Brooklyn Law Review


American law and American life are asymmetrical. Law divides neatly in two: public and private. But life is lived in three distinct spaces: pure public, pure private, and hybrid middle spaces that are neither state nor home. Which body of law governs the shops, gyms, and workplaces that are formally accessible to all, but functionally hostile to Black, female, poor, and other marginalized Americans? From the liberal midcentury onward, social justice advocates have treated these spaces as fundamentally public and fully remediable via public law equity commands. This article takes a broader view. It urges a tort law revival in the campaign for just middle spaces, taking as its exemplar the problem of racially oppressive policing. Inequitable policing arises from both system-level policies and personal officer biases. Public law can remake systems, but struggles to remake people. Consequently, this piece argues that the legal quest for humane policing has overemphasized public law litigation under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 and underemphasized the private law of tort. Personal injury law, specifically the intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED) tort, has untapped potential to influence the private bias of officers and the communities they serve. IIED invites individuation of Black litigants, self-reflection on the meaning of racial dignity in middle spaces, and construction of shared norms about civilian humanity—a panoply of exercises social psychologists have identified as the essential tools of anti-bias work. Returning to broader themes, the article builds on the example of inequitable policing to petition for full private law partnership in the bid for twenty-first century social justice.