"For a Cop, the Moon is Always Full": Theriophobia and the Thin Blue Line:

Authors: Tyler Wall*, University of Tennessee, Knoxville
Topics: Political Geography, Cultural Geography, Animal Geographies
Keywords: Police, War, Settler Colonialism, Racial Capitalism, State Violence
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/10/2018
Start / End Time: 4:40 PM / 6:20 PM
Room: Studio 4, Marriott, 2nd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The idea that life itself, or at least a life worth living, is impossible without police is one of the most insidious ruling ideas of capitalist order. If it were not for police, we are told, the Hobbesian nightmare of life being “nasty, brutish and short” would commence. This police definition of reality is powerfully condensed in the popular historical notion of a thin blue line, a spatial metaphor conferring a sacred, mystical character to the “men and women in uniform.” This imaginative geography is shorthand for the belief that police power makes possible all the things said to be at the core of “civilized” existence: liberty, private property, safety, order, accumulation, politeness, happiness. Although in no way new, over the last few decades the phrase and imagery has become widely popular in US policing culture, and this paper unpacks what this maxim tells us about the spatial politics of police by attending to its racialized history, uses, and logics. I situate the “thin blue line” as the cop version of settler colonial mythology from social contract theory’s “state of nature” to Fanon’s diagnosis of the “bestiary” and “zoological” as fundamental features of colonial violence. Ultimately, what emerges here is a view of police power under racial capitalism as fundamentally structured by a politics of animality, namely, a theriophobic animus: an intense fear of wild beasts. The “thin blue line”, then, imagines the very existence of “the nation”, “civilization”, or “value”, contingent on a war against predatory beasts.

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