Police Geographies

Introduction by
Emily Kaufman

To highlight groundbreaking directions in police scholarship, we must look beyond the limits of the allegations that police geographies are marginal or lacking. These radical police geographies — some of which are in this forum, organized and edited by Emily Kaufman — examine scales from the skin to the body, home, café, neighborhood, city, state, nation, globe, recognizing they are intertwined and not a neatly nested hierarchy.


“No one in geography is studying the police.” Variations of this claim have persisted through conference talks, articles, and offhand remarks. In 1991 (249), Nicholas Fyfe called police research “conspicuously absent from the landscapes of human geography.” Fifteen years later, Richard Yarwood expressed surprise that “interest in this topic remains on the margins of human geography’s research agenda” (2007: 447). Despite these calls, Mat Coleman found the field to “have remained curiously quiet about the cops” even a decade later (2016: 1); he and Austin Kocher called this silence “remarkable” (19). This year, Stefano Bloch (2020: 2) claimed that research on the police’s everyday practices and manifestations of state power “has been slow to… emerge as a recognizable subfield within human geography.” For the past three decades, then, geographers have been raising alarms about the remarkable dearth and marginality of police scholarship in our field.

In the current flurry of new interest in critical police scholarship, geographies of policing may seem new. While there will always be opportunistic fast scholarship trailing a crisis, I argue that in the same spaces as the critique of lack, there has long been research on police and their abolition. From ethnographies (Ríos 2017) to etymologies (Seigel 2018) to geospatial analyses (Bloch and Martínez 2020), these works examine the spatiality of police. Scholars frame them as settler colonial (Gouldhawke 2019; Maynard 2017), and as producing borders within gentrifying cities (Ramírez 2020).To fully understand the work of police, scholars examine their collaboration with other state agencies to discipline populations deemed dangerous through the “making of territorially bound — carceral — spaces” (Mei-Singh 2016). The “spatial network of the prison industrial complex” encompasses not only the built environment and the labor of policing it, but also as Treva Ellison writes, environment, capital, human capacity,” and appropriated “knowledge, signs, symbols, images and representational forms and modes” (Ellison, 2016: 326), demonstrating the futility of trying to analyze police as an independent agency. Geographies of gang injunctions further examine policing’s reach through this inherently spatial ban (Beckett and Herbert 2012), which not only deploys territoriality as it keeps individuals out of gentrifying spaces, but through the production of conceptual and material (in)security, is both “place-making” and “place-taking” (Meyer 2020: 15).

My attempt to understand this apparent contradiction between an alleged dearth and my perception of a wealth of police geographies led me to organize the AAG 2019 panel on which this forum is based. Recognizing foundational black feminist abolitionist work (Davis 2003; Gilmore 2007; Kaba 2017; Ritchie 2017), contributors reflect the array of recent directions — yet predating the current flurry of fast scholarship — in police geographies. From six disciplines, contributors theorize the ways police deploy space through containment and removal of civilians from their homes and communities (Seigel 2020; Cuomo 2020) and transcend borders both conceptual (Loyd 2020; Seigel 2020) and material (Akarsu 2020; Nguyen 2020). They also demonstrate ways civilians resist police power by occupying public space to demand policy change (LeBrón 2020), and preventing the physical expansion of carceral power in the form of jail construction (Loyd 2020). Again, their work is not new. Contributors have framed police as always already imbricated with the military (Seigel 2012, Seigel 2018); as overflowing their mythical boundaries as civilian, public, and local (Seigel 2018); as further institutionalizing racism by infiltrating communities in anti-terrorism efforts (Nguyen 2019); and as dominating spaces often overlooked by geographers such as schools (Nguyen 2015; 2016). Police geographies also expose the contradictions between police creeping into the domestic sphere (Akarsu 2018) and refusing to address domestic violence (Cuomo 2017), and of the violence women of color experience at the hands of the state, even when calling on the state for protection (LeBrón 2019).

In contrast to Yarwood’s (2007) call for convergence towards a single framework — from police to policing through the framework of governance — I suggest that a diversity of critical police geographies holds space for the complex realities of police and policing today. What unifies the array of scholarship showcased in this forum is not a singular framework, subject, or definition of police, but rather the ways contributors research and write, and the goals of their work. These scholars share innovative, accountable, and transparent methodologies shaped by reflexivity. And, without sacrificing intellectual rigor or theoretical complexity, they share commitment to material — and ultimately abolitionist — outcomes of their work.

In what follows, I posit three explanations for the perception that ‘no one in geography is studying police’ – these revolve around how we define ‘no one,’ ‘police,’ and ‘geography.’ I take each claim seriously and weigh its implications before unpacking a theme among each explanation: that women, gender nonconforming people (GNCP), and Black, Indigenous, and other People of Ccolor (BIPOC) are disproportionately impacted and invisibilized by this allegation of lack. While aspects of the allegation are useful, we must find ways to see beyond its limits. This forum offers one place to start.

1) How we define ‘no one’

First, let us look at the numbers. While Coleman lists 19 exceptions (including Fyfe 1992; Herbert 1997; Tyner and Inwood 2014) to the dearth of policing-research in political geography and notes his list is not extensive, he compares this number to sociology’s thousands. Anthropology, too, boasts a wealth of policing research, to the extent that Maguire complains of a “current obsession with policing encounters in urban ethnography” (2018: 154), though he also notes that the interest is recent. Naturally, political science, law, and criminal justice fields center police research. If these fields are our measuring stick, then Fyfe, Yarwood, Coleman, and Bloch’s claim makes sense; human geographers are leaving the bulk of policing research to other disciplines. Even if we doubled the number on Coleman’s list of exceptions, his argument would hold.

But is this relative dearth a problem? I concede that human geography has a stake in police research, for two reasons. First, because police both enforce and extra-legally enact spatial regulations, “A better understanding of policing contributes to a better understanding of the ways in which power shapes space” (Yarwood 2007: 447). In turn, a better understanding of police power’s spatial impacts can inform conversations on the spatiality of governance and regulation. Second, geographers are uniquely well-positioned to study the police, for “An understanding of space also provides important perspectives on policing” (ibid). In sum, geography benefits from an understanding of policing, and police research benefits from an understanding of space.

Thus, the ratio of police research emerging from geography relative to other fields matters. To this end, critiques of dearth are important. However, it also matters how we depict the quantity of geographers-studying-police. First, even a small number of ‘exceptions’ makes a difference; as Laura Pulido (2002: 46) writes, as few as 15 scholars can create a critical mass capable of impacting how the discipline addresses a topic. Second, when listing ‘notable exceptions,’ it matters whether we list 20 or 40. Third, there is an experiential difference between offhand comments about ‘no one’ versus ‘not as many geographers as sociologists.’ In other words, allegations that geographers have ‘generally ignored’ policing can make those who study it feel generally ignored.

A female professor of color, who has published widely on sensational policing in major US cities, infiltrated security spaces, and even interviewed real life spies, recalled feeling invisible when a white male researcher positioned his research as novel — she responded internally, “I have been here on panels with you for years now and you still think you’re the only one’” (Interview 2020). Another woman of color said, “I’ve had enough experiences where I’m discussing pretty much whatever the dude-bros are discussing but then they are saying with me next to them that no one else is doing it” (Interview 2020). Geographer Camilla Hawthorne conducted PhD research on the quintessentially human geographic topics of sense of place and symbolic and material boundaries. Yet when her research on how Black youth challenged these boundaries was deemed “marginal to geography,” she experienced “a distinct sense of alienation” (Hawthorne and Heitz 2018: 149). Here we see how labeling a topic ‘marginal’ helps constitute its marginality and marginalizes the scholars who work on it. There are many risks to white geographers controlling the narrative on policing, even or especially as white geographers write about racism, as I expand on throughout this piece. Summing up the experience of being left out of the count, Lorena Muñoz and Megan Ybarra (2019) write that despite Latinx human geographers’ significant contributions, the discipline of geography continues “to tell our stories while burying our voices.”

The way the dearth or marginality of policing research is critiqued can perpetuate the problem. While justifying one’s work by alleging a gap in the literature is a common — and in itself harmless — move, this critique of dearth is pervasive, longstanding, and seemingly impervious to growth in policing literature. Secondly, the critique is more commonly made by white men, to the exclusion of other demographics conducting much of the work. Finally, there are important nuances in how this rhetorical technique is used. Coleman does the work of listing 19 exceptions in his article (2016), and others in his talks, and Bloch lists 15, (including Kaufman 2016; Loyd and Bonds 2018; Ramírez 2019). In contrast, Fyfe and Yarwood merely describe ‘conspicuous absences’ and policing’s ‘marginal’ position in our field (1991; 2007). Their critiques are valid. Yet if we want to mitigate these absences and marginality, there are only benefits to naming, publicizing, and centering those exceptional geographies of policing.

2) How we define ‘police’

Another explanation for the critique that few geographers study police is a lack of understanding and competing definitions of what constitutes ‘police.’ As Seigel (2018: 14) writes, “’Police’ is one of the least theorized, most neglected concepts in the lexicon of reformers and activists today.” While Seigel claims historians have not helped; for the most part, neither have geographers (2018: 4; Fyfe 1991). Instead, geographers have theorized, and even advocated for a shift towards more theorization of policing (Fyfe 1991; Yarwood 2007). While such theoretical contributions to policing are helpful, in the absence of critical theorization of the scope and meaning of the police, “discussion of police is often limited to officers in uniform and nothing more” (Corriea and Wall 2018: 7). By this narrow definition, the subset of human geographers devoted to researching police is indeed smaller than in adjacent disciplines.

Aside from the question of how the term is defined, we should take seriously the lack of human geography research on the narrowly defined uniformed police officers, because of their outsized role in shaping space, politics, and identities. Yarwood’s perceived shift from police to policing — from uniformed departments to the many other agencies enacting discipline and violence — does not represent the experience of many living in targeted bodies and zones. Theorizing a move to police-ing does not prevent squad cars from racing through neighborhood streets, swat teams from banging down doors, street stops and frisks, or the expanding authority of local police to enforce federal law (Coleman 2012; Coleman and Stuesse 2016). Nor does a theorized shift acknowledge the pervasive ‘softer side’ of policing such as cadet camps and coffee with a cop. Whether on the soft or sharp end of power (Hyndman 2010), many urban residents are deeply impacted not only by policing, but specifically, police.

It is true, then, that there is a shortage of specific research dedicated solely to uniformed local police departments, and an increase in this research could benefit both human geography and those targeted by police.

On the opposite extreme, some police scholars adopt an expansive definition of police, which recognizes the inseparability of police and war, and of public and private police (Corriea and Wall 2018). Following Mark Neocleous (2011), Corriea and Wall write that when discussing police, “we’re talking about capitalism” and “we’re talking about settler colonialism” (2018: 5, 6). If police are public and private, and inseparable from soldiers, war, capitalism, and colonialism, then it would be hard to depict a lack of policing scholarship in human geography. Furthermore, despite Corriea and Wall’s (2018) valid critique that important prison scholarship does not adequately articulate the connections between police power and the wider criminal justice system, others argue that these prison studies are essential to our understanding of police (Jefferson 2019). Thus expanding our definition of police to encompass carcerality more broadly invites works that may also inform us about police specifically.

For instance, Ruth W. Gilmore’s (2007: 14) analysis of the role of incapacitation as one of four underlying prison logics is particularly useful in understanding the centrality of spatial practice to policing: if prison purports to be a spatial solution to social problems by forcibly depositing people elsewhere (ibid), police initiate and complete that spatial work. That is, arrest is the first removal, incapacitating civilians with handcuffs and heavy squad car doors, before police deposit them at the precinct station. When attempting to see beyond such justificatory logic, it is therefore useful to see police too as practitioners of spatial ‘solutions’. These carceral spatial ‘solutions’ go beyond removal and incapacitation. As Rashad Shabazz details, even the architecture of one’s dwelling can express carceral power through containment, restriction, and surveillance of otherwise private behaviors (2015). Shabazz argues that cramped, consolidated kitchenettes and high-rise housing projects “absorbed the exercise of police power that functioned in the general space of the Black Belt and brought it closer to the skin.” For Shabazz, police power functions both as an extension of the literal prison/carceral power into the private sphere, and the uniformed officers/literal police who remove Black residents from their communities to prison, contributing to a destabilizing circulation among various carceral terrains.

Angela Y. Davis’s prison research lends an outlook that can map onto police as well. Davis (2003: 18) notes that popular culture is saturated with images of prisons making them central features of “our image environment” and “a key ingredient of our common sense,” making it difficult to imagine alternatives. This is true for police as well. Yet Davis leads readers towards effective alternatives to prison and police, such as addressing socio-economic conditions, mental health, and education. “Imagine a constellation of alternative strategies and institutions,” writes Davis, “with the ultimate aim of removing the prison from the social and ideological landscapes of our society” (2003: 137). Police too are absent from this vision, not so much replaced by a comparable alternative, but gradually rendered unnecessary by the proposed constellation of safety and care.

Beyond considering which works should be counted as ‘geographies of police’ we might ask what work is done by a more expansive definition of police, which accurately points to the array of policing bodies, uniforms, and agencies. Ruja Benjamin (2019: 3) chooses an “expansive understanding” of carcerality to encompass both its institutional and imaginative foundations in oppressive systems. Andrea Miller (2019: 87) deploys such an “expansive understanding” of preemptive policing to address both the everyday and speculative practices of threat management that produce or foreclose life.

Such an understanding is inclusive not only of agencies and modes of violence — such as borders, prisons, humanitarian aid and predictive technologies — but of the scholars who study them. That is, a broader understanding of police points us towards the many scholars who have been left out of the lists of exceptions or have felt invisiblized by the critique of dearth. Both the narrow and broad definition of police are useful concepts to think with and both have their own limits. Narrow definitions of police focus attention on one of the most pervasive and persistent faces of state violence. One drawback is that a narrow definition excludes or ignores related works that help us understand police. Broad definitions of police expand the focus of violence work to the many agencies that enact it and allow us to recognize a wide array of scholars whose work must inform police research. Yet an all-encompassing definition makes it difficult to focus on any object of study; if ‘police’ is everything, it becomes meaningless to critique.  

We need not choose an extreme. A third position recognizes police neither as an abstract and all-encompassing idea, nor entirely limited to uniformed local departments, but rather as a set of concrete spatial practices and “a site-specific undertaking” (Coleman 2016: 3). Scholars simultaneously recognize that the institution labeled ‘the police’ is enmeshed with, not merely a discrete entity ‘intersecting’ with, other realms of governance (Loyd 2020; Seigel 2018). Seigel’s theory of police as violence workers draws a broad boundary around the capacious concept, bringing attention to several key facets of policing.  By applying violence, “The police actualize this essence of state power” (2018: 10). This violence is what “their labor rests upon and therefore conveys into the material world” (2018: 10). A focus on labor narrows the definition of police, by excluding those who use violence recreationally, to highlight the work it takes “to represent and distribute state violence” (11). The centrality of violence in labor helps further contain an otherwise overflowing term, for vast swaths of people use violence in their work, including librarians and kindergarten teachers (2018: 10). Instead, police can be seen as “people whose labors are enabled by the fact that at some point they are entitled to bring out the handcuffs” (11). While Coleman and Seigel theorize police broadly, far beyond uniformed patrols, they avoid abstraction through their focus on the concrete, material, and spatial. In conclusion, while currently I argue for this understanding of police, it is a term that will require continued theorization as practices and societal understandings change.

3) How we define ‘geographies’

By textbook definitions of human geography — which focus on the entanglement of power, space, and place at work at every scale — we could include many more works as ‘geographies’ of policing, regardless of their disciplinary origin. But a scholar’s disciplinary home may explain why some works that could otherwise be seen as geographies of policing are overlooked. Some such works are produced by scholars who have neither a degree nor position in geography (for instance Graham 2010; Woods 1998; 2005; 2009). Additionally, many scholars of policing-related topics have PhDs in geography yet landed in other fields (for instance Laurel Mei-Singh; Dana Cuomo; Lindsey Dillon; Aretina Hamilton). Should the disciplinary home or degree of an author matter in considering whether their work is a geography of policing? Yes and no. No, in that a scholar’s technical appointment should not prevent us from citing them as contributing to geographies of policing. One of the strengths of the discipline is its embrace of interdisciplinarity.

However, amidst renewed attention to the whiteness — toxic, intentional, and persistent — of geography (Hamilton 2020a; 2020b; BGSG 2020; UKY Geography 2020), we can learn something from a scholar’s disciplinary home. These critiques of geography’s whiteness, even in comparison with other disciplines, are hardly new (Domosh 2015); nearly two decades ago, Delaney (2002) asked if it was a problem for us. When put this way, the answer to the question ‘does discipline matter’ is clearly yes; the historical and present disciplinary whiteness is relevant to discussions of whose work we count as ‘geography.’ The prevalence of scholars who produce geographies from outside the field suggests that even when scholars are trained, seen, and self-identified as geographers, the aggressively white field of geography (Pulido 2002; Kobayashi 2006; Joshi, McCutcheon and Sweet 2015; Hawthorne and Heitz 2018) may not have offered them a long term home. At least, perhaps not one as lucrative as the fields they choose.  While only some have made their reasons for leaving geography explicit, fields chosen by scholars with geography PhDs such as the contributors to this forum which include American Studies; Justice Studies; Public Health; Sociology; Black Studies; Mexican American and Latino/a Studies; Middle East Studies; Education; History; Cities and Society; and Women’s and Gender Studies. This is likely based on a combination of factors including the scholar’s intersectional identity. For example, eighteen years ago, Pulido (2002) described her choice to split her appointment between geography (where she had been housed) and an interdisciplinary program that offered greater comfort and intellectual community to scholars of color than the nearly all-white environments in geography. She concluded that

any serious strategy must include efforts to make geography more comfortable for people of color (and others) and to encourage opportunities for innovative forms of intellectual community. Maybe, instead of people of color having to assimilate to the white culture(s) of academia, it is time for academia to accommodate us. (2002: 47)

16 years later, human geography remains a space “where Latinidades have been sometimes reduced to little more than marginalized bodies to be recognized – or not – by predominantly White Anglophone geographers” (Muñoz and Ybarra 2019). This year, Aretina Hamilton noted that “a fellow Black Geographer… found her home in another academic department. Many departments are not truly welcoming to faculty of color and delegitimize our scholarship”; thus despite her colleague’s geography PhD, “she could not see herself reflected in the faculty or the curriculum” (Hamilton 2020a). While many have not made their reasons for leaving geography as explicit as the scholars above, fields chosen by scholars with geography PhDs such as the contributors to this forum include American Studies; Justice Studies; Public Health; Sociology; Black Studies; Mexican American and Latino/a Studies; Middle East Studies; Education; History; Cities and Society; and Women’s and Gender Studies. This is likely based on a combination of factors including the scholar’s intersectional identity, whiteness, and racism within the field. As Hamilton concluded, “The lack of jobs and the lack of Black faculty in these roles is problematic and could be the death of Geography as a discipline” (Hamilton 2020a). Yes, this whiteness is a problem for geography.

In sum, the discipline as a whole will benefit from a greater diversity of scholars, born from “redressing the material inequalities that persist along multiple axes of social power in our everyday worlds of home, department, and institution” (Winders and Schein 2014: 227). This could help attract and retain scholars like the ones mentioned, who include women and BIPOC researching a topic the discipline labels marginal. Simultaneously, we need not exclude these scholars from the list of geographers studying the police when they have been pivotal in shaping our field.


Thus, I have argued that the perception of the dearth and marginality of police research in geography is worth considering, as it highlights room for both more research and more recognition of existing work. However, I have also suggested that the perception that ‘no one in geography is studying police’ results from loose math and a circumscribed view of both the discipline and the subject. One theme has emerged through each explanation; much of the groundbreaking police research in geography journals and conferences is under-cited by dominant scholars in the field. And much of this work is by BIPOC women and GNCP (for instance Akarsu 2020, Bhungalia 2015; Bhungalia, Greven and Mustafa 2019; Dillon and Sze 2018; Browne 2015; Ellison 2019, Heatherton 2018, LeBrón 2019, Mei Singh 2016, Miranda and Osorio Veliz 2019; Muñiz 2015; Ramírez 2019; Wilson 2019) as well as white women and GNCP and BIPOC men (for instance Cahill; Cahill et al. 2019; Cuomo 2017; Derickson 2016; Feigenbaum 2016; Feigenbaum and Kanngieser 2015; Hamlin 2020, Hiemstra 2019a, b; Jeffries and Ridgely 2020; Kaufman 2016; Loyd and Mountz 2018; Loyd and Bonds 2018; Miller 2019; Seigel 2019; Jordan Jefferson 2018; Sanjay and Nijjjar 2018; Shabazz 2015; Uahikeaikalei‘ohu Maile 2019; Villanueva 2017, Woods 2009). Furthermore, their work often centers those left out of dominant policing discourse yet whose experiences are crucial to understanding police — for instance Black trans (Ellison 2016, 2019; Stanley and Smith 2011) and Indigenous people (Mei Singh 2016; Uahikeaikalei‘ohu Maile 2019). While some prominent police abolitionist scholars have put forth good faith efforts to do the same, there are apparently different understandings of what it means ‘to center’ (Ritchie 2015; Kaufman 2018). In contrast to dominant conference session composition and citation practices that favor white men, many police geographies are produced by, and center, those at the intersection of other identities. In a heteropatriarchal white masculinist discipline, profession, and society, we cannot dismiss the optics of who is and is not seen.

Having asked in each section above why the perceived dearth of policing research matters, here the question becomes, ‘does it matter that our discipline perpetuates white masculinist privilege?’ Given the prevalence of all-white, all-male, and to a lesser but significant extent, all-white-male sessions at geography conferences—and chapters and articles citing predominantly white men despite relevant foundational work by BIPOC women on the topic — a better question is ‘to whom does this matter?’

Most pressingly, disciplinary white masculinist supremacy harms BIPOC (especially BIPOC women, and to a lesser extent, all women) who experience “ongoing subordination and marginalization” within geography’s exclusionary environments (Mahtani 2014: 360). Minelle Mahtani (2014: 360) calls these “emotionally toxic” spaces “toxic geographies.” In her AAG presidential address, Kobayashi re-words Harold Rose’s pronouncement about ghetto formation to claim that the process of disciplinary formation too “is essentially related to the refusal of Whites to live with Blacks” (Rose in Kobayashi 2014: 1112). In other words, apart from its research agendas, geography itself remains not only “an overwhelmingly white discipline” (Joshi, McCutcheon and Sweet 2015: 299; see also Delaney 2002), but one which is intentionally so. “As a Black woman geographer,” Hawthorne writes, “I must continuously reckon with the fact that the university — and the discipline of geography itself — was not made for me. Historically, the university has been a site wherein the subjugation of women and people of color has been articulated and legitimated” (Hawthorne and Heitz 2018: 149). Such stories of oppression have exploded in recent months (Diep 2020; Hamilton 2020a; 2020b; 2020c; BGSG 2020; #blackintheivory 2020), making it more difficult for anyone to claim ignorance anymore.

Thus women, BIPOC, and most of all BIPOC women are directly, repeatedly harmed — but the discipline itself stands to lose as well. As Kobayashi (2006: 33) writes, “the perspective of women of colour is important to the kinds of questions that geographers ask, and to their ability to understand the world.” Our disciplinary whiteness — which can be understood as “voices and experiences of nonwhites […] filtered through a white lens” —  “skews our intellectual production” (Pulido 2002: 46 and 45; see also Zelinsky, Monk and Hanson 1982 on gender). In contrast to geography’s branding, an ‘unbearably white discipline’ is not conducive to the production of anti-racist scholarship (Derickson 2016).

The purpose of this forum is not to allege individual bias beyond that which is inherent to a white frame of reference in a white supremacist society — a frame of reference I share and benefit from. Rather, because the “racist system is reproduced automatically,” writes Diangelo, interrupting it requires us to “challenge the norms, structures, and institutions that keep it in place” (2018: 135). In fact Ibram X. Kendi (2020) notes that the terms structural or institutional racism are redundant because racism is inherently structural. And it is perpetuated by any action or inaction that allows a racist policy to exist. Kobayashi and Peak focused this critique on geography 16 years prior, noting that without explicit efforts to redress the “racist practices and discourses that permeate the epistemological foundations of geography… [it] will continue to embrace the colonialist heritage bequeathed upon it” (2002: 50). Thus we must begin by acknowledging that geography is a predominantly white discipline within a system of higher education that perpetuates inequity. More specifically, the system fosters white privilege (McDermott 2013), the institution of white men (Ahmed 2017: 15), masculinist Anglophone traditions (Muñoz and Ybarra 2019), and white heteromasculinity (Mott and Cockayne 2018: 146).

In our discipline as a whole, and particularly regarding police as an inherently racist and misogynistic institution, it stands to reason that “the literature would be enhanced by a wider range of experiences” (Pulido 2002: 46). The perception of a dearth of police geographies in particular implies “that important works firmly rooted in geography are being overlooked” (Lally, interview 2020). Thus, geography not only continues to enact violence within our departments, but it risks becoming outdated, and frankly, irrelevant, if it cannot attract, retain, and adequately recognize those geographers working beyond the narrow scope of the white anglophone masculinist world view.

The goals of this forum are symbiotic. To highlight groundbreaking directions in police scholarship, we must look beyond the limits of the allegations that police geographies are marginal or lacking. Given the white supremacist history of geography departments, geographers must look beyond our discipline to find not simply ‘research’ but geographies of policing. In sum, these radical police geographies — some of which are in this forum — examine scales from the skin to the body, home, café, neighborhood, city, state, nation, globe, recognizing they are intertwined and not a neatly nested hierarchy.  Beyond the well-studied city-scale and sites of N.Y.C. and L.A., contributors focus on Puerto Rico (LeBrón 2020), Istanbul (Akarsu 2020), and specific Chicago neighborhoods (Nguyen 2020). From ethnographies to etymologies (Seigel 2020), these police geographies recognize that the violence of police expands past the institution itself to patriarchy, capitalism, racism, and beyond. To see police as such a creeping expanse of violence could immobilize those who seek alternative modes of safety. And yet, even while they examine its creep across sites and scales, contributors refuse to depict it as debilitatingly total and ubiquitous (Loyd 2020). Instead, they remind us of small victories and sites of resistance, of concrete demands and plans (LeBrón 2020), of McKittrick’s call to “attend to human life” (2011: 954). Police, in these essays, take on many forms — they are settler colonialist violence workers, women tasked with improving a departments’ public image (LeBrón 2020), or civilians directed to police their own communities (Akarsu 2020; Nguyen 2020) — but in all these forms, we are reminded to see police “as not extinguishing different political imagination” (Loyd 2020). Although these scholars have long been researching police, and the topic has never not been ‘timely’, there may be new potential in today’s climate to embrace alternative imaginings.


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Emily C. Kaufman is a PhD candidate in Geography at the University of Kentucky. Her research examines the everyday impacts of state securitization, from welfare to policing. Supported by the National Science Foundation, her dissertation focuses on children’s adaptations and contestations to racial, spatial, and technified policing.

essays in this forum

“An Iron Fist in a Velvet Glove”: Topologies of Policing and the Limits of Exposé

When police power is conceptualized topologically, the task of critical police scholarship is not simply to remove the velvet glove in order to expose the iron fist. Rather, it is to understand how both velvet and iron qualities are actually constitutive of the force of the police, and the continuing allure of police reforms.


Hayal Akarsu

Domestic Violence, Abolitionism, and the Problem of Patriarchy

By highlighting the limitations of alternative justice models that rely on community accountability to address domestic violence, I argue that if a truly abolitionist society represents the goal, abolitionists must center the problem of domestic violence when imagining alternatives beyond criminal law enforcement.


Dana Cuomo

Where Were You When We Were Being Killed?: How Puerto Rican Feminists Help Us Understand Policing and State Violence

In the fight to keep women safe and build strong empowered communities for all people, Puerto Rican feminists are illuminating a path forward that is rooted in radical societal transformations and eliminating structural inequalities that promote harm and death.


Marisol LeBrón

Boundaries of Policing

Studying policing at tangents and via sectors not routinely thought of as the police has afforded me with insights into the ubiquity and boundary work of policing (cf. Seigel 2019) that have conceptual implications for research and political implications for abolitionist organizing.


Jenna M. Loyd

Oppositional Research: Negotiating Risks and Relationships When Studying Up

In this essay, I document how researching the US security state poses unique risks and fosters complex relationships between the researcher and researched, both of which require more attention by radical geographers.


Nicole Nguyen

Speaking of Police

It is hard to see that police is indeed, still, the mechanism through which the state exercises its most quintessential work of violence. That is the core of the state; it will necessarily be channeled by the instrument that carries out its functions.


Micol Seigel