Say Their Names, Support Their Killers: Police Reform After the 2020 Black Lives Matter Uprisings


Since the unprecedented Summer 2020 uprisings against policing and racism, many elites have embraced an “anti-woke” politics that openly celebrates law-and-order authoritarianism, heteropatriarchy, and white nationalism. This Article attends to a different but reinforcing response to the George Floyd uprisings: repression through a politics of recognition, as elites fortified policing while chanting “Black Lives Matter.” By casting a selective spotlight on certain Black victims, pro-police Black mayors, and Black police chiefs, reformers have marketed propolice and pro-Black policies as one and the same. Lawmakers have enacted reforms named in honor of Breonna Taylor, Eric Garner, Emmett Till, and other victims of state and extralegal violence, all while protecting police funding and deferring to police interests behind the scenes. In sum, these reformers use gestures of mourning and respect for Black people to refurbish the system that kills them.

This Article suggests that pro-Black, pro-carceral stances appeal to many through an ideologically ambiguous cocktail, an old politics of centering the crime victim mixed with a dash of leftist rhetoric about centering the most marginalized. In short, many elites are attempting to reduce Black Lives Matter to a victim rights campaign.