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  • Barred Objects (o)Police Brutality, Black Fetishes, and Perverse Demonstrations
  • Calvin Warren

It is axiomatic that police brutality is an illegitimate exercise of power which society gives to police. As such, it is a perversion of the rule of law.

—Alexa P. Freeman

It is the sheer jouissance that comes from separating the other from the unendurable limit of its being that drives [the torturer] on.

—David Marriott

Society is structurally perverse … Civilization is no doubt discontent, but also content with its discontent.

—Lorenzo Chiesa


On May 25, 2020, Minneapolis police arrested George Floyd on suspicion of using a counterfeit $20 bill. I use the word "suspicion" because neither the status of the bill nor the intention to commit fraud were confirmed. But apodictic certainty is not required to detain or deploy extreme violence against black bodies—a mere hint, a suspicion, a suggestion, a feeling is evidence enough to justify brutality. George Floyd was pinned to the ground (within seventeen minutes of a call placed by a store employee), while officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee into Floyd's neck for at least nine minutes and twenty nine seconds (even after Floyd stopped breathing completely).1 If nine minutes and twenty nine seconds seems excessive, an unreasonable amount of time to kneel on a windpipe, we must remember that we are being transported to "another scene"—where time is both without duration and is unrestrained by Law and its mandates. In this frozen temporal frame, a knee is transformed into a deadly weapon, bystanders beg and plead for mercy, and Derek Chauvin, intoxicated with omnipotence, smirks at us. This smirk, somewhat of a Barthesian punctum, punctures in its confidence and arrogance. Chauvin knows something we don't know, or more precisely something we disavow. This scene is so familiar, repeated with such frequency, we could have described it in advance [End Page 29] without viewing the video: the supine, tortured black body; the omnipotent, brutal police officer; the witness(es). Because the scene, or let's call it an enactment, is lodged deeply in our unconscious, we anticipate it in advance, filling in the details as we learn more. Are we witnessing the enactment of fantasy?

After watching this video, again and again, unable to refuse it or neglect it, I realized I was transfixed by Chauvin's smirk. It was a familiar smirk to me, psychoanalytically, resembling the pervert's enjoyment while re-staging fantasy. Is policing a perverse structure? How might our strategies shift if we consider police brutality an instantiation of the drive rather than the outcome of insufficient training? Is the law even capable of managing such a drive, a drive codified within its structure? Moreover, does "qualified immunity" constitute the impotence (and failure) of the Father's Name and his Law to manage jouissance or is it a necessary exception sustaining the Law itself? Police brutality might constitute what Frantz Fanon calls a "Real Fantasy" in that anti-black violence is not restricted to the dream-work but also enacted on actual black bodies—a terrifying deconstruction of outside/inside, psyche/culture, and individual/social.2 As an extravagant staging, police brutality is fantasy in real time, a repetitive production without end, without restriction, without reprieve. Understanding this fantasy, however, requires a rethinking of psychoanalysis, jouissance, and anti-blackness.

In this meditation, I will argue police brutality is a structure of perversion and black victims are fetish-objects (barred objects); this brutality, then, is a repetitive demonstration of accessing jouissance, an exposure of Law's impotence, and the (failed) attempt to plug a hole in the Other, a hole the Law is complicit in filling. I offer a wayward reading of Lacanian psychoanalysis and introduce a new term (o) and a new formula (a<>o) to explain why police convictions are so rare and sentencing is often disproportionate, considering the severity of the brutality. Reading both police brutality and sentencing as facets of perversion offers psychoanalysis a new perspective on blackness, anti-black enjoyment, and racial fetishism.

ii. the barred object (o)

Traditional psychoanalytic accounts of racism explain it as a neurotic war of jouissance, where the racial other is presumed to have...