This Essay presents the concept of “existential crime.” It argues that our notion of crime has conflated acts that challenge the racial premise on which a state is founded with acts that breach what Karim Murji (2009) calls “norms of propriety.”1 It argues that the conflation of these different types of social acts into our conceptualization of crime is a problem because this unnecessary and deliberate synthesis (1) privileges Western liberal philosophies that presume justice for everyone is achievable in states that were originally built on criteria for racial inclusion/exclusion, e.g., racial domination of one group over others; and (2) makes it difficult for social and legal scholars to posit states not founded on these Western liberal conceptualizations, but instead on “justice for everyone,” that is, a multi-racial democratic state. This Essay uses examples from contemporary events such as the January 6, 2021, attempted coup in the United States and Black Lives Matter protests, along with data on N.Y.P.D. Stop and Frisk practices from 2002 to 2013, to assess the need to distinguish between “existential crimes” and violations of “norms of propriety.” The assessment is contextualized in an analysis of U.S. discourses about crime, criminality, and criminalization, critiquing these socalled race-neutral discourses that normalized whiteness in the racialization processes that shaped the United States and other modern nation-states. The assessment reveals that the literature surrounding our definitions of crime, criminality, and criminalization does not challenge the centralization of racial formation in the definitions, classifications, and categorizations of what constitutes a crime. This Essay argues that teasing out and abolishing from our criminal codes and procedures those acts that constitute existential crimes are important steps in challenging white supremacy in the social and legal systems and increasing the likelihood of moving toward a truly democratic state.
Byfield, Natalie P., "Blackness and Existential Crimes in the Modern Racial State" (2021). Connecticut Law Review. 508.