Police brutality and murder are arguably the most visible, direct and clear expressions of racialized state power in the United States. To say this is an epidemic, however, as many have, is somewhat of a simplification. An epidemic is an indiscriminate force of nature, seemingly emerging from nowhere, affecting people at random, often with a cure that is elusive. Epidemics grab ahold of the public’s attention, demand strategies for containment, and prompt a universal concern that a cure must be sought. Police violence, specifically police murder, is not new, its origins and several potential solutions are not a mystery. While police violence is well understood in urban communities of color, it is hardly capturing the national imaginary. For a quick comparisons of the epidemics that have had the American public on the edge of their seats in recent years, one could counterpose “invasions” of killer bees, West Nile virus, or Avian Flu in the US (all of which were embedded in orientalist discourses themselves) on the one hand, to a black person being killed by the police every 36 hours on the other hand.
The continued gap between what America says it is and what it actually is (a gap that has persistently been most pronounced in regards to race), finds no clearer illumination than through racialized state violence. Many historians make a very convincing argument that this violent enforcement of the racial order was the very reason for the creation of the police in the first place. It is a gap that consistently finds its clearest expression through the end of a police officer’s gun, with periodic and spontaneous, reciprocal violence taking the form of broken windows, looted stores and burnt buildings.