The Harvard Review of Philosophy

Volume 28, 2021

Political Resistance

William SmithOrcid-ID
Pages 125-142

The Politics of Protest Policing
Neutrality, Impartiality, and “Taking the Knee”

The dramatic fallout from the siege of the US Capitol by supporters of Donald Trump has included extensive debate about the role of law enforcement before and during the events. The apparent lack of adequate preparation and deployment fits with disturbing trends in protest policing, reflecting pervasive discrepancies between police responses to protests by right-wing or white supremacist movements and their responses to Black Lives Matter (BLM) or left-wing movements. This article addresses the ethical and political implications of these discrepancies by making the case for impartiality rather than neutrality in protest policing. The principle of impartiality is preferred because of its comparative advantages in expressing and encouraging rights-respecting forms of protest policing. The case for impartiality is also related to calls for a broader overhaul of protest policing, including a reversal of trends that pose a serious threat to the rights of assembly and protest.