Reparations for Police Killings

Perspectives on Politics 17 (4):958-972 (2019)
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After a fatal police shooting in the United States, it is typical for city and police officials to view the family of the deceased through the lens of the law. If the family files a lawsuit, the city and police department consider it their legal right to defend themselves and to treat the plaintiffs as adversaries. However, reparations and the concept of “reparative justice” allow authorities to frame police killings in moral rather than legal terms. When a police officer kills a person who was not liable to this outcome, officials should offer monetary reparations, an apology, and other redress measures to the victim’s family. To make this argument, the article presents a philosophical account of non-liability hailing from self-defense theory, centering the distinction between reasonableness and liability. Reparations provide a non-adversarial alternative to civil litigation after a non-liable person has been killed by a police officer. In cases where the officer nevertheless acted reasonably, “institutional agent-regret” rather than moral responsibility grounds the argument for reparations. Throughout the article, it is argued that there are distinct racial wrongs both when police kill a non-liable black person and when family members of a black victim are treated poorly by officials in the civil litigation process.

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Jennifer Page
University of Zürich


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