The original motivation for this article was the atypical way that the government, police, media and wider community responded to the tragic death of Thomas Kelly in Kings Cross in July 2012. Kelly was killed as the result of a random, unprovoked and drunken 'one punch' assault. This event had all the hallmarks of the crimes that have often triggered a punitive knee-jerk response, reflecting the 'law and order' paradigm that Russell Hogg and David Brown so powerfully exposed in Rethinking Law and Order (Pluto Press, 1998). However, at least initially, we did not see the familiar calls for harsher retribution, new offences or additional police powers. Rather, as discussed in the article, what unfolded in 2012-2013 was a progressive campaign centred on the need to take meaningful steps to prevent so-called 'alcohol-fuelled violence'. In the article, I employed the work of Ernesto Laclau, Margaret Canovan and Russell Hogg to suggest that these events illustrated that populism is not an inherently punitive force, but can produce constructive, even progressive, outcomes. The campaign that followed Kelly's death was driven by the emotions of sadness, sympathy and grief, but also anger, revulsion and outrage. Often at such moments a polarising and demonising discourse dominates, but in this instance, these emotions operated to unify the people against the common 'enemy' of 'alcohol-fuelled violence'.