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“What You Gon’ Do, Shoot Me?”: Resistance in Racialized Police-Civilian Encounters


Since the 2014 killing of unarmed Black teenager Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri, racialized police violence has taken center stage in discourses about race, racism, and criminal justice. Deadly police brutality, however, is only the tip of the iceberg of the racialized policing practices that civilians of color encounter daily. While the fact that race influences police officers’ decisions about who is suspicious, whom to stop, who is considered dangerous, and whom it is justifiable or necessary to use violence against is well documented (e.g. Epp, Maynard-Moody, and Haider-Markel 2014), criminological research still tends to approach the question of the relevance of race as a matter of whether race is relevant, rather than asking how it is relevant. This paper attempts to fill this gap by examining the ways in which racial logics are relevant in police-civilian encounters, and how that, in turn, is procedurally consequential (Schegloff 1992). Combining a critical race theory framework with a conversation analytic approach, I analyze twenty video-recorded police-civilian encounters, focusing on how Black civilians who become the subjects of police control navigate the encounters. I argue that even when civilians do not explicitly invoke race or defy police authority outright, a conversation analytic approach helps reveal the range of creative strategies that civilians deploy to contend with the conditions of unjust racially inflected encounters. This creative resistance, I argue, is indicative of what I describe as a racialized legal consciousness that is both strategically responsive to civilians’ orientations to the dangers of resisting police authority, as well as indicative of their strivings for dignity under a racialized carceral regime built upon the discipline of Black bodies.

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