Publications and Research

Document Type


Publication Date

Fall 9-1-2015


Activists and lawyers advocating for those who are targeted, arrested, and prosecuted as a result of aggressive policing practices are often the first to hear individual accounts of the dehumanizing treatment endured by vulnerable communities. Working on the front lines of the criminal justice system on a daily basis may cause advocates to regard these descriptions as commonplace, such that the transformative potential of a shared personal experience is overlooked. Critical race, practice-oriented, and narrative theory scholarship have long recognized the power of telling one’s story. These disciplines have explored how outsider narrative, or the articulated experience of groups subordinated by mainstream legal discourse, has a particularly powerful role to play in exposing inequities and stimulating legal and social change.

This Article extends the scholarship on outsider narrative to the context of mobilization lawyering, specifically against racialized policing practices. The anti-stop and frisk movement in New York City was particularly effective in highlighting the voices of Black and Latino New Yorkers who were aggressively policed. Using this movement as a framework, the Article argues that advocacy which privileges outsider narrative both reveals how our criminal justice system obfuscates the presence of racial bias and challenges the conventional political, legal and social discourse about race and crime. As the national #BlackLivesMatter movement and other efforts to combat the criminalization of marginalized communities across the United States grow, legal advocates must appreciate and promote the role of outsider narrative in their work. An examination of the interplay between outsider narrative theory and social change lawyering provides a critical and relevant approach for legal advocates seeking to support justice movements.


This article was originally published in the North Carolina Law Review.

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