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Triggering Change: Police Homicides, Community Healing, and the Emergent Eventfulness of the New Civil Rights

By Megan Raschig

Cite As:
Raschig, Megan. 2017. “Triggering Change: Police Homicides, Community Healing, and the Emergent Eventfulness of the New Civil Rights.” Cultural Anthropology 32, no. 3: 399–423.


In the spring and summer of 2014, both before and after Ferguson, four police officer–involved shootings of unarmed Latino men occurred in the often criminalized and mostly Mexican enclave of East Salinas, California. These deaths at the hands of state agents created significant triggers for many locals—knee-jerk reactions to present stimuli in relation to difficult and diffuse past experiences—generating unprecedented, and sometimes unacknowledged, affective and ethical responses among those who have long abided countless unresolved gang-related deaths in the city. The official downplaying of the deaths as something that “never happens here” stood in contrast to resident responses that stressed the ongoing, if less overt, occurrence of state disregard. Such disparity, as registered in many East Salinans’ triggers, indicates the relative eventfulness of state violence that is both slow and ongoing, in addition to occasionally spectacular, in criminalized communities in late liberal America. As a concept imported from psychology in the general mainstreaming of discourses of trauma, triggers are conceptualized here instead as socially generated and ethically generative, a way of marking and making time and transforming the systematic exhaustion of criminalized life into a political resource. Tracing these temporal tripwires ethnographically in East Salinas, in light of a local social project of healing, illuminates the affective and ethical impetus to both political engagement and disengagement in persistently criminalized communities of color as they encounter police homicides and state violence, refracting the proliferating project of making lives matter.


activism; temporality; ethics; morality; trauma; healing; criminalization