I am an Associate Professor in the department of American Studies at the University of New Mexico. I write and teach about law's relation to violence, police and policing and environmental and social justice.
My recent co-authored book, Police: a Field Guide (Verso, 2018), with Tyler Wall, examines the logic and language of policing and police reform. There has been much focus recently on problems like militarized policing in the U.S. And this almost always presents police violence through a justified/unjustified binary that imagines unjustified police violence as an anomaly that must be rooted out and reformed. Police, according to this view, is as an essential force in today's world. Police and police reformers hold fast to the heroic myth of the trustworthy neighborhood cop as a way to avoid an uncomfortable truth: Policing began as, and remains today, a form of sociospatial control of a racialized poor. This is what is meant by “order” and it is the central task of policing. And the police project of "order" is inseparable from the capitalist state’s goal of fabricating bourgeois order and capitalist social relations such as private property, wage labor, and accumulation. And it is worth mentioning, and examined extensively in Police: a Field Guide, that Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Tamir Rice were all killed by the “neighborhood cop”, and not a jackbooted, heavily armored, highly weaponized officer. And these police killings were deemed "justified." Thus the nostalgic view of “Officer Friendly” or “community policing” must be ruthlessly critiqued. Police: A Field Guide examines this uncomfortable truth.
My first book, Properties of Violence: Law and Land Grant Struggle in Northern New Mexico (University of Georgia Press, 2013), traces Spanish colonial histories and contemporary struggles over property in what is today northern New Mexico. Spain and Mexico colonized the region by distributing large common property land grants to sheepherders and agriculturalists in a period marked by violent Indian removal. Yet after the U.S.-Mexican War a turbulent period of land speculation and dubious property adjudication dispossessed nearly all common-property land grants. The book focuses on one land grant, the Mexican-period Tierra Amarilla land grant. Of all the land grant conflicts in New Mexico’s history, Tierra Amarilla is the most sensational, with its nineteenth century speculators ranking among the state’s political and economic elite and a remarkable pattern of resistance to land loss by heirs in the twentieth century. I reexamine Tierra Amarilla and colonial and post-colonial land grant struggles in New Mexico in general through a critical lens that draws on archival and ethnographic methods in order to understand the cultural politics and political economy of property in northern New Mexico.
I narrate a long and largely unknown history of property conflict in Tierra Amarilla characterized by nearly constant violence—night riding and fence cutting, pitched gun battles, and tanks rumbling along the rutted dirt roads of northern New Mexico. The legal geography I reconstruct is one that includes a remarkable cast of characters: millionaire sheep barons, Spanish anarchists, hooded Klansmen, and Puerto Rican nationalists. In the book I argue that violence is not the opposite of law but rather is at the heart of law, and that the violent struggle over Tierra Amarilla was and remains a struggle over the very meaning of law and property.
My scholarly work has appeared in journals such as Antipode, Geoforum, The Journal of Historical Geography, Radical History Review and many others. I also write essays and articles for a variety of popular outlets, including CounterPunch, the Weekly Alibi, the ABQ Free Press, and La Jicarita.