(Dis)Continuities in Racialized Legal Violence

AuthorDavid Cunningham,Geoff Ward,Sarah Gaby,Hedwig Lee
Published date01 March 2021
Date01 March 2021
Subject MatterSetting the Agenda
22 ANNALS, AAPSS, 694, March 2021
DOI: 10.1177/00027162211023354
in Racialized
Legal Violence
1023354ANN The Annals Of The American Academy(Dis)Continuities In Racialized Legal Violence
Amid growing research on the history and legacies of
racist violence in the United States, there has been
limited development of theory and measurement per-
taining to racist violence as a sociological process.
Social science research has centered on lynching and,
to a lesser extent, slavery and broader Jim Crow laws
and customs, and rarely have these and other forms
been engaged together and in relation to contemporary
outcomes. We focus on racialized “legal violence”—
uses of law in ways that are harmful to populations
defined by race—and use the case of South Carolina
“slave courts” to explore modes of racialized violence
that are expansive and intertwined. Contrary to a more
sequential and linear reading of successive and discreet
modes of repression (e.g., “slavery ended. . .”), our
analysis shows recursive, multidimensional, and cascad-
ing aspects of injurious legal action and inaction that
accumulate and repeat over time. Continuities of
racialized legal violence, which are contested and thus
dynamic, modify and maintain age-old structural con-
straints. Rather than unfolding in sequence—from set-
tler colonialism to enslavement, Jim Crow, and mass
incarceration—“peculiar institutions” are more fluid,
sharing repertoires and networks of racialized legal
violence that recombine over time.
Keywords: racial violence; legal violence; policing;
“[Slave Court] decisions are rarely in conformity
with justice or humanity.”
—South Carolina Governor James H. Adams, 1855
“Slavery didn’t end in 1865,” attorney and
Equal Justice Initiative founder Bryan
Stevenson has emphasized, “it just evolved”
(Seslowsky 2018). This logic underscores the
Geoff Ward is a professor of African and African
American studies at Washington University in St.
Louis. His research focuses on the racial politics of
social control and pursuit of racial justice, historically
and today.
Correspondence: gward@wustl.edu

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