Incarnation and the Child of/in Crisis: The Keys, the Cuffs, and the Racial

I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.

–Matthew 16:19

Pagans and infidels are bound by the power and judgement of the keys, because those who do not believe have already been judged.

–Augustinus Triumphus, 1214-13381

On May 8, anno Domini, 2017, the NYCLU released a report detailing the “outsized role” that NYPD police officers play in the “extreme racial disparities” evident in which NYC public school students are given summonses, arrested, and “unnecessarily handcuffed.”2 3 The data indicates that in 2016, 99% of NYC public school students handcuffed in “child in crisis” incidents were coded as Black and Latinx. The so-called child “in crisis” is a student designated by NYPD police officers, school administrators, and safety officers as “displaying signs of emotional distress.” The student is handcuffed, removed from the classroom, and then remanded to a hospital setting for a psychological evaluation. An “actual” crisis, psychological, or otherwise is not necessary for the initiation of the “child in crisis” operation, simply the belief of/in one, so determined by the adjudicating authority.

The framing offered by the NYCLU locates the “problem” in the extremity of the racial disparities. The elimination of racial excess and “unnecessary handcuffing” are the stated aspirations toward keeping “students and staff safe.” In the words of NYCLU Advocacy Director Johanna Miller, “the NYPD should not treat schools as places to hunt for students they believe committed a crime off of school grounds. Students should never be afraid to go to school.” The hunters should be made to abide by the permitted bounds, the warren of their fair game limited to the gates of public schools, lest crisis grant them permission to transgress in the pursuit of safety. The “problem” is a paradox. Crisis is ever present not in the figure of the “child in crisis,” but the ever present, yet constituitively foreclosed racial crisis, and it’s incarnations, the children of crisis. We are offered an account of “the problem” from the formation that institutes the conditions under which “the problem” emerges. An account that names “excess racial disparity” as the evil, forecloses the extension of this “solution” as but another operation of authority. Racial disparity becomes that which must be overcome in the pursuit of grace, yet the life of grace is racial.

Authority is the anima of the police and all that constitutes the legible and illegible life of the crisis. Domination obscures itself as a condition of its institution. Never in question, the decisions issuing the distinctions that render crisis legible are also the resources that extend the possibility of resolving conflict within it’s dominion. Authority is emancipation, so gleaning an essence of legitimacy from the peformative transcendence of its adjudication. Crisis is Racial Life. That what might have been a child is now annihilated, consumed in the sacramental performative act of binding evil. Hancuffed, there by the grace of god goes race.

Jared Rodríguez is a Doctoral Candidate in African American Studies at Northwestern University. Their forthcoming dissertation, Apocalyptic Blackness: The (Im)Possibility of Political Theology in Four Chapters, offers an account of the Christanity of Anti-Blackness and Racialized Modernity.


  1. Wilks, Michael. 2008. The problem of sovereignty in the later Middle Ages: the Papal monarchy with Augustinus Triumphus and the publicists. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pg. 414. Original Latin: Pagani et infideles potestate clavium ligati sunt et iudicati, quia qui non credunt iam iudicati sunt. Translation mine. 
  2. Anno Domini is Latin for year of the/our Lord (Christ). 
  3. City School Safety Data Shows Handcuffs Used Disproportionately On Black And Latino Children, https://www.nyclu.org/en/news/city-school-safety-data-shows-handcuffs-used-disproportionately-black-and-latino-children 

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