Police Violence, Racism, and the State: Essays Related to the Ferguson and Staten Island Grand Jury Decisions and Subsequent Protests

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We’d like to give the first and last word to someone whose voice (and ability to talk right down to earth in a language that everybody here can easily understand) should be remembered in times like these:

In November, many of us attended the annual American Society of Criminologists conference. This year it took place in San Francisco, California with a theme of “Criminology at the Intersections of Oppression,” which was fitting (or ironic) since San Francisco is one of the most vivid illustrations of inequality and injustice in the United States, indeed the world. Still, we got to converge on the city with some of our favorite criminologists from around the world and it was good.  There were several tributes to the late, great Jock Young and at least through one set of loops and spirals around the program a strong sentiment of “a moment for critical criminology” and of the importance of engaging with some sense of “left realism.”  One of the first panels of the week, entitled “What’s Left?” discussed the renewed relevance of a radical criminology in times like these and alluded to important collaborations between reform and revolution.  One particularly salient line was “we’ve got to realize that it is not counterrevolutionary to support policies that can free 1,000s of people from prisons and jails.”

In spite of the overwhelming social and political injustice and inequality all around us, or perhaps because of it, there was a strong sense of the optimism of the will almost in spite of the old pessimism of the intellect.  Maybe it was due to this sense that radical and critical perspectives and analysis are crucial in combatting the kinds of social problems we find rapidly increasing all around us?  Einstein said that “those who have the privilege to know have the duty to act, and in that action are the seeds
 of new knowledge.”  We here at Uprooting Criminology certainly believe in planting seeds as much as hacking at the roots. So, in that regard we offer a series of blogs that attempt to apply some of those perspectives and analyses to current collective actions against the state’s role in perpetuating those problems.

Jock Young encouraged us to revisit C. Wright Mills, and especially the concept of “personal troubles and public issues”.  He called it “the criminological imagination”. When we see thousands (millions?) take to the streets to protest the structural inequalities and injustices embodied in the micro-level interactions between Michael Brown and Darren Wilson, Eric Garner and Daniel Panteleo, Tamir Rice and Timothy Loehmann, and many others we can’t help but think that perhaps the criminological imagination of a nation is slowly, but perhaps surely, reawakening.  Likewise, we can imagine the possibilities should this be the case.

“Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.” – Arundhati Roy

What follows is a summary of the reactions and analysis presented in this blog over the last few weeks.

In “The Day After: Confronting Political Policing in Ferguson” Carl Root summarizes the relevance of an earlier Critical Essay by Victor Kappeler on the promise and aftermath of the 1960s protest movements.  Carl points out the pattern noted by Kappeler that the hope of the civil rights and antiwar movements were met with increasing state violence and control.  The situation seems to be replaying itself in the aftermath of grand jury decisions in the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner with heavy police presence and the deployment of National Guard troops in Ferguson.

The raw emotion of the moments before and after the Ferguson grand jury decision is captured beautifully in Deborah Landry’s piece “Flash Bang Policing.”  In place of the often dry material of scholarly analysis, she offers music and the reminder that the “nostalgic notion of the ‘good cop’ never existed.”

Gary Potter provided a critical summary of the Ferguson grand jury decision in “The Ferguson Grand Jury and the Coercive State.”  He systematically demonstrates the unwillingness of the criminal justice system – in the form of the office of the prosecutor and the Ferguson police – to adequately pursue this case.  The analysis points not to individual failures, but to the systematic (and systemic) use of state violence to uphold white supremacy and a racial order throughout this nation’s history.

Most recently, Carl Root shared his personal experience with police use of force in “Police Violence and PTSD.”  This highly personal account points to the ease with which police turn to violence in order to achieve compliance and the traumatic effects it has for victims.  His piece also locates his survival and subsequent ability to successfully challenge the state in white privilege.

Back in September, Richard Thomas dispelled myths about equality in the American criminal justice system and Carl Root offered some supplements to the Ferguson Syllabus. Shortly thereafter, Danielle McDonald urged us to talk about Ferguson, and Kishonna Gray critiqued the way that the “Boogeyman of blackness” is a spectre haunting American policing, and offered suggestions as to how this might be addressed. 

We invite you to return to this page or the main blog index for our continuing analysis and response to the ongoing issues of police violence and police racism.  There is no better way to end than how we started.

Carl Root
School of Justice Studies
Eastern Kentucky University

Stanislav Vysotsky
Sociology, Criminology & Anthropology Department
University of Wisconsin – Whitewater

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