Street protests and the occupation of public spaces have once again become common forms of political engagement throughout the United States. Newer grassroots groups like #BLM and POP, and establishment activist organizations like the NAACP, have organized public demonstrations around fatal police shootings in multiple cities, while also mobilizing a new generation of political actors. This piece explores the way multiple activist organizations coalesce and clash around a recent fatal police shooting in a rural New Jersey prison town. In juxtaposing a mother's pursuit of justice with larger forms of protest, I problematize the capacity of establishment activism to disrupt local order and bring about broader political change, and I theorize the regimes of value (legally) defining Black life in Cliptown specifically, and in the US more broadly. This engaged ethnography thus shows what happens when activists align with politicians and police to enforce order, rather than with families and grassroots groups seeking justice. From this perspective, police violence, especially targeted against Black men, appears not simply as incidental but as key to the mechanics of local order. A fresh culture of rioting conjured by forces of the prematurely Black dead demands closer attention to local politics and policing when addressing criminal justice reform.


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pp. 771-797
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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