Where is Race in the 'Totality of Circumstances'? Police use-of-force trials and the colour-blind court | Patrick Watson

When and Where

Monday, November 27, 2023 12:30 pm to 2:00 pm
CG 265
Canadiana Gallery
14 Queen's Park Crescent West, Toronto, ON M5S 3K9


Professor Patrick Watson, University of Toronto


Join us for the third seminar of the 2023-24 CrimSL Speaker Series on Monday, November 27!

Professor Patrick Watson, University of Toronto will present "Where is Race in the 'Totality of Circumstances'? Police use-of-force trials and the colour-blind court." 

This is a free event, however, registration is required.

Prior to the seminar, join us for a light lunch from noon to 12:30 pm in the Centre Lounge. Please indicate your lunch RSVP for catering purposes when you register.


When a police officer is criminally tried for an on-duty shooting, jurors are frequently instructed to consider the 'totality of circumstances'. Conversely, jurors are also conventionally told to look past or disregard the Race of both the victim and the perpetrator, arguably a strange factor to omit given the disproportionate rate at which Black men are killed by police in North America. However, when a use-of-force incident is captured on video, the Race of both the victim and perpetrator are often directly observable by the trier-of-fact. This poses an interesting dilemma for how to account for Race given the 'colour-blinding' aspirations of the Court.

In this talk, I follow up on a proposition forwarded by Michelle Alexander to better understand how courts actively accomplish racial colour-blinding. Drawing from case studies of eight criminal trials of police officers accused of excessive force in on-duty shootings, I will review some practices in which litigators both remove, but also subtly include, Race as part of a shootings' causal matrix. I argue prohibitions on excluding Race are a one-way street; the prosecution in these cases cannot unproblematically level accusations of racial bias against an accused, whereas defense counsel have considerably more liberty to instruct triers-of-fact to disregard, ignore, or deny the bearing of Race on the totality of circumstances.

About Professor Patrick Watson

Patrick completed a PhD at the University of Manchester (UK) in 2010. His research interests include policing and civilian police oversight, municipal governance, and criminal proceedings. He conducts research predominately from an ethnomethodological framework, and is a board member of the International Institute of Ethnomethodology and Conversational Analysis. Patrick is the principal investigator of two SSHRC funded projects: the Partnership Development Grant "Charting the Reasonable Officer", a study of how civilian police oversight agencies account for lawful officer conduct in contested use-of-force incidents, and; the Open Research Area grant "Visions of Policing" a study of how video technology impacts police oversight and training. He would like to work with students who have an interest in the work routines in civic institutions.

Visit his University of Toronto Centre for Criminology & Sociolegal Studies faculty profile.


Please note that CG 265 is on the second floor of the Canadiana Gallery building, with stair access only as there is no elevator. If you have any access needs or if there are any ways we can support your full participation in this session, please email crimsl.communications@utoronto.ca and we will be glad to work with you to make the appropriate arrangements.

Health & Safety

We are following health and safety measures outlined by the University of Toronto and the Government of Ontario. Should there be changes in protocols related to health and safety of our guests and community, registrants will be advised.


14 Queen's Park Crescent West, Toronto, ON M5S 3K9