Date of Award

Summer 2016

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Sociology & Criminal Justice

Committee Director

Randy Myers

Committee Member

Ruth Triplett

Committee Member

Travis Linneman


The death of a police officer provides us a chance to understand our current histories. As something tragic, the bodies of officers killed in the line-of-duty gain national attention. On display at police funerals is the enormous power of the state, as thousands of officers escort the casket, while helicopters and SWAT, accompanies the body to its final resting place. Following the officer’s death is a nation’s grief. As bills are passed in their honor, and weeks are named for those lost, the nation responds to such acts with general anger and disbelief. The killing of a police officer, generally, comes as a surprise, shocking an apathetic population into a groundswell of rage and anger at those held responsible. Engaging the political power of death, this dissertation analyzes the deaths of police officers as defining, and spectacular, events for the state. Focusing on the death of a New York City Police Officer Edward Byrne, killed in 1988 at the height of the “crack epidemic”, the aim here is to show how a police officer’s death reveals the unequal politics of death in the contemporary US. An unequal nature that is, in fact, understood by the hierarchical status of life as defined by the state. Furthermore, I look towards a thanatopolitics, a politics of death, to understand the ways in which Byrne’s death operated as a productive power for the state while subjecting marginalized communities and peoples of color to police power’s tactics of pulverization. The first of two substantive chapters draws on the narrative of Byrne’s death, as one “occupying a chilling and solitary niche”, that made possible a thanatopolitics that supported new tactics of police power in New York City. It is within these new tactics and the continued remembrance of Byrne’s death that makes the justifications of the killing of marginalized people, like Sean Bell, possible. The second chapter connects the federal grants named after Byrne, the Edward Byrne Memorial Assistance Grants, to the use of SWAT raids and no-knocks as a means of rationalizing thanatopolitics as techniques of pulverization. Ultimately it is argued, that Byrne’s death and likewise other similar deaths, mobilize the state’s power and reaffirms its violence as necessary.


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