Police violence and protests of police violence have become a common feature of today’s news cycles and have led to widespread critique and distrust of the law enforcement apparatus and police practice. States and municipalities have responded to the delegitimization of police practice with community-police dialogues. This Article argues that such dialogues can only restore the legitimacy of the police practice if they are deliberative in the Habermasian sense and also address the entrenched power asymmetries between communities and the police. This Article uses the community listening sessions of the Minnesota Governor’s Council on Law Enforcement and Community Relations to ground its argument that community-police dialogues that are non-deliberative and dismissive of the discourse models of the affected community are unlikely to result in the restored legitimacy of police practice. Rather, such non-deliberation and exclusion are more likely to delegitimize the attempt at dialogue and to amplify rather than reduce community perceptions of the invalidity of the law enforcement apparatus.

This Article conjoins the sociolinguistic concept of discourse models with Jilrgen Habermas’s discourse theory of democracy to argue that restoring the legitimacy of police practice in the aftermath of police violence incidents requires monitoring and countering the discursive marginalization of community narratives indexed by transgressive discourse models. In this context, discourse models are defined as the presuppositions about the world that one must ascribe to individuals in order for their truth claims to be intelligible and coherent. Habermas’s elements of validity-truth, authenticity, and normative rightness-are used to illustrate the potential of inclusive approaches to discourse models to reveal and redress communicative distortions in police-community deliberations created by power asymmetries. This Article concludes with a set of best practices designed to ensure that community-police deliberations can function as sites of consensual truth and equal political autonomy.

Coleman, Franciska, Between the Facts and Norms of Police Violence: Using Discourse Models to Improve Deliberations Around Law Enforcement (2018). Univ. of Wisconsin Legal Studies Research Paper No. 1596. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3635630

Franciska Coleman

University of Wisconsin Law School

Franciska Coleman is an Assistant Professor of Law, and the Associate Director of the East Asian Legal Studies Center at the University of Wisconsin Law School. 


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