Mad Futures: Affect/Theory/Violence
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Mad Futures:
Affect/Theory/Violence

The Affect of Violence

In the summer of 2016 a North Miami police officer shoots a black man lying on his back with his hands raised. The man is Charles Kinsey, a behavioral therapist. So far, this would seem to be an example of the all-too-common occurrence of racialized police violence in the contemporary United States. Yet next to Kinsey sits his autistic client, Arnaldo Eliud Rios Soto, also a person of color, who is holding a toy truck. Kinsey was shot as he was bringing Rios Soto back to the group "home" from which he had escaped. When the police were first called, it was Rios Soto who was believed to be dangerous by the caller, who reported seeing him "holding something like a gun." The story becomes even more layered: conflicting reports about whom the officer had attempted to shoot drew attention from disability communities: was the officer targeting the black man lying on the ground, unarmed and with his hands raised, or the autistic man holding a toy truck next to him? Both possibilities might be connected to much longer histories of racialization, affectivity, and disablement, but their coalescence in this violent instance of racialized, able-nationalist arrangements of power speaks to the importance of thinking about the co-constitution of race and disability in the longue durée of racial capitalism and liberal modernity.1

Questions of intensity and excess are at the heart of the interlinked processes of racialization and disablement, often produced through the interplay of rationality and affect. Police forces were established to protect owners at a time when black people were considered unruly property, when indigenous people and other people of color, women, and people with disabilities were construed as "irrational" others against which liberal personhood was constructed. The ongoingness of racialized police violence extends this history and continues to assign to social death and literal death those deemed irrational, unruly, unstable, and unpredictable.2 To draw from Alexander Weheliye's recent work on Hortense Spillers's hieroglyphics of the flesh, the "enfleshed" are the foundations on which Western Enlightenment's political, social, and scientific models [End Page 291] have been constructed, and continue to bear its burden even as their embodied and cognitive unruliness resists "the legal idiom of personhood as property."3 When we revisit the affects of enfleshment and the history of racialization and disablement, we open new paths to understanding the "nastiness" of our current moment.4

In grappling with this "nastiness," one could invoke the all-too-ubiquitous statistics about the overlap of mental illness and incarceration, about the increased likelihood of police violence directed at autistic or otherwise neurodivergent people of color, but we would like to especially attend to the origins of that violence. How might we think about not only the specific acts of violence inflicted on Kinsey and Rios Soto during the police encounter that "disabled" both men (and which led Rios Soto to be re-incarcerated in a residential institution) while also attending to the state-sanctioned and other structural forms of violence that preceded and surround this event? We may never know why Rios Soto tried to escape from the group home he was living in, but it is worth wondering what parts of a residential setting make it into a "home" to begin with. Taking up the kind of critical disability and mad studies frameworks we are calling for in this forum, how might we understand the forms of incarceration and other modes of social control at play in this event as imbricated with other forms of state violence, and as linked to enduring ontological erasures—of mad or neurodivergent or disabled modes of subjectivity—that saturate the scene of this violence?

Understanding the interrelated processes of racialization and criminal-pathologization must therefore lead to a more complex and nuanced discussion of alternatives to incarceration. Black Lives Matter has brought renewed attention to long-standing debates about alternatives to policing and incarceration. The basic questions posed in these discussions is what to do when we are harmed instead of calling the...