American Studies ETDs

Publication Date

Fall 11-14-2016


This thesis argues that in order to understand how and why police violence happens in the U.S., it is necessary to situate these interactions within a framework of settler colonialism. The police exist to maintain social order and, in the case of the U.S., this social order is defined by hegemonic structures of power including settler colonialism. Thus, the police fabricate and enforce settler social order that requires subjugating and eliminating Native people in order to preserve settler sovereignty. This thesis intervenes into monolithic critiques of policing in the U.S. and argues that critiques of police violence are most productive if they attend to geographic and historical specificities. This intervention is informed by the fact that, while there has been a significant amount of work done to understand the development of policing in the eastern half of the U.S. (particularly along a North/South divide), decidedly less attention has been paid to the southwest. In order to offset this silence and because it is a site of regular and extreme police violence, New Mexico is the primary site of analysis. Finally, the thesis proposes that by analyzing police violence in New Mexico through the lens of settler colonialism, it becomes clear that, in addition to the police, settler social order is also enforced by private individuals who police Natives with verbal and physical violence. Though both police violence and private violence against Native bodies advance the settler colonial agenda, individual violence is distanced from police violence because it is regularly read as being isolated and erratic in nature. This distinction does the work of distracting from the violence of police and reinforcing the power of the state because, when individual violence or hate crimes occur, the police and the courts are called upon to bring justice for the victims.




Settler colonialism, police violence, social order, social value, police, New Mexico

Document Type


Degree Name

American Studies

Level of Degree


Department Name

American Studies

First Committee Member (Chair)

Amy Brandzel

Second Committee Member

Jennifer Nez Denetdale

Third Committee Member

David Correia