Racialization as a Way of Seeing: The Limits of Counter-Surveillance and Police Reform

Lyndsey P Beutin


This paper considers the role of video footage in recent high-profile cases of anti-black police brutality in the United States. I illuminate the limits of the counter-surveillance impetus to film the police by contextualizing this strain of social media utopianism within the larger history of what I call “racialization as a way of seeing.” Racialization as a way of seeing is a historical formation that brings together the history of policing, the development of visual epistemologies, and the history of the naturalization of the criminality of blackness. I then track how the optimism of the counter-surveillance discourse has been recuperated by the state into consent for police worn cameras – reforms which threaten to strengthen a system built on structural racism, rather than ameliorate its injustices. I conclude by suggesting an emergent model for how video evidence may be paradoxically working to re-legitimize the police and the state in the newest era of “21st-century policing.”


counter-surveillance; race; police brutality; state legitimacy

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