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Excerpted From: Elise C. Boddie, Racially Territorial Policing in Black Neighborhoods, 89 University of Chicago Law Review 477 (March, 2022) (102 Footnotes) (Full Document)


EliseCBoddieThis Essay proposes a new lens for evaluating an old problem: the harms of policing in Black neighborhoods. It calls attention to what I have theorized in another context as “racial territoriality”--a form of discrimination that excludes people of color from, or marginalizes them within, “spaces that have a racially exclusive history, practice, and/or reputation.” In this Essay, I offer my theory to suggest that police not only criminalize Black people but also criminalize Black spaces, ostensibly justifying them--and the people who live in or frequent them--as “natural” targets for police activity. By highlighting the role that spatial meaning plays in policing, I aim to expand the conversation about the dynamics of police behavior in Black neighborhoods and its human cost, including the limitations that police place on the freedom of Black people to move about. As an example of racially territorial policing, I discuss the Supreme Court's decision in Illinois v. Wardlow and the harms that it has created by granting police significant discretion to stop people in areas that they define--often inaccurately, according to some research--as having high levels of crime. I leave it to others to evaluate the utility of this proposed frame and whether its contributions are productive.

[. . .]

Space is a critical, but often neglected, frame for understanding racial inequality. This Essay sought to explain why space matters in the context of policing, the spatial harms that racially territorial policing creates, and the toll on individuals and communities that such policing exacts.

We should pause here to reflect on the damning precarity of Black lives in predominantly Black neighborhoods and the stereotypes and ideations that perpetuate that status. Racially territorial policing is hypercomplicit in this affair. It spatializes notions of Black inferiority and White superiority onto neighborhood spaces through processes of marginalization, exclusion, and concentration. Black space is naturalized as subordinated space, which is often followed by a denial of resources and opportunities.

There are individual harms too. They include the stigma of experiencing oneself as a perpetual suspect and the fight it takes to resist that marginalization; the loss of freedom to be left alone and to move (unquestioned) through space according to one's will; and, finally, the sense that there are too few places where one is free to just be.

Henry Rutgers Professor, Professor of Law, and Judge Robert L. Carter Scholar, Rutgers Law School.

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