The 2015 Baltimore Protests: Human Capital and the War on Drugs

Joanna Crosby


In order to show how what Michel Foucault described as Chicago School neoliberalism in The Birth of Biopolitics devalues human life while masking that devaluation, I examine the 2015 death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore, Maryland, and the following civil unrest.  Through an exploration of the concept of human capital, I argue that this concept, while seeming to answer a question regarding labor in economics, exacerbates the devaluation of human life in the U.S. generally and in the case of Freddie Gray more specifically. Foucault’s Birth of Biopolitics lectures illustrates why the devaluation of life has gone largely unrecognized. As the concept of human capital, along with other ‘market values,’ proliferated beyond the realm of economics into daily life, human beings have come to be characterized as ‘enterprise units.’ I will argue that the prosecution of the War on Drugs provides a paradigmatic case of characterizing human beings as enterprise units, some useful and others surplus, looking to Baltimore to provide concrete examples.


Michel Foucault, Freddie Gray, Baltimore, human capital, homo oeconomicus, The Order of Things, The Birth of Biopolitics, Wendy Brown, war on drugs, David Simon.

Full Text:



• Adam Marton and Emma Patti Harris, “Freddie Gray arrest timeline,” Baltimore Sun, April 21, 2015. Http://

• Andrew Dilts, “From ‘Entrepreneur of the Self’ to ‘Care of the Self’: Neo-liberal Governmentality and Foucault’s Ethics.” Foucault Studies, [S.l.], p. 130-146, Sep. 2011.

• Andrew Dilts, Punishment and Inclusion: Race, Membership, and the Limits of American Liberalism, (New York: Fordham, 2014)

• Angela Davis, Are Prisons Obsolete, (Toronto: Seven Stories Press), 2003

• Bill Keller, “David Simon on Baltimore’s Anguish: Freddie Gray, the drug war, and the decline of ‘real policing.’” The Marshall Project, 4/29/2015. Https://

• Bill Keller, “David Simon on Baltimore’s Anguish: Freddie Gray, the drug war, and the decline of ‘real policing’.”

• Bill Moyers interview with David Simon, April 17, 2009. Transcript at

• C.f. Lamont, Michele, Mario Luis Small, and David J Harding. 2010. “Introduction. Reconsidering Culture and Poverty. Special Issue.” The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Sci-ence 629(1): 6-27:

• Craig Willse, “Surplus Life: Biopower and Neoliberalism,” The Scholar and Feminist Online, Bar-nard Center for Research on Women. Http://

• Craig Wilse, The Value of Homelessness: Managing Surplus Life in the United States, (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2015), 44:

• David Simon, “Ain’t no justice. It’s just us,” The Audacity of Despair, December 18, 2016.

• Erica Green, “How Baltimore schools became aware of 'purge' threat on day of unrest”, Baltimore Sun, June 20, 2015.

• Frederick Douglass High, School #450, School Profile. Http://

• Jean Marbella, “The day the Baltimore riots erupted: New details of Baltimore riots after Freddie Gray's death,” Baltimore Sun, Http:// Accessed October 28, 2016.

• Justin Fenton, “Autopsy of Freddie Gray shows 'high-energy' impact,” Baltimore Sun, June 24, 2015. Http://

• Kevin Rector, “Charges dropped, Freddie Gray case concludes with zero convictions against of-ficers,” Baltimore Sun, July 27, 2016.

• Kevin Rector, “The 45-minute mystery of Freddie Gray's death,” Baltimore Sun, April 12, 8:39 a.m. Http://

• Margaret Talbot, “Stealing Life: The crusader behind ‘The Wire,’” The New Yorker, October 22, 2007. Http://

• Mark Puente, “Undue Force,” Baltimore Sun, September 8, 2014. Http://

• Maryland Judiciary Case Search. re-sults.jsp?middleName=&partyType=&lastName=GRAY&filingEnd=&site=00&filingDate=&exactMatchLn=Y&filingStart=&d-16544-p=1&countyName=&action=Search&courtSystem=B&firstName=FREDDIE&company=N. Ac-cessed October 23, 2016.

• Meghan O’Rourke, “Behind The Wire: David Simon on where the show goes next,” Slate, De-cember 1, 2006, Http://

• Michael Harrington, The Other America: Poverty in the United States, (New York: Touchstone, 1997)

• Michel Foucault, Security, Territory, Population: Lectures at the College De France 1977-1978, translated by Graham Burchell (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007)

• Michel Foucault, The Birth of Biopolitics; Lectures at the Collège de France, 1978-79, translated by Gra-ham Burchell (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008)

• Michel Foucault, The Order of Things: An Archeology of the Human Sciences, (New York: Pantheon, 1973)

• Paul Duggan, DeNeen L. Brown and Peter Hermann, “After social-media alert to a ‘purge,’ police officers stood waiting," Washington Post, April 28, 2015., accessed Octo-ber 23, 2016.

• Sam Brodey and Jenna McLaughlin, “Eyewitnesses: The Baltimore Riots Didn't Start the Way You Think,” Mother Jones, April 28, 2015. Http:// Accessed October 28, 2016.

• Sheryl Gay Stolberg, “Baltimore Enlists National Guard and a Curfew to Fight Riots and Loot-ing,” New York Times, April 27, 2015 Https://

• U. S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, “Investigation of the Baltimore city Police De-partment,” August 10, 2016, 12.

• Wendy Brown, Undoing the Demos: Neoliberalism’s Stealth Revolution, (New York: Zone, 2015), 65

• Yvonne Wenger and Mark Puente, “Baltimore to pay Freddie Gray's family $6.4 million to settle civil claims,” Baltimore Sun, September 8, 2015. Http://

• Yvonne Wenger and Mark Puente, “Baltimore to settle lawsuit alleging 'rough ride' by police,” Baltimore Sun, October 6, 2015. Http:// Doug Donovan and Mark Puente, “Freddie Gray not the first to come out of Baltimore police van with serious injuries,” Baltimore Sun, April 23, 2015. Http://


Copyright (c) 2018 Joanna Crosby

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

visitors since Feb 2009. Hosted by CBS Library