United States is constituted by the carceral displacement, systemic damaging, and degradation of targeted bodies? What if these are the conditions through which social totality is rendered “whole”—as nation, community, people? While there are many ways to illuminate the force of White Reconstruction across intimate and macrosocial scales, it may be useful to engage in a genealogy of the pluralist inhabitations of historical white supremacist social logics and political technologies within contemporary institutionalizations of diversity, inclusion, and multiculturalism. At face value, such institutionalizations appear to significantly reform or substantively transform regimes of racist state violence that are historically characterized by white bodily monopolizations of personnel/leadership/administration as well as generally aggressive white supremacist ideological animus. Yet, on deeper analysis, such systemic rearticulations extend and complicate rather than disrupt or abolish historical ensembles of racial-colonial state violence.

White Reconstruction encompasses a period-specific mobilization of institutional rhetorics, cultural and discursive regimes, political-juridical strategies, and (militarized) racial statecraft that 1) sustain anti-Black and racial-colonial (domestic) war as the condition of the social formation of the United States, while 2) constituting struggles for political and cultural hegemony that are strategically, unevenly, and inconsistently inclusionist, diversity directed, and/or multiculturalist in form. These diversitydirected struggles for hegemony are significant in their relative newness. This is in part because they are waged on or in proximity to the normative racial statecraft of liberal/desegregated racial-colonial “recognition,” in which people historically targeted by formalized protocols of categorical alienation and exclusion from the racialized chattel settler state are non-consensually subjected to the novel and constantly changing mandates, processes, and compulsory rituals of pluralist inclusion and accommodation into proper national personhood (citizenship). Glen Coulthard (Yellowknives Dene) crystallizes the centrality of liberal recognition to Indigenous peoples’ exposure to the post-1980s iterations of the Canadian nation-state:

Instead of ushering in an era of peaceful coexistence grounded on the ideal of reciprocity or mutual recognition, the politics of recognition in its contemporary liberal form promises to reproduce the very configurations of colonialist, racist, patriarchal state power that Indigenous peoples’ demands for recognition have historically sought to transcend. 11

For Coulthard, the pageantry and public exercises of liberal recognition (e.g. voting rights, formal equality under the law, citizenship status, compulsory multiculturalism and “diversity” mandates, state apologies and/or piecemeal financial redress for past atrocities) extend rather than replace, repair, or even mitigate the ensemble of state and cultural practices that sustain colonial occupation and war as Canada’s condition of national coherence and sovereignty. The implications of this critique are vast: the invasive premises of the liberal extension of politicality (and full sociality) permanently delineate, disrupt, and redefine the structures and discursive regimes of citizenship, freedom, bodily integrity, and personhood as they are contingently accessed by the non-normative (non-)subjects and targets of the anti-Black, racial-colonial settler state. In this context, criminal law, policing, electoral politics, border militarization, corporate media, carceral schools, foundation- and think-tank-funded academic research agendas, prisons, jails, reservations, detention centers, and other such institutions signify the relations of coercive power that overdetermine White Reconstruction’s struggles over hegemony (as the mediated, non-coercive power of consent). Put differently, the cultural-political terrain of White Reconstruction’s particular moment of hegemonic struggle is distinctive because the conditions of anti-Blackness, racial-coloniality, and domestic war are the necessary precedents and foundations on which a logic of white/multiculturalist solicitation anticipates the bodily presence and delimited inclusion of human groups previously marginalized or excluded from the domain of political coalitions, historical blocs, and social subjectivities within the modern (post-conquest, post-emancipation) US nationbuilding project. 12

Consider the Los Angeles Police Department’s conspicuous efforts to augment and publicly signify the demographic diversity of its officers during the first two decades of the twentieth century. Responding to the far-reaching, systemic corruption of the LAPD’s Rampart Division throughout the 1990s, a June 2001 federal consent decree forced the City of Los Angeles and the LAPD to remediate what US Attorney General Janet Reno and the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice called “a pattern or practice of unconstitutional or otherwise unlawful conduct that has been made possible by the failure of the City defendants [City of Los Angeles, Board of Police Commissioners of the City of Los Angeles, and the LAPD] to adopt and implement proper management practices and procedures.”13 (The terms of the decree allowed the city, the Board, and the LAPD to admit no culpability.) In the wake of this liberal racial state intervention, the LAPD engaged in a series of piecemeal internal reforms and public relations pageantry that included sponsoring the 2005 Gay Games Sports and Cultural Festival (part of a national initiative to increase the numbers of out gay cadets), cosponsoring the 2006 Tenth Annual International Criminal Justice Diversity Symposium under the leadership of LAPD Chief William Bratton (the former New York Police Department commissioner who famously authorized citywide police harassment of Black and Latinx residents under the rubric of “broken windows” policing), and the ongoing “Join LAPD” recruitment initiative. 14

Enacting a public-facing mission of domestic militarist inclusivity, the LAPD has been guided by the recommendations of a 2009 study by the RAND Center on Quality Policing (funded by the Ralph M. Parsons Foundation), which included both a directive to “identify ways to streamline and prioritize applicants in the recruiting process that can meet both recruiting and diversity goals” 15 and a summary recommendation to “tailor media mix to attract diversity target groups.” 16 The LAPD’s diversity recruitment efforts are animated by the pedantic cultural and visual production of a reforming racial state, relying on vernacular and visual exhibitions of bodily difference and non-normative subjectivities as their primary vehicles of popular outreach. Headlined by its “Join LAPD” campaign, the state’s aspirational notion of a refurbished, reconstituted police demographic flows through highway billboards, internet advertisements, and multiple social media venues, including a widely visited Facebook page, constantly updated “@joinlapd” Twitter and Instagram accounts, a devoted YouTube channel, and a self-standing “Join LAPD” website ( that is distinct in substance and design from the LAPD’s official site (

Stuart Hall’s versatile and durable reconceptualization of “hegemony” helps contextualize “Join LAPD” as an exemplary articulation of the pedagogical and cultural technologies of the racial-carceral state. For Hall, the contemporary state is a complex arrangement of institutions, interests, and political blocs that is actively engaged in struggles to build consensus-based—that is, hegemonic—social rule across different gendered racial constituencies. While the racial state remains the central apparatus for the expression of coercive rule (that is, legitimated state-sanctioned violence), Hall argues that its primary expression of power in the post–World War II context increasingly takes the form of institutional mobilizations that attempt to cultivate some version of popular consent across a dominant ensemble of authorities, ideological assumptions, and institutional protocols. He writes,

The state is no longer conceived as simply an administrative and coercive apparatus—it is also “educative and formative.” It is the point from which hegemony over society as a whole is ultimately exercised (though it is not the only place where hegemony is constructed). It… condenses a variety of different relations and practices into a definite “system of rule”… The modern state exercises moral and educative leadership… It is where the bloc of social forces which dominates over it not only justifies and maintains its domination but wins by leadership and authority the active consent of those over whom it rules. 17
The first image featured on “LAPD: Diversity” alongside the tagline “Diversity in Our City and Department,” link.

Following Hall, the pedagogical racial state actively produces and participates in a discursive terrain that encompasses visual culture, the built environment, official vernaculars and slogans, and other material texts that form the cultural conditions through which White Reconstruction coheres as a particular ensemble of consensusbuilding regimes, even and especially as it imagines, marshals, and coordinates the reform and periodic expansion of gendered racist domestic warfare. The uneven (though significant) implementation of diversity mandates, compulsory tolerance and sensitivity protocols, and other “post–civil rights” multiculturalisms signify the (perhaps momentary) obsolescence of classical white supremacy as a model of power and socially-ordering violence that is based primarily or even predominantly on the vesting of hegemonic institutional power in the exclusionary collectivity of the white social body.

The critical challenge, in such a moment, is to consider the political and cultural implications of a multiculturalist white supremacy that actively releases—or is forced to release—its stranglehold on apartheid forms of institutionality at the same time that it reproduces the ascendancy of White Being. Guided by Sylvia Wynter’s radical critique of European and Euroamerican humanism and “Man,” i understand White Being as the militarized, normative paradigm of human being that inhabitants of the ongoing half-millennial Civilizational project have involuntarily inherited as a violent universal. Wynter’s durable contribution to Black Studies and the critical humanities enables a conceptualization of White Being as a narrative, ceremonial, ritualized practice of human being that pivots on relations of dominance with other beings (human and otherwise) and aspirational mastery over the wildness and unknowability of nature and the physical universe. 18

White Being’s ascendancy, in turn, requires perpetual mobilizations of (legitimated state and extra-state) violence and colonial-chattel power that form the premises of the degrading, negating, and deadly differentiations. Postracial, multiculturalist, diversity-valorizing Americanism is the racial narrative telos of the twenty-first century US, even and especially amidst white supremacist and “white nationalist” reaction. 19 While the phenotypes of white supremacy expand and multiply—a reordering of bodies necessary to the reproduction of White Being’s ascendancy in changing historical conditions—the internal coherence of white supremacy as a logic of social formation is sustained, complicated, redeemed, and enhanced.

Thus, between the subtle rainbow flag overlay on the windshield of an LAPD squad car and the Instagram commemoration of 2019 International Women’s Day, the “Join LAPD” initiative offers a dynamic, living archive of liberal multiculturalism as a political and pedagogical tactic of racial state rearticulation that expands as it reforms the logics and protocols of racial-colonial domestic (carceral) war. Here, the imperatives of militarized, gendered racial policing are intensified by the rhetorical and ideological turn toward demographic, identity-based inclusivity in the hiring and mobilization of domestic militarism’s on-the-ground personnel. In this context, “Join LAPD” cannot be reduced to a pandering public relations campaign or short-lived pseudo–affirmative action drive. Rather, it is part of a sustained, reformist diversity mandate that has resulted in the percentage of “Latino” LAPD officers more than doubling and the proportion of “Asian” officers tripling between 1990 and 2015. Notably, these augmentations have been paralleled by a decrease in the ratio of Black LAPD personnel during the same period. While rigorous explanations for the latter trend exceed our purposes here, it is worth questioning whether domestic militarism’s multiculturalist rearticulation rests on the continued police violence against Black communities, bodies, and profiles, and whether this structure of continuity produces a culture of virulent alienation between police forces and their prospective Black cadets. 20

Read within the logics of White Reconstruction, “Join LAPD” is simultaneously a recruitment device and pedagogical racist state regime that attempts to displace, deflect, and abandon the LAPD’s place in this twentieth-century ensemble of modern US racial-colonial state power. Max Felker-Kantor’s critical interdisciplinary history of the LAPD in the years between the 1965 Watts rebellion and 1992 LA uprising concisely frames the longer precedents of this multiculturalist rearticulation:

Racial targeting was central to the LAPD’s expansion of police power and efforts to control the streets at all costs. Residents of color, because the police viewed them as disorderly and lawless, had long been the subjects of the LAPD’s police power. As African American and Mexican migrants reshaped Los Angeles’s racial geography during the postwar era, they confronted a police force intent on maintaining Los Angeles’s reputation as the nation’s “white spot.” As part of a system of racialized punishment that was rooted in Los Angeles’s history of settler colonialism and racism, the growth of police power in the decades after the 1960s was organized around the aim of controlling the city’s black and brown populations. Intensified police power and racially targeted policing were not incidental but mutually constitutive. 21
The “Join LAPD” (@JoinLAPD) Instagram post on International Women’s Day, March 8, 2019, link.

Understood in the context of the 2001 consent decree and the longer, post-war history of establishing and violently enforcing geographies of criminalization and racial dominance in Los Angeles, 22 the LAPD’s twenty-first-century diversity recruitment efforts must be differentiated from two implicit possibilities: first, the sudden overhaul of the LAPD’s on-the-ground-policing methods (e.g. use of gang “task forces” and databases, SWAT, gendered racial profiling, and juridically sanctioned killing of Black and Latinx civilians); 23 and second, the institutionalized antiracist commitment to ending focused and strategic militarizations against (queer and transgender) sex workers, homeless people, undocumented communities, and criminalized Black and Brown youth. Rather than aborting its long historical role in the Southern California theater of domestic war making, the LAPD seems to be offering an institutional concession that “classical” white supremacist policing must undergo substantive reform to remain politically and institutionally viable. This process, rendered compulsory by federal state intervention as well as ongoing grassroots resistance, rebellion, and periodic retaliation from people and communities most vulnerable to police violence, entails a dismantling of the white supremacist policing regime’s most evidently classical elements—including (but not limited to) the optics and nationalist theater of white (male) police officers patrolling, detaining, humiliating, intimidating, harassing, abusing, torturing, and assassinating city residents targeted by racialized, sexualized, and gendered criminal/suspect/gang profiles.

Qualitative, anecdotal, and statistical evidence indicate that initiatives like “Join LAPD” do not retract or even reduce the asymmetrical policing of racially criminalized populations. Instead, diversity mandates signify revisions of the white supremacist institutional phenotype, a model of racial reform that has become increasingly widespread since the successful mid-1990s neoconservative attacks on affirmative action. 24 The LAPD has, in this way, become a state platform for a form of public theater that performs the obsolescence of old-school white supremacist policing while retaining a paradigmatic commitment to juridically sanctioned, culturally legitimated racial domestic warfare.

As the multiculturalist approach to officer recruitment gains discursive and bureaucratic traction, the white supremacist substructure of policing remains a primary determination of the LAPD’s on-the-ground operations. Damien Sojoyner’s study of the symbiotic continuities between policing, criminal justice, and public schools in Los Angeles County suggests that the widely shared liberalprogressive rhetoric of the “school-to-prison pipeline” is not only a fatally flawed metaphor, but also drastically underestimates how (poor, Black, and Latinx predominant) schools must themselves be conceptualized as criminalized, actively policed carceral sites (“enclosures”). By conceptualizing schools as enclosures, Sojoyner draws on Clyde Woods’s historical geography of the Black South to create an analytical framework through which to comprehend the normalization of carceral domestic war—policing, criminalization, and incarceration—in the continuous flow of staff, jurisprudence, state/law enforcement officials, administrators, and discursive structures (languages of Black student and family pathology, criminalizing representations of “at-risk” youth, etc.) across schools, courts, jails, prisons, and youth detention facilities. 25 Sojoyner contextualizes the ramping up of the LAPD’s militarized repressive capacities in the latter decades of the twentieth century as the precursor for the symbolic, ideological, and political maneuvers of “Join LAPD” and other such publicity/recruitment campaigns:

Although the presence of police and representatives of the criminal justice system have had a sordid past in the lives of Black people, the type of repression that was ushered in during the late 1960s and early 1970s and enhanced during the 1980s and 1990s was formerly relegated only for moments deemed “states of emergency” (that is, riots, massive political demonstrations). Yet, in this new epoch, the extreme and excess became normalized as a continual presence within Black communities. 26

Prior to and since the issuance of the 2001 consent decree, the LAPD’s identification with high-profile, scandalous incidents and institutionalizations of racist state violence have rendered the notions of both “scandal” and “incident” insufficient. Los Angeles has long boasted the largest jail system in the United States (and, according to the ACLU, “the world”)—a carceral toll overwhelmingly borne by poor Black and Latinx people (including youth, undocumented migrants, and those jailed while awaiting trial). 27 Throughout the late 1990s, the LAPD’s Rampart Division was involved in multiple conspiracies to fabricate and steal evidence (including over $1 million of cocaine) used to frame hundreds of innocent people (more than 100 of whom have since been released from prison and jail after courts overturned their convictions). The Rampart Division was engaged in numerous incidents of civilian shootings, in-station beatings, and street tortures. Crucially, a prevalence of Black and Latinx officers were exposed as central figures and implicated as co-conspirators in the investigation and criminal proceedings that revealed the depth and scope of the “Rampart scandal.” 28 In continuity, the widely broadcast police violence of the 2007 May Day repression, in which LAPD riot control officers—many of them Latinx—attacked immigrant rights activists and other civilians during a peaceful gathering at MacArthur Park, further demonstrates that the institutional logics and inhabitations of racist state violence are not reducible to the uniformed, reactionary white cop. 29

Political scientist and Black Lives Matter Los Angeles (BLMLA) chapter co-founder Melina Abdullah illustrates the diversified LAPD’s continued (post–consent decree) complicity in patterns of fatal racist state violence. In a September 2017 radio interview with KPFK (90.7 FM, Los Angeles), Abdullah asserts:

There is no shortage of police killings here. LAPD leads the nation in killing its residents. Out of the last five years, it’s led the nation in killings every single year except for when Los Angeles County Sheriff ’s Department surpasses it. So when we talk about LA County, it’s the most deadly place, in terms of police killings, in the entire nation. 30
BLMLA’s public discourse obliterates the ideological pretensions of “Join LAPD” in a widely circulated 2017 petition addressed to LA County District Attorney Jackie Lacey. Titled “Prosecute Police Who Kill Our People,” the campaign holds Lacey accountable for reproducing the fatal consequences of police impunity, sparing her no criticism as the first African American to hold this particular public office.

During her terms in office, nearly 300 Los Angeles County residents have been killed by police, including #EzellFord, #KendrecMcDade, #JohnHorton, #NephiArreguin, #MichelleShirley, #RedelJones, #WakieshaWilson, #JRThomas, #KeithBursey, #JesseRomero, #EdwinRodriguez, #KennyWatkins, #BrendonGlenn, #BrotherAfrica, #ZelalemEwnetu, #CarnellSnell and literally hundreds of others. In the case of Brendon Glenn, the officer was actually recommended for charges by the Los Angeles Police Department. NO OFFICER HAS EVER BEEN CHARGED FOR THE KILLING OF A RESIDENT BY LACEY.

Los Angeles Police Department, Los Angeles County Sheriffs, and the policing units throughout the County lead the nation in the killing of community residents. For at least the last five years, LAPD and LA County Sheriff have led the nation in police killings. Yet, the District Attorney has not charged a single officer in any of these killings. The message sent to Los Angeles County law enforcement units is that they can kill residents and get away with it. Police cannot be relied on to hold themselves accountable, this is the work of the District Attorney. 31

As it continues to kill Black and Brown civilians with effective juridical sanction, the LAPD’s assimilation into a post–Proposition 209, post–affirmative action statecraft of diversity reflects two mutually reinforcing institutional logics. On the one hand, “Join LAPD” is indisputably an externally (federal consent decree) coerced departure from a densely white male heteronormative officer profile that became a political and tactical liability in the long aftermath of the 1992 LA rebellion. Put another way, the policing phenotype—the signifying body of law enforcement—became increasingly incompatible with the changing form of the racial state in its various scales of iteration (local, state, regional, and national). On the other hand, the LAPD’s turn toward personnel inclusivity is inseparable from a long-held juridical and cultural mandate to facilitate, sustain, and enhance the systemic, everyday processes of racist criminalization and domestic war as a matter of cohering and reproducing a condition of urban social (dis)order.
Wakiesha Wilson’s Ashes
As a period-specific racial state strategy, “Join LAPD” reembodies as it reproduces a climate of fatal hostility, in which moments of Black insurgency consistently reveal the distressing abnormality of this normalized condition of war. At times, such rebellion creates instructive and inspirational lessons for those seeking liberation from the (multiculturalist) institutional and cultural structures of subjection that permeate the relations of dominance, occupation, and violence between police and criminalized peoples. By way of example: Sheila Hines-Brim, aunt of Wakiesha Wilson, did not accept the LAPD’s explanation that there was “no evidence any force was used” when her 36-year-old niece died in police custody on Easter Sunday 2016. As BLMLA members mobilized around Wilson’s case in support of Hines-Brim and Wilson’s mother Lisa Hines, the LA City Council voted unanimously in December 2017 to pay up to $298,000 to settle the case brought against the city. In contrast, the Los Angeles Police Commission denied any LAPD culpability in Wilson’s death and, as noted above, no criminal charges were filed by LA County District Attorney Jackie Lacey. 32 Hines-Brim, whose unrelenting demand for accountability remained unquenched by the settlement and undeterred by the LAPD’s denials, radically altered the normalized/abnormal relations of gendered racial bodily integrity, racist state–induced death, and white supremacist governance at the Police Commission’s regularly scheduled public meeting in May 2018. Enacting a disruption of the racist state’s procedural ceremony of engagement with the (Black) community and Wakiesha Wilson’s survivors, Hines-Brim recast her niece’s murder as a forever curse on the police chief:

Wakiesha Wilson’s aunt, Sheila Hines-Brim attended the meeting with Wilson’s mother, Lisa Hines. Throughout the meeting, some attendees were directed to leave due to multiple interruptions. Hines- Brim proceeded towards Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck and threw a white, powder-like substance at him.

“That’s Wakiesha,” Hines-Brim exclaimed as she walked away, “That’s Wakiesha! She’s going to stay with you!”

The meeting quickly ended. Police officers proceeded to arrest Hines-Brim. Fire crews were urgently called to identify the substance and whether it was dangerous. Joshua Rubenstein, the police department’s spokesman, shared that although it doesn’t seem hazardous, the department has not confirmed what it was.

Hines-Brim was arrested on charges of suspicion of battery on an officer. She shared after her release, “I used her ashes so they can be with him, so he can feel her, because he murdered her. They covered it up.” 33

A more rigorous conception of the systemic logic of white supremacy—which is not reducible to the white body itself—might help delink white supremacy’s “substructure” (its logics of violence and ordering) from reductive notions of the white supremacist “phenotype” (the exclusive or otherwise overwhelming presence of white bodies). Put differently, i am asking us to consider how white supremacy is fully engaged in the organization of systemic violence and the social subjection of white civil society’s historical racial antagonists, even and especially as its institutional forms—including its political and intellectual leadership— convene a (relative) diversity of nonwhite bodies. What new political languages, organizing strategies, and conceptual frameworks can enable an adequately critical, ambitiously transformative response to multiculturalist white supremacy?

“Join LAPD” indicates a constitutive tension in White Reconstruction’s struggle to reconstitute hegemony while retaining the militarized protocols and methods of the racist state: the reconstruction simultaneously solicits the historical targets of white supremacist, patriarchal, heteronormative racial-colonial violence, while refurbishing (and thus reproducing) the relations of dominance that constitute the primary terms of the modern racial order. To consider the multiculturalist “turn” in the demographic composition of certain bureaucratic, professional, and administrative spaces within historically white supremacist social and state formations, then, is to apprehend how Sylvia Wynter’s “Man” attempts to sustain and galvanize a global order of power by selectively revising the bureaucratic pathways and discursive terms of piecemeal (that is, contingent and non-comprehensive) access for historically excluded others to participate in an ensemble of hegemonic institutions (schools/colleges/universities, police, military, electoral politics, and state-funded service professions, to name a few). Wynter’s “Man” references the peculiar “genre” of the human that is forcibly imposed on the rest of humanity as the universalized template for proper species-being. The New World slave plantation is, she writes,

a dominant logic, and it’s a specific cultural logic, but it is also an ethical logic, a paradoxical realpolitik and a secular one that is in the process of emerging. It is this reasons-of-state ethic/logic that is going to bring in the modern world, what I call the millennium of Man. We have lived the millennium of Man in the last five hundred years [emphasis added]; and as the West is inventing Man, the slave-plantation is a central part of the entire mechanism by means of which that logic is working its way out. But that logic is total now, because to be not-Man is to be not-quite-human. Yet that plot, that slave plot on which the slave grew food for his/her subsistence, carried over a millennially other conception of the human to that of Man’s. 34

Following Wynter, multiculturalist white supremacy is Man’s solicitation and incorporation of “nonwhite” and counter-normative/queer/trans subjects and bodies into a millennial order of white power/ascendancy. These processes of bodily exhibition, institutional expansion, and symbolic-ideological rearticulation attempt to discipline, selectively assimilate, and otherwise dissipate insurgent modalities of human being that persist within and against the violent and violating ascendancy of Man—including and especially Wynter’s particular logic of the plantation, a relation of dominance against Afro-descended Black people that shapes and influences other Civilizational racialcolonial power formations.

Here, it is necessary to consider again how White Reconstruction raises a structuring racial-colonial contradiction: there is a struggle for hegemony as a system of social order and dominance; the notion of “hegemonic” power is premised on the primacy of consensual rather than coercive/ violent relations of power; yet, because anti-Blackness and racial-colonial relations of dominance constitute and cohere sociality as such, the struggle for hegemony is already confounded by the conditions of carceral state and extrastate violence (domestic war). In order to fully appreciate the LAPD’s response to the 2001 consent decree as a symptomatic indication of the speculative cultural algorithms of White Reconstruction, it is also necessary to consider how the “Join LAPD” campaign is more than a cynical, superficial ploy to quell federal governmental criticism and the decree’s implicit threat of receivership. Rather, such efforts reflect a dynamic, dialogical relation between state agencies and institutional geographies that expand the capacities of the racial/racist state as a pedagogical (and not merely coercive) political, juridical, and culturally productive totality. Here, the notion of a speculative cultural algorithm suggests that the historical field of White Reconstruction involves an interplay between the actuarial (predictive and anticipatory) routines of institutional protocol, discursive rationalization (of reform, repression, contradiction, etc.), and disciplinary-to-punitive statecraft (jurisprudence, policing, criminalization, etc.), and the aspirational and experimental (hence speculative) dimensions of a period-specific statecraft, which constantly coordinates and rearticulates domestic warfare and gendered racial reform as a complex and simultaneous totality rather than an irreconcilable or explosive internal contradiction.

The scholarly activist obligation, in the contemporary moment, is to consider the political and cultural implications of a multiculturalist white supremacy that actively releases—or is forced to release—its stranglehold on apartheid forms of institutionality at the very same time that it reproduces the ascendancy of White Being. As the planners, organic intellectuals, administrators, and armed officers of the pedagogical state continually test, revise, and institutionalize the cultural algorithms of White Reconstruction, there is neither respite nor security from the recalibrations of domestic racial-colonial warfare. How are we to conceptualize, confront, oppose, creatively disrupt, and/or transform this multiculturalist renaissance of the white supremacist form? How does the recasting and redistribution of bodies, subjects, and identities within the formally desegregated geographies of white supremacy compel a reframing of antiracist, abolitionist, antigenocide, decolonizing, and radical liberationist work?

Sable Elyse Smith, Coloring Book 6, 2018. Screen printing ink and oil stick on paper, 60 x 56 inches. Courtesy of the artist; JTT, New York; and Carlos/Ishikawa, London.
  1. For some of the most rigorously researched and well-argued examples of this reformist narrative, see Peter K. Enns, Incarceration Nation: How the United States Became the Most Punitive Democracy in the World (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2016), 157; Glenn C. Loury, Race, Incarceration, and American Values (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2008), 28; and John F. Pfaff, Locked In: The True Causes of Mass Incarceration—and How to Achieve Real Reform (New York: Basic Books, 2017), 162.
  2. See Jeremy Travis, “Reducing Mass Incarceration: Exploring the Value of Values,” opening address, 2015 National Forum on Criminal Justice, Atlanta, Georgia, August 3, 2015.
  3. Craig Willse, The Value of Homelessness: Managing Surplus Life in the United States (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2015), 54.
  4. See We Charge Genocide, Police Violence Against Chicago’s Youth of Color, report submitted to United Nations Committee against Torture on the occasion of its review of the United States of America’s Third Periodic Report to the Committee Against Torture (Chicago, 2014), 4, accessed February 14, 2015,
  5. On anti-Blackness, João Costa Vargas and MoonKie Jung also offer: “Antiblackness helps us grasp the types of symbolic and actual forms of violence one is subjected to.” For more on their heuristic conception, see João Costa Vargas and MoonKie Jung, introduction to Antiblackness, eds. Vargas and Jung (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, forthcoming 2021). Calvin Warren’s philosophical conceptualization provides a complementary framing: “antiblackness: an accretion of practices, knowledge systems, and institutions designed to impose nothing onto blackness and the unending domination/eradication of black presence as nothing incarnated. Put differently, antiblackness is antinothing. What is hated about blacks is this nothing, the ontological terror, they must embody for the metaphysical world.” See Calvin Warren, Ontological Terror: Blackness, Nihilism, and Emancipation (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2018), 9.
  6. See We Charge Genocide, Police Violence Against Chicago’s Youth of Color.
  7. See Ida B. WellsBarnett, “Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All Its Phases” (1892), in Selected Works of Ida B. WellsBarnett, ed. Trudier Harris (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991), 14–45; and William L. Patterson, ed., We Charge Genocide: The Historic Petition to the United Nations for Relief from a Crime of the United States Government against the Negro People (New York: Civil Rights Congress, 1951).
  8. Regarding the larger context of stopandfrisk policing, see Michael D. White and Henry F. Fradella, Stop and Frisk: The Use and Abuse of a Controversial Policing Tactic (New York: New York University Press, 2016); Kami Chavis Simmons, “The Legacy of Stop and Frisk: Addressing the Vestiges of a Violent Police Culture,” Wake Forest Law Review 49 (2014): 849–871; Andrew Gelman, Jeffrey Fagan, and Alex Kiss, “An Analysis of the New York City Police Department’s ‘StopandFrisk’ Policy in the Context of Claims of Racial Bias,” Journal of the American Statistical Association 102 (2007): 813–823.
  9. We Charge Genocide, “An Open Letter to the ACLU of Illinois Regarding Stop and Frisk,” online letter, August 12, 2015,
  10. See Dylan Rodríguez, White Reconstruction (New York: Fordham University Press, forthcoming 2020).
  11. Glen Sean Coulthard, Red Skin, White Masks: Rejecting the Colonial Politics of Recognition (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2014), 3. Emphasis in the original.
  12. See Sara Ahmed, On Being Included: Racism and Diversity in Institutional Life (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2012).
  13. US v. City of Los Angeles, 2:00cv11769GAFRC, at 1 (consent decree) (CD Cal. June 5, 2001).
  14. See “Los Angeles Police Department Sponsors Gay Games,” Gay Games VII: Chicago 2006, press release, December 23, 2005, accessed December 2008,; “10th Annual International Criminal Justice Diversity Symposium: Beyond Tolerance,” Los Angeles Law Enforcement Gays and Lesbians (LEGAL) archived March 29, 2009, shtml; and William Bratton and George Kelling, “There Are No Cracks in the Broken Windows: Ideological Academics Are Trying to Undermine a Perfectly Good Idea,” National Review Online, February 28, 2006, https://www. For an overview of the contemporary history of “zero tolerance” and “broken windows” policing, see Christian Parenti, Lockdown America: Police and Prisons in the Age of Crisis (London and New York: Verso, 2000).
  15. Nelson Lim, Carl Matthies, Greg Ridgeway, and Brian Gifford, To Protect and Serve: Enhancing the Efficiency of LAPD (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2009), 4.
  16. Lim, Matthies, Ridgeway, and Gifford, “Summary,” in To Protect and Serve, xix.
  17. Stuart Hall, “Gramsci’s Relevance for the Study of Race and Ethnicity,” Journal of Communication Inquiry 10, no. 2 (1986): 18–19.
  18. Among her many contributions, see Sylvia Wynter and Katherine McKittrick, “Unparalleled Catastrophe for Our Species? Or, to Give Humanness a Different Future: Conversations,” in Katherine McKittrick, ed., Sylvia Wynter: On Being Human as Praxis (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2015), 9–89.
  19. Here, i am invoking the rhetoric of a post–civil rights United States in its popular cultural and public intellectual renditions. This notion is animated by a (not exclusively white or white supremacist) nationalist political desire to transcend—hence decisively obscure, displace, and/or neglect—the political antagonisms and social crises that are inscribed by “race” as a determination and mediation of institutionalized relations of dominance and human hierarchy. The primary arguments of this chapter suggest a fuller rebuttal of the “post–civil rights” and “postracial” rubrics.
  20. On domestic militarism, see Ruth Wilson Gilmore, “Globalization and US Prison Growth: From Military Keynesianism to Post-Keynesian Militarism,” Race & Class 40, no. 2–3 (1999): 171–188.
  21. Max FelkerKantor, “Introduction: The Police Power,” Policing Los Angeles: Race, Resistance, and the Rise of the LAPD (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2018).
  22. On the racial, class, and gender relations of power and state violence that have shaped the historical geographies of Los Angeles, see Mike Davis, City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles, 6th ed. (London and New York: Verso, 2006); Scott Kurashige, The Shifting Grounds of Race: Black and Japanese Americans in the Making of Multiethnic Los Angeles (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2008); Daniel Widener, Black Arts West: Culture and Struggle in Postwar Los Angeles (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010); Laura Pulido, Laura R. Barraclough, and Wendy Cheng, eds., A People’s Guide to Los Angeles (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012); Laura Pulido and Josh Kun, eds., Black and Brown in Los Angeles: Beyond Conflict and Coalition (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2014); and Laura Pulido, Black, Brown, Yellow, and Left: Radical Activism in Southern California (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006).
  23. While journalistic accounts of LAPD violence and “brutality” are widely available, a recent article in the respected international periodical the Guardian provides a symptomatic overview: see Sam Levin, “Hundreds Dead, No One Charged: The Uphill Battle Against Los Angeles Police Killings,” The Guardian, August 24, 2018,
  24. On the neoconservative movement to end affirmative action and progressive attempts to resist its abolition, see Paul M. Ong, ed., Impacts of Affirmative Action: Policies and Consequences in California (Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press, 1999); Lydia Chávez, The Color Bind: California’s Battle to End Affirmative Action (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998).
  25. Clyde Adrian Woods, Development Arrested: The Blues and Plantation Power in the Mississippi Delta (London and New York: Verso, 1998).
  26. Damien M. Sojoyner, First Strike: Educational Enclosures in Black Los Angeles (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2016), 72.
  27. The ACLU asserts, “Los Angeles County Jails, with an average daily population nearing 22,000, is the biggest jail system in the world.” See “LA County Jails,” ACLU, On Los Angeles jails, see Amanda Petteruti and Nastassia Walsh, Jailing Communities: The Impact of Jail Expansion and Effective Public Safety Strategies, A Justice Policy Institute Report (Washington, DC: Justice Policy Institute, 2008), especially page 23 and 26; “Los Angeles County Jail System By the Numbers,” Los Angeles Almanac,; James Austin et al., Evaluation of the Current and Future Los Angeles County Jail Population (Denver: JFA Institute, 2012); and Breeanna Hare and Lisa Rose, “Pop. 17,049: Welcome to America’s Largest Jail,” CNN, September 26, 2016,
  28. Frontline, season 19, episode 10, “LAPD Blues,” directed by Michael Kirk, written by Kirk and Michael J. Boyer, aired May 15, 2001, on PBS. For historical context, see Kristian Williams, Our Enemies in Blue: Police and Power in America (Boston: South End Press, 2007).
  29. Joel Rubin, “11 LAPD Officers Face Discipline in May Day Melee,” Los Angeles Times, September 17, 2008,
  30. Melina Abdullah, “Why LA’s DA Refuses to Prosecute Killer Cops,” interview by Sonali Kolhatkar, September 29, 2017, in Rising Up with Sonali, Los Angeles, CA, KPFK 90.7,
  31. Black Lives Matter Los Angeles, “Prosecute Police Who Kill Our People,” public petition, September 11, 2017, See also Black Lives Matter Los Angeles, “Sign BLMLA’s Petition to Prosecute Police Who Kill Our People,” Black Lives Matter, October 17, 2017, Emphasis in the original.
  32. Kate Mather, “LA Agrees to Pay Nearly $300,000 to Settle Case of Woman Who Died in LAPD Jail Cell,” Los Angeles Times, December 13, 2017,
  33. Isra Ibrahim, “Woman Throws Ashes of Niece Who Died in Police Custody at LAPD Chief,” The Black Youth Project, May 11, 2018, See also Kristine Phillips, “‘That’s Wakiesha!’ a Woman Said as She Threw Her Niece’s Ashes at the Los Angeles Police Chief,” The Washington Post, May 9, 2018,
  34. Sylvia Wynter, “The ReEnchantment of Humanism: An Interview with Sylvia Wynter,” by David Scott, Small Axe 8 (September 2000): 165.
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