Policing, Brutality, and the Demands of Justice

Criminal Justice Ethics 40 (1):40-55 (2021)
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Why does institutional police brutality continue so brazenly? Criminologists and other social scientists typically theorize about the causes of such violence, but less attention is given to normative questions regarding the demands of justice. Some philosophers have taken a teleological approach, arguing that social institutions such as the police exist to realize collective ends and goods based upon the idea of collective moral responsibility. Others have approached normative questions in policing from a more explicit social-contract perspective, suggesting that legitimacy is derived by adhering to (limited) authority. This article examines methodologies within political philosophy for analyzing police injustice. The methodological inquiry leads to an account of how justice constrains the police through both special (or positional) moral requirements that officers assume voluntarily, as well as general moral requirements in virtue of a polity’s commitment to moral, political and legal values beyond law enforcement and crime reduction. The upshot is a conception of a police role that is constrained by justice from multiple foundational stances.

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Luke William Hunt
University of Alabama


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