Bad Guys & Dirty Hands

“Ethical Policing” In The Presence Of Racial Injustice

By Professor Vanessa Wills (The George Washington University)

July 14, 2016          Jonathan Bachman/REUTERS

This article is part of The Critique’s May/June 2016 Issue “Black Lives Matter (Part II): Understanding The New Movement For Racial Justice”

“Our demand is simple. Stop killing us.”

–Johnetta Elzie, “Black Lives Matter” movement organizer[i]


“The whole damn system is guilty as hell!”

–Protest chant in Ferguson, Missouri after the murder of Michael Brown


My aim here is to offer reasons for entertaining seriously the following possibility: that in the United States, policing that is “ethical,” according to standards internal to the practice and culture of policing, just is policing that disproportionately targets people of color for violence and domination. This is obviously not to say that such policing is ethical in any more general sense.

A key function of police in an unjust society is to hold together, as much as possible, what Martin Luther King, Jr. called a “negative peace”: acquiescent stillness in the absence of justice. Social injustice regularly inspires righteous liberation struggle and resistance from its victims. Policing immorally frustrates and opposes that struggle[ii].

It is not my aim here to sway those who remain undecided about whether or not they ought to condemn the killings of Paul Castaway, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, Jessie Hernandez, Sandra Bland, Tanisha Anderson, and countless others, as immoral. Rather, I intend to discuss here the ethical codes that govern policing in the United States, and that facilitate and justify what should be unjustifiable.

In taking contemporary police ethics as my subject matter, I address the relationship among three factors: the specific area of applied ethics research that pertains to policing; the moral psychology of police officers; and the interaction among police ethics, police moral psychology, and white supremacy as a system of social control in the United States.

A typical feature of police officers’ moral psychology is their acceptance of the notion that policing is “dirty work”; that is, they commonly believe that policing regularly and necessarily requires the violation of universal moral codes that the officers might themselves endorse. However, the violation of those norms is seen to be a necessary evil in the course of observing the police officer’s duty to “get bad guys off the street”[iii].

Because racist policing is “good policing” according to standards internal to the practice of policing, the crisis of racist policing cannot easily be resolved by entreating individual police officers to discharge their role expectations while also operating according to what the officers themselves might regard as applicable moral standards, since violating those standards is considered part of the responsibility one takes on as an officer, in service of a perceived greater good[iv].



 The words, “To Protect and to Serve,” [See Kleinig for a more detailed discussion of the policing of minority citizens] emblazoned on police vehicles across the United States, are shorthand for a certain popular conception of the role, duty, and function of police offers: to protect and serve members of the public[v]. Yet we know the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2005 that police are under no general obligation to protect members of the public from harm[vi]. What of the second half of that slogan, the imperative to serve? We know that police departments do not typically function as servants of the people of Ferguson, Missouri, or Baltimore, Maryland, or countless other communities of poor people of color.

A more apt shorthand for the function of police in the United States might be the oft-invoked slogan, “Law and Order.” In a seminal 1978 article on police ethics, John Van Maanen observed:

“nothing characterizes policing in America more than the widespread belief on the part of the police themselves that they are primarily law enforcers—perpetually engaged in a struggle with those who would disobey, disrupt, do harm, agitate, or otherwise upset the just order of the regime. And, that as policemen, they and they alone are the most capable of sensing right from wrong; determining who is and who is not respectable; and, most critically, deciding what is to be done about it (if anything)”[vii].

The term “Law and Order” was coined and popularized in the conservative backlash against the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s and 70s, crystallizing the demand for a halt to progressive change and a rigidifying of oppressive and hierarchical social structures[viii].

The most potent weapons in the arsenal of the Civil Rights Movement were civil disobedience, the introduction of social and political instability, and the disruption of an oppressive and unjust social order. Again in the words of King, “Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and establish such creative tension that a community that has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue […] the purpose of direct action is to create a situation so crisis-packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation”[ix].

The call for a “return to law and order,” then, must be understood alongside the recollection that the law had been segregation and the order was racial hierarchy. It is a direct ideological reaction to the “creative tension” introduced by Blacks’ demand for social justice.

As Bernard Harcourt writes in his 2009 book, Illusion of Order: The False Promise of Broken Windows Policing,

“The order-maintenance approach has become one of the leading theories in the criminal justice arena and has helped shape one of the two most important turn-of-century trends in criminal justice in America, namely, the proliferation of order-maintenance policing strategies. The other dramatic trend has been the exponential rise in incarceration since the 1970s”[x].

It has been well-documented how the “War on Drugs” was engineered and instrumentalized to produce that “return to law and order”[xi]. This brings us to the question: what does morality require of the police officer, particularly with respect to the police officer’s treatment of people of color, given that “law and order” are not neutral but rather represent a stand taken against racial equality?

That question can be understood in at least two ways. One could ask what morality requires of the police officer simply as a human being faced with a particular set of circumstances. That question could be answered by asking what it is that morality ever requires of anyone with respect to how we treat others.

I take it that most coherent and plausible moral theories will command, minimally, that we avoid acting in ways that promote oppressive racial hierarchies. Plausibly, morality requires that the typical police officer in the typical police department in the U.S. refuse to perform at least some of the prescribed functions of their job, especially those that relate to demonstrably racist endeavors such as the so-called “War on Drugs.”

There is a second register in which this question can be understood, however, and this is my principal topic. One might ask what the ethical code internal to policing in the United States requires of the police officer, understood not just as any human being, but as a police officer first and foremost. What are the norms, standards, and expectations that pertain to an individual when their proper functioning in their role is circumscribed by a larger machinery of racially oppressive law and white supremacist order?

Since the law and order being maintained is itself immoral, it can seem puzzling what “police ethics” could ever really amount to in the scenario I’ve described. If the problem seems obscure with respect to the contemporary U.S. case, then imagine asking what “police ethics”—as opposed to just plain ethics—require of police in whatever political regime does strike you as having or having had policing that is fundamentally immoral in at least one of its principal functions and aims.

A police officer in the Jim Crow South who had sworn to uphold the law would have understood himself to have an ethical obligation to protect business owners’ “right” not to serve people of color. “Ethical policing,” according to the standards internal to the practice, just was racist policing. This, I think, often remains the case today.



Activists against police brutality have been leaders in pointing out its systemic nature. Because the criminal justice system in the United States focuses on matters of individual responsibility, typically the only kind of accountability it seems to countenance is the punishment or censure of individual police officers.

It is of course quite rare that even this inadequate form of justice is doled out. Such punishment would implicate not only the individual officers but also the system they serve. An unjust society, which consistently inspires resistance, requires recourse to violence without accountability to the populations against which that violence is meted out. The police officer is the instrument of this state violence, and as such, must be protected from popular interference.

As a procedural matter, legal accountability for police brutality is hard to come by in part because the courts afford police officers a broad degree of discretion in the performance of their duties. This, together with the legal system’s more general emphasis on individual responsibility, can in turn make it tempting to focus on the individual actions of specific police officers.

If a police officer has discretion to use extreme violence, this would suggest that the same police officer also has discretion not to use it, and therefore the crucial link in the causal chain leading to brutality is the decision-making process of the individual officer.

That thought is reasonable enough, but it is premised on a misunderstanding of the mechanisms by which any particular person makes it out of the police academy and onto the street, and of the socialization processes by which particular values and expectations are inculcated in that person.

As Mychal Denzel Smith writes, speaking to the institutional and systemic nature of racist police brutality, it is a mistake to be “satisfied with charges and potential prison time.” Instead, Smith implores his reader, we ought to ask, “What do you do with an institution whose core function is the control and elimination of black people specifically, and people of color and the poor more broadly?”[xii]

Additionally, decisions regarding the scope of the discretion enjoyed by police officers are made at levels of government much higher than police departments, and are themselves political interventions into circumstances of racial conflict.

In particular, the Terry v. Ohio case, which ruled so-called “stop and frisk” police tactics to be constitutional, created and protected a realm of police discretion that has had reliably and predictably disproportionate and devastating effect on communities of color. As Tracey Maclin argues in “Terry v. Ohio’s Fourth Amendment Legacy: Black Men and Police Discretion,”

“After Terry, police intrusions would be controlled by a malleable “reasonableness” standard that gave enormous discretion to the police. When this reasonableness norm was applied to street encounters between the police and urban residents, the result was predictable—expanded police powers and diminished individual freedom. One of the flaws of Terry was that this shift in constitutional doctrine was implemented without a full examination of the consequences for blacks and other disfavored persons most affected by police investigatory methods. Moreover, the result in Terry provided a springboard for modern police methods that target black men and others for arbitrary and discretionary intrusions”.[xiii]

But Terry also reflected the growing late-1960s reaction against Black demands for social justice. As Maclin notes:

“The sixties was an exciting, but turbulent decade. The nation had suffered the convulsions of several urban riots […] Many in society felt the Court had gone too far in policing the police. […] More to the point, the Court had developed ‘a strong pro-Negro image’ as a result of its ‘due process revolution,’ which did not sit too well with segments of the white population that associated blacks with crime”.[xiv]

The decisions made in any particular police encounter are made by the individual police officers involved, exercising their authority to control the situation according to their judgment. However, which individuals are given this authority, which values they reflect in the exercise of that authority, and how far their authority extends, are the result of larger systematic social attitudes, forces, and political processes.

In Police Ethics: The Corruption of Noble Cause, Michael Caldero and John Crank relate an anecdote to illustrate the point that the decisions police officers make on the job reliably reflect the values of their immediate superiors, of elected officials, of influential citizens (such as business leaders), and more broadly, of the society at large. Caldero and Crank write, “police discretion is, in part, an illusion of how we think about modern bureaucracies. So-called ‘discretionary’ police behavior […] is value-based and predictable”[xv].

To demonstrate the point, they recount a typical conversation in a lesson to police recruits on police ethics:

“[Caldero, the instructor:] Okay. Imagine this. There’s a car full of fat white men in $1,000 suits. The driver’s license of the driver is expired. Now, in your mind, imagine slamming these guys on the hood of the car, palms down. Kicking their feet apart. Screaming at them. Can that image, that CONCEPT even enter your mind? It’s not even possible. The image doesn’t work. Now imagine doing this to a car full of black teenagers with baseball caps on backwards”.

The audience laughs quietly. Mike [Caldero] laughs, too, nodding his head up and down.[xvi]

The lesson of this anecdote being that the recruits in question understand, perfectly well, that they do not in fact have discretion to react to the situation in whatever way they as individuals might deem appropriate. Their discretion exists within strict limits determined in significant part by the values of the interests they serve and of the society at large. Officers who fail to observe these limits won’t last long in their jobs.

As Harold E. Pepinsky observes in “Better Living Through Police Discretion,” “Law enforcement is literally a political exercise—an exercise of power—and in that exercise those who have more power as citizens are odds-on favorites to avoid the force of law”[xvii].

While focusing on individual behavior and the exercise of police discretion can be instructive and worthwhile, any discussion of race and police ethics that fails to relate these themes to the broader, systemic, social devaluing of people of color can only scratch the surface.

Police abuses reflect a broader social consensus about which lives matter and which do not. Individual police officers ought to be held accountable for the brutality regularly unleashed by them against subject populations. While demanding this, however, it is necessary also to ask how it is that the right of people of color to live freely, or even to live at all, becomes a right that is enjoyed only at the discretion of the individual police officer.



My contention is that racist policing is best understood not as a lack of “ethical policing” that can be corrected by insisting that police live up to the standards of their profession, but perhaps more disturbingly as the result of “police ethics” in practice. Seeing this requires understanding the ethical world of police officers as experienced by police officers themselves.

One of the most distinctive aspects of police ethics as it is understood within law enforcement contexts, is that the nature of policing routinely places police officers in situations that pose seeming ethical dilemmas, where the possibility of remaining ethically innocent is off the table, and every professionally acceptable course of action involves the violation of “higher” ethical codes that the officer herself might well endorse.

In this sense, in accepting her duty, the officer becomes like Machiavelli’s prince who “cannot observe all those things for which men are esteemed, being often forced, in order to maintain the state, to act contrary to fidelity, friendship, humanity, and religion”[xviii].

A survey of police ethics literature reveals a moral universe in which the police, by virtue of their role as law enforcers and keepers of order, manage much higher degrees of “moral risk”—that is, likelihood of violating their moral duties as human beings in the course of discharging their professional duties as police officers—than do most people working outside of law enforcement contexts[xix].

The power and authority that police officers wield, combined with limited oversight or accountability in their exercise of that power, the responsibility to act decisively, and the demanding, high-pressure situations in which police officers make decisions, create massive potential and opportunity for serious moral wrongdoing.

A useful and relevant discussion of “moral risk” is to be found in Martin Hollis and David Howe’s 1987 paper, “Moral Risks in Social Work.” There, Hollis and Howes conclude of the social worker, “she knows that sometimes she has intervened and done harm. The failures are not hers alone but hers they remain”[xx].

Of course the aim of social work is importantly very different from the aim of policing. What’s relevant here for the policing case, is the acceptance of moral blameworthiness as a risk one runs, and the notion that the maintenance of social order requires that some individuals “dirty” their hands.

Key to typical police rhetoric about maintaining “law and order” is the imperative to “get the bad guys off the streets.” (One extreme example of this was the use of the “superpredator” concept in the mid-1990s to justify the practice of sweeping Black and Latino children into the criminal justice system with harsher and longer sentencing. As Victor Rios writes in “The Racial Politics of Youth Crime”, “Attacking violent youth crime became an allegory for developing a racialized youth control complex that would deeply penetrate the everyday lives and life course of young poor males of color. No longer would delinquent youth be given a chance to redeem themselves for their transgressions.”)

In policing, the goal of “getting bad guys off the streets” takes on the character of an ethical imperative, one that competes with other important ethical demands. As Carl Klockars writes in his 1980 article, “The Dirty Harry Problem”:

“The troublesome issue in the Dirty Harry problem is not whether under some utilitarian calculus a right choice can be made, but that the choice must always be between at least two wrongs [violating a suspect’s rights or “letting the bad guy get away”]. And in choosing to do either wrong, the policeman inevitably taints or tarnishes himself.”[xxi]

On Klockars’ view, the chief factors contributing to this heightened risk for ethical taint are twofold. Firstly, police officers qua officers take on a duty of enforcing the law, or more broadly, “keeping the peace,” or “getting bad guys off the streets.”

They have this duty together with broad authority to discharge that duty according to their individual judgement and with the effectively unconditional backing of the state they serve.

This produces conditions that are ripe for police officers to effect massive harm and with minimal accountability. At “best,” it offers great temptation to act unethically, and at worst, it places pressure on the officer to do so, if that is what is necessary to “get bad guys off the streets.”

Secondly (and of course closely related), the aim of “getting bad guys off the streets” is often given—by the police, by their superiors, and by sections of the public at large—an absolute priority over other desirable aims, such as respecting the rights of suspects and minimizing the harm done to them.

The police then focus on the end of getting bad guys off the streets and will use means that achieve that end, the legality or morality of those means notwithstanding. Police officers see themselves as patriots who sacrifice their ethical “cleanliness” in order to do the “dirty” work of putting away “bad guys.” A certain degree of ethical taint is seen as both the price of doing business and as a sign of adherence to the demands of police ethics.

As the “superpredator” example suggests, the concept of the “bad guy” is itself already ethically fraught. The “bad guy” is not simply a guy who is doing a bad or illegal thing. He is essentially bad, an essentially wrong and undesirable being whose removal from public life is the raison d’être of “good policing.”

The category of the “bad guy” is obviously a vulgar oversimplification of a more complex reality. Yet, as sociologist Steve Herbert has argued, such rhetoric allows officers to “minimize” the “tensions and dilemmas” of their profession “through recourse to an overarching morality that provides a secure and even glorious rationale for their ever disputable and ultimately ineffective actions”[xxii].

So-called “Broken Windows Policing” is a prime example of the expansion of police responsibilities and powers to control public life to an increasingly high degree, which is in turn justified by appeal to the specter of the “bad guy.”

Consider the 2015 report, “Broken Windows and Quality-of-Life Policing,” released by the office of William J. Bratton, Commissioner of the New York City Police Department. That report includes the following defense of “Broken Windows”:

“Fare evasion and graffiti would no longer be considered too petty to address. In fact, we’d focus on them as vigorously as on serious crimes like robberies, if not more so[xxiii]. Why? Because serious crime was more likely to occur in a lawless environment—and ubiquitous low-level disorder signaled lawlessness even more than serious crime, which was less common. We also quickly learned that the serious criminals committed petty crimes, too. When they weren’t committing robberies or assaults, they were hopping turnstiles, unlawfully moving between cars, and generally diminishing the quality of life that should have been enjoyed by other, fare-paying riders. A subway criminal arrested for a misdemeanor rather than a felony wouldn’t be going to prison, but he wouldn’t be victimizing anyone for a while, either”[xxiv].

The logic of this type of policing maintains that the police are justified in applying to fare evasion, graffiti, and other misdemeanors the same or an even greater level of control as that which they might apply to graver offenses such as robbery or violent crime.

Although Britton claims elsewhere in that document to be targeting “behaviors” and not “people,” that claim is given lie to by the explicit justification he offers for “Broken Windows”: that the person who is arrested for subway crime will not be committing more serious crime during the time he is in police custody, as, we are to assume, he no doubt otherwise would.

Britton also persists in dividing the NYC population into two groups: criminals and law-abiding citizens who want to enjoy public space free from the interference of the criminals. But such a division is obvious fantasy. We know that most ostensibly law-abiding citizens break many laws throughout the course of a given day, whether it be by jay-walking, operating a vehicle at speeds higher than the posted speed limit, transporting alcohol across state lines, consuming controlled substances, or some other deviation from perfect compliance with the law.

There can in fact be no strict division between criminals and law-abiding citizens, but rather, merely the essentializing of the category, “criminal,” to pick out certain individuals as the types who need to be taken off the street by good policing.

It is also worth noting that decades of criminal justice research ought to have long dispelled the notion that the theory behind “Broken Windows” policing is good social science. At least as early as 1979 (three years prior to the publication of George Kelling and James Wilson’s influential “Broken Windows” article in Atlantic Monthly), researchers Steve Van Dine, John P. Conrad, and Simon Dinitz concluded in their paper “The Incapacitation of the Chronic Thug,” that:

“The economic costs of its application—to say nothing of the social upheaval attendant on such a radical change in our system of criminal justice—are so great that we must conclude that incapacitation is not a reasonable course to adopt for the achievement of a reduction of violent crime. As a proposed policy, incapacitation assumes the existence of a small number of chronic offenders who commit a disproportionately large volume of violent offenses. From the research presented here, it is clearly impossible to define the chronic offender in such a way that a practical basis for crime reduction can be structured”[xxv].

Forty years later, Harcourt concluded in Illusion of Order “that there is no good evidence to support the broken windows theory. In fact, the social science data reveal no statistically significant relationship between disorder and crime”[xxvi].

And yet, the idea of the “bad guy” who can be stopped in his tracks through Broken Windows policing still persists, in spite of its lack of scientific basis, but perhaps because of its usefulness in justifying the expansion of police power and social control.

An ethical treatment of suspects might require different treatment based on whether that person is suspected of fare-jumping or of violent crime, unless the willingness to jump a turnstile is itself a sign of that same individual’s propensity for violent crime, in which case they are simply a “bad guy” who needs to be taken off the street, with all the force called for by the threat of imminent violence.

The stakes of the police confrontation are raised; the police officer is encouraged to see herself not simply as enforcing transit law, but as now involved in a situation where the consequence of failing to arrest that person, using whatever means necessary, is a missed an opportunity to prevent robbery, assault, or worse.

Never mind that this has no basis in empirically verifiable fact. The officer sees themselves as caught between two choices: adopt unethical and perhaps illegal means in order to restrain a “bad guy”—perhaps abusing the rights of an “innocent citizen” into the bargain—or leave the “bad guy” free to victimize a “law-abiding” public.

Since “keeping bad guys off the street” is considered central to the role of policing, and officers are given broad discretion to use force, the ubiquity of police violence even against people suspected of nonviolent crimes or even no crime at all should come perhaps as no surprise.



So what happens when the moral framework of policing—the acceptance of unsavory means, the officer’s acceptance of “moral risk” as an occupational hazard, and the essentializing of criminality in the person of the “bad guy,”—occurs in concert with the implicit or explicit belief that certain races and ethnicities of people are inherently criminal (the “thug,” the “illegal,” the “terrorist,” etc.)?

What is already a space of broad power to control and subdue even in the case of white bodies, broadens even further in the case of the racialized and criminalized body, a phenomenon I’ve described elsewhere as it relates to the policing of Black people in the United States[xxvii].

We have gotten important insight into how these phenomena interact, thanks to research on implicit bias, which is bias that a person may not consciously recognize or explicitly endorse in themselves, but that can nonetheless be detected in that person’s responses to social triggers.

Eberhardt, et al. discuss implicit bias in policing in their 2004 article, “Seeing Black: Race, Crime, and Visual Processing.” They conclude, on the basis of a study in which they investigated police officers’ stereotypic associations between crime and race, that “just as Black faces and Black bodies can trigger thoughts of crime, thinking of crime can trigger thoughts of Black people.” Given this fact, it is no great surprise that driving, walking, shopping, even simply existing, all become criminalized acts when performed by Black people:

“When officers were given no information other than a face and when they were explicitly directed to make judgments of criminality, race played a significant role in how those judgments were made. Black faces looked more criminal to police officers; the more Black, the more criminal[xxviii]. These results provide additional evidence that police officers associate Blacks with the specific concept of crime. Moreover, these results shed light on the face recognition memory errors made by police officers in Study 4. In that study, police officers were more likely to falsely identify a Black face that was more stereotypically Black than the target when primed with crime than when not primed with crime. Thinking of crime may have led officers to falsely identify the more stereotypically Black face because more stereotypically Black faces are more strongly associated with the concept of crime than less stereotypically Black faces.”[xxix]

What Eberhardt, et al. found is that in the minds of police officers, criminality typically invokes the concept of Blackness and Blackness invokes thoughts of criminality. Historically, practically, and psychologically, there is a tight connection between “maintaining law and order,” “keeping bad guys off the street,” and state domination over Black people.

Partly as a result of implicit bias associations (though of course often as a result of explicit bias), Blacks are more likely to be categorized as “bad guys” whose presence is a problem, one that “good” policing is designed to solve.

While an individual police officer might recognize that tactics used to keep “bad guys off the street” create collateral damage, he also accepts this as a moral risk he willingly took on when he put on the uniform. Particularly when policing Black communities, it is a risk he is willing to run, given that there is merely criminalized and socially devalued Black life at stake.



This has been a brief discussion of one aspect of the intersection between race and police ethics. As I stated at the outset, my goal has been to outline reasons for supposing that policing that is “ethical” according to standards internal to the practice of policing in the United States just is racist policing. In other words, the disproportionately violent and oppressive impact that policing has on people of color is not U.S. policing gone wrong, but rather, often, U.S. policing gone “right”.

The struggle to reform police practice and to hold individual police officers is vitally important. Ultimately, however, racist policing reflects and reinforces a pervasive social order in which the lives of people of color are systematically devalued. Movements against racist policing must also take up the broader project of radical social change.

Anti-racism necessitates political agitation and the introduction of “creative tension.” Black liberation cannot come without a massive rearrangement of social, economic, and political power, producing tremors in the very foundations of American society. It thus comes directly into confrontation with the aims of policing. It is not accidental that the end result of routine policing practice so often turns out to be the suppression and extinguishing of Black life.

I close by suggesting that insofar as modern-day policing is committed to “law and order” even or particularly in the absence of justice, and to compelling obedience and compliance in circumstances that demand resistance and struggle, it is opposed to justice and must be not merely reformed, but opposed and abolished.

Footnotes & References

[i] Elzie was quoted in Kang, Jay Caspian. “The Witnesses.” The New York Times Magazine, May 10, 2015, p. MM34

[ii] I am not attempting to introduce here a distinction between “ethics” and “morality.” I use the two words interchangeably.

[iii] See Klockars 1980 and Dick 2005: Klockars, Carl B. “The dirty Harry problem.” The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 452.1 (1980): 33-47; Dick, Penny. “Dirty work designations: How police officers account for their use of coercive force.” Human relations11 (2005): 1363-1390.

[iv] By “racist policing,” I refer to policing that disproportionately negatively impacts the lives and wellbeing of people of color, and to policing that frustrates attempts to resist the social institutions and practices through which racial hierarchy is organized.

[v] According to the Los Angeles Police Department, the phrase “To Protect and to Serve” was coined by Joseph S. Dorobek in 1955 as the winning entry in an internal contest to determine the official motto of the LAPD Police Academy. In 1963, the motto became the official motto of the LAPD and was displayed on LAPD patrol vehicles. (, “The Origin of the LAPD Motto”)

[vi] “Castle Rock v. Gonzales”; the Supreme Court decision can be accessed at .

[vii] Van Maanen, John. “The asshole.” Policing: A view from the street (1978): p.308

[viii] Flamm, Michael W. Law and order: Street crime, civil unrest, and the crisis of liberalism in the 1960s. Columbia University Press, 2007.

[ix] King Jr, Martin Luther (1963). “Letter from Birmingham jail.” Liberating faith: Religious voices for justice, peace, & ecological wisdom (2012): 177-187.

[x] Harcourt, Bernard E. Illusion of order: The false promise of broken windows policing. Harvard University Press, 2009.

[xi] Alexander, Michelle. The new Jim Crow: Mass incarceration in the age of colorblindness. The New Press, 2012.

[xii] Smith, Mychal Denzel. “Abolish the police. Instead, let’s have full social, economic, and political equality.” The Nation April 9, 2015

[xiii] Maclin, Tracey. “Terry v. Ohio’s Fourth Amendment Legacy: Black Men and Police Discretion.” Saint John’s Law Review 72 (1998): 1278.

[xiv] Maclin 1998, pp.1317-1318.

[xv] Caldero, Michael A., and John P. Crank. Police ethics: The corruption of noble cause. Routledge, 2010.

[xvi] Caldero and Crank, 2014.

[xvii] Pepinsky, Harold E. “Better living through police discretion.” Law & Contemp. Probs. 47 (1984): p. 257.

[xviii] Machiavelli, Niccolò. The Prince. University of Chicago Press, 2010.

[xix] Useful discussions of “moral risk” include Richard Ericson and Aaron Doyle’s 2003 book, Risk and Morality: Ericson, Richard Victor, and Aaron Doyle. Risk and morality. University of Toronto Press, 2003.

[xx] Hollis, Martin, and David Howe. “Moral risks in social work.” Journal of applied philosophy 4.2 (1987): p. 132.

[xxi] Klockars 1980, p. 37.

[xxii] Herbert, Steve. “Morality in Law Enforcement: Chasing” Bad Guys” with the Los Angeles Police Department.” Law and society review (1996): p.806.

[xxiii] Emphasis mine.

[xxiv] Bratton, William J. “Broken Windows and Quality-of-Life Policing in New York City”. NYC.GOV, (2015): pp. 1-2 [].

[xxv] Dine, et al., 1979.

[xxvi] Harcourt 2009, p.7.

[xxvii] Wills, Vanessa. “’What Are You Doing Around Here?’: Trayvon Martin and the Logic of Black Guilt.” In Yancy, George, and Janine Jones. Pursuing Trayvon Martin: historical contexts and contemporary manifestations of racial dynamics. Rowman & Littlefield, 2012.

[xxviii] Emphasis mine.

[xxix] Eberhardt, Jennifer L., et al. “Seeing black: race, crime, and visual processing.” Journal of personality and social psychology6 (2004): p.889.

Vanessa Wills
Vanessa Wills
Vanessa Wills is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at The George Washington University. She received her PhD in Philosophy from the University of Pittsburgh in 2011, where she wrote her dissertation on the topic, “Marx and Morality.” Her areas of specialization are moral, social, and political philosophy, nineteenth century German philosophy (especially Karl Marx), and the philosophy of race. Her research is importantly informed by her study of Marx’s work, and focuses on the ways in which economic and social arrangements can inhibit or promote the realization of values such as freedom, equality, and human development.
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