Selected Links: Police Violence, Protests, and Racial Injustice

The killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis set off a wave of protests against police violence across the United States and around the world. Thousands of people, in cities large and small, have called for equality, demanded change, and emphasized that black lives matter.  

But this fight is not a new one. There are scores of research papers, news articles, books, novels, poetry, essays, and so on, documenting the systematic denial of equality to black people in the United States. It’s not that we didn’t know it was a problem. It’s that collectively we haven’t done enough to correct it. That’s the sobering reality. 

Many have noted that this time it feels different. The protests, happening in spite of or perhaps partly due to a global pandemic, seem like they could help spur systematic change in a number of ways—new ideas for how to organize community safety and order, the nature of political participation in the U.S., and the deepening of a difficult, but much needed, conversation around race in America.

Below we’ve curated a set of articles and media that help shed light on the present moment. The list is not meant to be exhaustive, but to provide analysis on the different angles of what we’re experiencing and witnessing.

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50 Yrs Ago American Police Debated George Floyd Situation On National TV

In 1971, PBS hosted a discussion on national television about the relationship between police departments and the black community. It’s a stark reminder that 50 years ago, the same injustices were being discussed—and denied to exist by some. A diverse set of perspectives—reverends, police chiefs, police officers, professors—weigh in. Watch with this in question in mind: Will someone in 2070, fifty years from now, view videos of the protests from the past two weeks and think the same problems still exist today?

A Large-Scale Analysis of Racial Disparities in Police Stops Across the United States
By Emma Pierson et al. 
Nature Human Behavior

Scientists have studied racial bias in the justice system for decades, finding evidence of bias in parole decisions, police officers’ decision to shoot, and response to crime victims, among many others. In this new study published in Nature Human Behavior, researchers found that black drivers were less likely to be stopped after sunset—presumably because it was more difficult to ascertain a driver’s race at night. Additional findings that point to “persistent racial bias” in police stop and search decisions include evidence that the bar for searching black and Hispanic drivers was lower than that for searching white drivers. Concerningly, the authors also point out that “despite the existence of public records laws, several jurisdictions failed to respond to our repeated requests for information.” And although these researchers recommend increased use of data and transparency in sharing results, they acknowledge that “data collection and analysis are not enough. We must act on the results of such efforts if we are to reduce the persistent, discriminatory impacts of policing on communities of colour.” 

Institutionalized Racism: A Syllabus.
By Catherine Halley 
JSTOR Daily 

Institutional racism . . . is what connects George Floyd and Breonna Taylor with Ahmaud Arbery, Philando Castile, Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, Emmett Till, and the thousands of other people who have been killed because they were black in America.”

This online syllabus provides a starting point for understanding racism in America, linking to dozens of articles that help put the recent protests in perspective of centuries of racial injustice. Learn about the “Devastation of Black Wall Street”, “A History of Police Violence in Chicago”, and “The Racism of History Textbooks” to better understand the history of racism in America that you probably weren’t taught in school. 

Race and the Criminal Justice System: Where Do We Go From Here
Panel organized by Hakeem Jefferson

Political science professor Hakeem Jefferson organized a panel discussion between his fellow political scientists to help illuminate our current moment.

Why filming police violence has done nothing to stop it
By Ethan Zuckerman 
MIT Technology Review 

“After years of increasingly widespread bodycam use and ever more pervasive social media, it’s clear that information can work only when it’s harnessed to power,” writes media scholar Ethan Zuckerman. Contrary to popular belief, there’s ample evidence that increased surveillance of police officers—through body cam footage and social media videos—doesn’t lead to reduced use of force. Police violence is not an information problem, but an issue of power. Even though images by themselves rarely lead to systemic change, Zuckerman argues that they do have power: to “shock, outrage, and mobilize people to demand systemic change. That alone is the reason to keep filming.” 

U.S. Businesses Must Take Meaningful Action Against Racism
By Laura Morgan Roberts and Ella F. Washington 
Harvard Business Review 

Over the last few weeks, corporations have been quick to voice their support for their workers and the American people—first because of coronavirus, and now to decry racism and defend the Black Lives Matter Movement. But as organizational psychologists Laura Roberts and Ella Washington argue, “how organizations respond to large-scale, diversity-related events that receive significant media attention can either help employees feel psychologically safe or contribute to racial identity threat and mistrust of institutions of authority. Without adequate support, minority employees are likely to perceive their environments as more interpersonally and institutionally biased against them.” How, then, should business leaders respond to create better environments for employees experiencing psychological trauma from these events? Among other suggestions, the authors encourage leaders to avoid silence and becoming overly defensive. “Remember that comments on systemic inequalities are not personal attacks.”

Minneapolis Police Use Force Against Black People at 7 Times the Rate of Whites
By Richard A. Oppel Jr. and Lazaro Gamio
The New York Times

This article examines the use of force by police officers in Minneapolis. There, black residents make up 19 percent of the population but experience 58 percent of the use-of-force incidents. Police are also more likely to use force in predominantly black neighborhoods. 

“‘The disparities in the use of force in Minneapolis parallel large racial gaps in vital measures in the city, like income, education and unemployment,’ said David Schultz, a professor at Hamline University in St. Paul who has studied local police tactics for two decades. When he taught a course years ago on potential liability officers face in the line of duty, Mr. Schultz said, he would describe Minneapolis as “a living laboratory on everything you shouldn’t do when it comes to police use of force.”

Why It’s So Rare For Police Officers To Face Legal Consequences
By Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux, Nathaniel Rakich and Likhitha Butchireddygari

Why People Loot 
By Olga Khazan 
The Atlantic 

“The sentiment in some corners seems to be, If only they would just march peacefully, and not loot, we’d be fine with this,” writes Olga Khazan in this piece exploring why looting occurs during some protests and social movements. But sociologists and other social science researchers cited in the piece argue that looting is often symbolic, representing a way to seek empowerment after decades of police abuse, retribution for economic exploitation, and as a last resort to make their voices heard. And, as Khazan writes, most of the experts point to looting as a side effect of protests—of which “the root cause is yet another killing of a black man by a white police officer. To fully eliminate looting, you’d have to eliminate the conditions that make people upset enough to protest.” 

I’m a Black Climate Expert. Racism Derails Our Efforts to Save the Planet.
By Ayana Elizabeth Johnson
The Washington Post

“Toni Morrison said it best, in a 1975 speech: “The very serious function of racism … is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining, over and over again, your reason for being.” As a marine biologist and policy nerd, building community around climate solutions is my life’s work. But I’m also a black person in the United States of America. I work on one existential crisis, but these days I can’t concentrate because of another.”