Protect and Serve

82 Pages Posted: 13 Apr 2022

See all articles by Marissa Jackson Sow

Marissa Jackson Sow

Open Society Foundations (OSF); United Nations - Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights; St. John's University - School of Law

Date Written: August 10, 2021


There exists a substantial body of literature on racism and brutality in policing, police reform and abolition, the militarization of the police, and the relationship of the police to the State and its citizenry. Many theories abound with respect to the relationship between the police and Black people in the United States, and most of these theories rest upon the basic assumption—undergirded by constitutional, civil rights, and human rights law—that Black people in the United States are entitled to due process and equal protection when they are in contact with the police or other law enforcement officers.

This Article uses critical contract theory and the theory of Whiteness as Contract to challenge that basic assumption and instead advance the claim that the mandate that police “protect and serve” does not apply to Black people, notwithstanding the provisions of constitutional and statutory law, because Black people are the objects of racial contracting rather than participants therein. The police are charged with protecting the racial contract and serving the contract’s signatories; accordingly, they enforce the contract’s terms, requiring them to specifically target Black people for surveillance, harassment, deprivation, and even death, lest the contract be subject to breach or other interference.

Suggested Citation

Jackson Sow, Marissa, Protect and Serve (August 10, 2021). California Law Review, Vol. 110, 2022, Available at SSRN: or

Marissa Jackson Sow (Contact Author)

Open Society Foundations (OSF) ( email )

224 West 57th Street
New York, NY 10019
United States

United Nations - Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights ( email )

Palais des Nations
52 rue des Pâquis
CH-1201 Geneva

St. John's University - School of Law ( email )

8000 Utopia Parkway
Jamaica, NY 11439
United States

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