Study for Struggle: Policing Black Lives

We are lucky to be living through a period of resurgent Black freedom struggle, and this upsurge, like others before it, is propelling brilliant intellectual work. Robyn Maynard’s book Policing Black Lives: State Violence in Canada from Slavery to the Present, published last year by Fernwood, is a major contribution to this body of work. Drawing on extensive research, Maynard decisively demolishes the mythology of the Canadian state as a bastion of multiculturalism and racial equality. With great attention to both historical detail and lived experiences, she traces how anti-Black racism, deeply intertwined with settler colonialism, has structured ruling institutions and relations across the Canadian context over the last four centuries. Just as important, Maynard focuses on not only policing and prisons, but also many other key sites of racist state violence, including borders, schools, social assistance offices, and the child welfare system. Her analysis is expansive, accessible, and carefully considered. I highly recommend this book!

Here’s one gem from Maynard:

When state violence is mentioned, images of police brutality are often the first that come to mind. However, state violence can be administered by other institutions outside of the criminal justice system, including institutions regarded by most as administrative, such as immigration and child welfare departments, social services, schools and medical institutions. These institutions nonetheless expose marginalized persons to social control, surveillance and punishment, or what Canadian criminologist Gillian Balfour calls ‘non-legal forms of governmentality.’ These bureaucratic agencies, too, have the repressive powers generally presumed to belong only to law enforcement. They can police – that is, surveil, confine, control and punish – the behavior of state subjects. Policing, indeed, describes not only cops on their beat, but also the past and present surveillance of Black women by social assistance agents, the over-disciplining and racially-targeted expulsion of Black children and youth in schools, and the acute surveillance and detention of Black migrants by border control agencies. Many poor Black mothers, for example, have experienced child welfare agents entering and searching their homes with neither warrant nor warning – in some instances seizing children – as a result of an anonymous phone call. Further, state violence can occur without an individual directly harming or even interacting with another. It can be, in short, structured into societal institutions.