Black Lives Matter Part I: The Problem of Race & Police Ethics

Black Lives Matter Part I

The Problem Of Race & Police Ethics 

By Guillaume A.W Attia (Editor-In-Chief)

March 17, 2015                                                       Picture: Adrees Latif/REUTERS.


The deaths of two African-American males, Eric Garner (43) and Michael Brown (18), at the hands of white on-duty police officers, 29 years old Daniel Pantaleo (New York Police Department) and 28 years old Darren Wilson (Ferguson Police Department), in July and August of 2014, sparked global ground and online protests calling for criminal charges for both officers, as well as restitution for the families of both victims. Both cases were brought before a grand jury, and in both cases the jury declined to indict the police officers under investigation with state charges. Following the Garner and Brown verdict, and the deaths of several other black males in police shootings (Notably Akai Gurley and Tamir Rice in November of 2014), the moral framework for international discussions about racial justice and the morality of police practices mutated from “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” and “I Can’t Breathe” to “Black Lives Matter”. This collection of essays is an attempt to capture the philosophically pertinent aspects of the still vibrant online discussion about the relationship between race and police ethics in the United States of America, and indeed throughout the world.


Article #1: “Memories in Time: From Frederick Douglass to Ferguson and Beyond” by Professor Bill Lawson (Memphis University)

Shootings like those of Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin are significant because they partly remind black people of both the past and present failure of the government to protect the lives of black Citizens. As surely as the reality of unequal treatment in the post-civil war era was a cause of profound social disappointment for not only learned blacks such as Frederick Douglass but most Africans living in those times, the present disproportionate killing of black people by law enforcement officers is justly experienced as depressing by all segments of the African American community.

Bill Lawson

Professor Bill Lawson received his Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina. His area of specialization is African-American Philosophy and Social and Political Philosophy. His published works include Pragmatism and the Problem of Race, (2004) edited with Donald Koch, Indiana University Press; Faces of Environmental Racism, Second Edition, (2001) edited with Laura Westra, Rowman & Littlefield; Frederick Douglass: A Critical Reader, (1999) edited with Frank Kirkland, Blackwell. He was a 2011-12 University of Liverpool–Fulbright Fellow at the University of Liverpool, Liverpool UK.

Article #2: “Why is Race such a Big Issue in The U.S?” by Professor John Pittman (City University of New York)

The moral deficit of racial subordination remains deeply embedded in the psyche and bodily life of the United States. Yet, apart from the recurrent (and somewhat superficial) media focus on the outrage generated by particular instances of police brutality towards black males, the issue of race never fully attains the level of serious attention and penetrating analysis bestowed upon it by socially conscious politicians and academics—and in this sense, never truly becomes a “big issue” for the nation.


“My scholarly interests are quite broad; my philosophical orientation could be termed historical and humanist.  I enjoy teaching in the Justice Studies program and the Interdisciplinary Studies Program (formerly Thematic Studies), as well as in the Department of Philosophy.  My publications have been on African American philosophy and Marxism. An anthology, African-American Perspectives and Philosophical Traditions appeared in 1997. The Blackwell Companion to African-American Philosophy, coedited with Professor Tommy Lott, appeared in 2003. I’m a CUNY PhD, awarded in 1989 for a dissertation on Marx’s Capital and Ethical Theory. Before that I did a BA at City College in math (I started in physics, but balked at the lab work). I attended the Fiorello LaGuardia High School when it was just ‘Music & Art,’ perched atop Harlem at 135th street. My mother is proud of my public education; so am I” by Professor John Pittman.

Article #3: “Stereotyping vs “Black Lives Matter”: Moral Frames for Understanding The Police Killings” by Lawrence Blum (University of Massachusetts Boston)

Although one could possibly argue that the stereotype of the “dangerous black male” may have plausibly played a role in the police killings of 2014, this moral framework does not on its own fully capture the wrong involved in these killings. The full moral picture is provided by the basic philosophical message of the Black Lives Matter movement-that it matters if a black person is alive rather than dead, and matters as much and in the same way as this matters for human beings in general, of any racial group- and is best appreciated by paying close attention to how the police officers treated Garner, Brown and others once they were dead rather than merely alive.

Lawrence Blum

Lawrence Blum is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. Author of “I’m Not a Racist, But…”: The Moral Quandary of Race (Cornell, 2002) and High Schools Race and America’s Future: What Students Can Teach Us About Morality, Diversity, and Community (Harvard Education Press, 2012), Blum works in the areas of race studies and moral and political philosophy.

Article #4: “Michael Brown, Privacy and The Rights of The Dead” by Professor Geoffrey Scarre” (The University of Durham)

Thomas Jefferson famously dismissed the idea that the dead have any rights. Following the killing of Michaeal Brown, both the Ferguson Police Department, in its imprudent release of CCTV footage of the teenager outmuscling a store clerk to escape with stolen cigarillos, and The New York Times, for releasing a posthumous portrait describing Brown as “no angel”, were criticized for engaging in a disrespectful slander of the internationally mourned young man. However, are Jefferson and the currently living social critics right in arguing that the dead Brown has no rights not to have his life-story exposed to public view or his reputation posthumously damaged in this way? This essay raises some doubts about this argument.

 Geoffrey Scarre

I am a Professor at Durham Philosophy Department where I specialise in a broad range of issues concerning moral philosophy.  I have an abiding interest in utilitarianism (Utilitarianism: Routledge,1996) and the philosophy of John Stuart Mill (Mill on Liberty: a reader’s guide: Continuum, 2007) and have also written on the subject of death (Death: Acumen, 2007) which I considered from both an historical point of view and across a broad spectrum of different thinkers. My most recent research has focussed on the notion of courage and also on the ethics of archaeology.  As such, I have founded and am the Co-Director of the Durham University Centre for the Ethics of Cultural Heritage.  This is an inter-disciplinary body of academics from Durham – predominantly  from Philosophy and Archaeology – aiming to develop rigorous and systematic analysis of the ethically complex and, at times, politically charged, issue of cultural heritage

Article #5: “Racial Profiling, Exclusion and The Tragic Shooting of Michael Brown” by Professor Kasper Lippert-Rasmussen (Aarhus University)

Many think, rightly so or not, that the shooting of Michael Brown was yet another manifestation of systemic racial profiling by the US police towards African Americans. In this piece, I ask whether racial profiling can ever be justified. I argue that it is very hard to justify, even if we make the most favourable assumptions possible regarding how it is practiced and what it achieves.

Kasper Rasmussen

Kasper Lippert-Rasmussen (D.Phil., Oxford) is a Professor at the department of Political Science and Government at Aarhus University, Denmark. He has published widely on ethics and political philosophy. He is the author of Born Free and Equal? A Philosophical Inquiry into the Nature of Discrimination (Oxford University Press, 2013).

Article #6: “Hypocrisy Democracy” by Christopher Lebron (Yale University)

In this piece, I leverage the idea of hypocrisy to remark on racial inequality within a liberal democracy, specifically the ways in which blacks cannot take for granted the basic right to safety from the violent actions of both private citizens and state institutions such as the police.

Chris Lebron

Christopher Lebron is Assistant Professor of African American Studies and Philosophy at Yale University. His interests include moral theory, political ethics, race, and method. His book, The Color Of Our Shame: Race and Justice In Our Time was published by Oxford University Press in August 2013 and was awarded First Book Prize by the American Political Science Association Foundations of Political Theory section. His article, “The Agony of a Racial Democracy,” was published in Theory & Event vol 15, no. 3, 2012, a symposium on the shooting of Trayvon Martin. His article “Equality From A Human Point Of View,” is forthcoming in Critical Philosophy of Race.  He is currently at work on his second book, From A Human Point of View: (Re)Imagining Racial Egalitarianism and an entry on Paul Gilroy’s The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness for the forthcoming Oxford Handbook of Contemporary Classics In Political Theory.

Article #7: “Race, Rioting and Civil Disobedience” by Professor Kimberley Brownlee (The University of Warwick) and Thomas Parr (The University of Warwick)

The shooting of Michael Brown by officer Darren Wilson, and the subsequent grand jury decision not to indict the officer with state charges, have provoked a wide variety reactions, including both ground and online protests. The ground protests, especially by local Ferguson residents, have sometimes turned violent, indeed escalating into full-blown riots. The contrast between the peaceful demonstrators and the more radical, violent, and surreptitious protesters is reminiscent of the division within the US civil rights movement between the non-violent disobedience led by Martin Luther King Jr and the more radical protests led by Malcolm X and others. Is violence in Missouri the most necessary and effective way of raising awareness about the discontent and ailments of the African American community or is civil disobedience the only morally justifiable course of action for those who feel wronged by the American criminal justice system?

Kimberley Brownlee

Kimberley Brownlee (First Class Hons BA in Philosophy, McGill; MPhil in Philosophy, Cambridge; DPhil in Philosophy, Oxford (Rhodes Scholar) is an Associate Professor of Legal and Moral Philosophy at the University of Warwick. Kimberley is the author of Conscience and Conviction: The Case for Civil Disobedience, published by Oxford University Press (2012). She is also the co-editor of Disability and Disadvantage, published by Oxford University Press (2009). Her articles have appeared in Philosophical Quarterly, Philosophical Studies, Ethics, Law and Philosophy, Utilitas, Oxford Journal of Legal Studies, Journal of Applied Philosophy, Criminal Law and Philosophy, and Res Publica. She is the author of the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on civil disobedience. Her work focuses on practical reason theory, human rights, conscience and conscientious disobedience, ideals and virtue, philosophy of punishment, and restorative justice.

Thomas Parr Warwick

Tom Parr is a third year PhD candidate in the Department of Politics and International Studies at the University of Warwick. His interests lie in normative moral and political philosophy and, more precisely, in questions of justice and legitimacy. His supervisors are Matthew ClaytonAndrew Reeve, and Adam Swift. Tom has a BA (with First class honours) in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics from the University of Warwick and an MSc (with Distinction) in Political Theory Research from the University of Oxford. He is a member of the Centre for Ethics, Law, and Public Affairs, the Children, Education & Philosophy Working Group, and he also works as a Research Assistant for Kimberley Brownlee in the School of Law. Between March and September 2014, Tom was a visiting PhD student at the Universistat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona, where he was supervised by Andrew Williams.

Article #8: “Michael Brown, Chiraq & The Black-on-Black Crime Complaint” by Dr. Albert Atkin (Macquarie University)

For anyone familiar with the interminable media “debate” about the racial politics behind policing in much of America, the public raucous surrounding the shootings of black males such as Michael Brown, often force some social critics to respond to these outpourings by suggesting that the real issue in such cases are the high rates of “black on black crime” which require police presence in black neighbourhoods the first place. The call then is for the African American community to take responsibility for this pathology and invest their collective energies in tackling this spiralling problem, rather than respond to abnormal police behavior with often unproductive and destructive wrath. What should we make of this proposal? Should black Americans focus their attention on police shootings, or on the issue of black-on-black crime? This essay contends that the problem with these two alternatives is that we are presented with a dichotomy that on closer inspection simply doesn’t stand up.


Dr. Albert Atkin completed his PhD at Sheffield in 2005 with a thesis on Indexical Reference and the Philosophy of Charles S. Peirce. He has worked at Glasgow University and Sheffield University in the U.K. before coming to Macquarie in October 2007. He is the author of two forthcoming books on C.S.Pierce (New York: Routledge) and The Philosophy of Race (Acumen).

Article #9: “Chokeholds, Eric Garner and Police Ethics” by Professor John Kleinig (City University of New York and Charles Sturt University)

Chokeholds have been prohibited by the NYPD for over twenty years, yet there have been many reports of its illegitimate use by New York police officers in the last five years. The Garner tragedy has now prompted what is surely an overdue review of these complaints, including a review of the use-of-force training that police officers receive. The incident also gives us reason to reflect again on basics – on why we have police in the first place, what powers we give them, what limitations we place on the use of those powers, the support we provide for them, and the ways in which they may be held accountable.

John Kleinig

John Kleinig is an Emeritus Professor of Philosophy in the Department of Criminal Justice, John Jay College of Criminal Justice and in the PhD Program in Philosophy, Graduate School and University Center, City University of New York. He is also a Strategic Research Professor at Charles Sturt University and Professorial Fellow and Program Manager in Criminal Justice Ethics at the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics (Canberra, Australia). He is the author/editor of 21 books, including The Ethics of Policing (CUP, 1996), Ethics in Criminal Justice (CUP 2008), Professional Police Practice (OUP, 2013, ed., with PAJ Waddington & Martin Wright), On Loyalty and Loyalties: The Contours of a Problematic Virtue (OUP, 2014), Prisoners’ Rights (Ashgate, 2014, ed), and The Ethics of Patriotism: A Debate (Wiley Blackwell, 2014, with Simon Keller and Igor Primoratz).

Article #10: “What’s All The Fuss With Police Militarization?” by John Kleinig (City University of New York and Charles Sturt University)

The shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, spotlighted a host of problems in police-citizen encounters. Race and police use of lethal force took center stage, as they often do. But the problems went much wider, and many Americans watching the riotous aftermath unfold were confronted with pictures that could have come from a war zone. Perhaps they did: police garbed in military gear, manning an armoured personnel carrier, and pointing military assault rifles at citizens. It has reinvigorated a previous though somewhat lacklustre public debate about the differences between police and the military and the appropriateness of the government disposing of its excess military hardware by transferring it to police departments. This essay cast a critical eye on the phenomenon of police militarization.

Article #11: “Police Loyalty: Understanding The Post-Shooting Support for Officer Darren Wilson” by Professor John Kleinig (City University of New York and Charles Sturt University)

As indicated by the public outrage that followed the emergence of “I am Darren Wilson” armbands in the early stages of the Michael Brown case, displays of police loyalty can be very controversial. Police loyalty is an impressive but sometimes troubling phenomenon. An officer who will lay his (or her) life on the line to protect a buddy will often also lie through his (or her) teeth to cover up for a buddy’s indiscretions. Without condoning the actions of the Ferguson police, I will here attempt to understand the loyalty they have shown to each other, before making some suggestions about its appropriate limits.


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  • Michael Mirer

    Not to deny the quality of the essays here, but did no one notice that there are no black women represented in this issue? And only one female contributor? Black Lives Matter has notably been led by the work of black women (whose own discrimination and oppression by the police and civilians goes unmentioned in the introduction) so this exclusion is especially shameful.

    • The Critique (Admin)

      Hello Michael Mirer. Glad you appreciate the content of the series and thank you for the pointer. This was actually mentioned in the early stages of this project, when we were still looking to recruit writers, by some of the philosophers we invited. Back then, we had a few writers on board (all male) after we contacted a number of women of color who were not available at the time. We went on to invite a few more black women philosophers to contribute to this issue but they were unfortunately also not available to add to this series at this particular time of the year. However, this is not an exhaustive treatment but an introduction so there is still room for more discussion involving possibly more philosophers. In so far as this is likely, we will do our best (within reason) to reach out, once more, to black women. Finally, if it helps we would point you to Professor Blum’s piece on “Stereotypes vs Black Lives Matter”where we mention the influence of black women on the movement. If you have any further questions or concerns, please feel free to contact us at

  • Pingback: Police Violence, Race, and…? | Daily Nous()

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