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Teach-in addresses racial implications of policing practices

In the wake of Ray Kelly’s canceled lecture, five faculty members examine issues like stop-and-frisk

Racial impacts on policing practices was the focus of a teach-in held in a packed Salomon 101 Thursday in the wake of the cancellation of New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly’s lecture Tuesday.

The teach-in featured a panel of five faculty members who addressed the history and social context of race’s role in shaping law enforcement policies, including the controversial “stop-and-frisk” New York Police Department policing policy Kelly has enforced. The discussion was sponsored by the Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in America and moderated by one of the panelists, the CSREA Director and Professor of Africana Studies Tricia Rose.

The panel was organized after student and community protestors effectively shut down a lecture Kelly was scheduled to give Tuesday. Administrators ended the event after about half an hour of unsuccessfully trying to persuade protestors to let Kelly speak.

The panel was meant to go beyond rehashing the debate over Kelly’s lecture to contextualize stop-and-frisk policies within a historical-social framework, Rose said.

The policy emerged as part of a “complex and deep mode of criminalization” of black and Latino people in the United States, Rose said, highlighting NYPD statistics that show a stark racial discrepancy among those detained by police officers.

Fifty-three percent of individuals stopped by the NYPD in 2011 were black, while 32 percent were Latino and 9 percent were white, Rose said. In contrast, 33 percent of city residents are white, 29 percent are Latino and 23 percent are black, according to 2010 U.S. Census data.

This discrepancy stems from efforts to criminalize minorities “as a class of people,” Rose said, so that structural problems like joblessness and generational poverty are overlooked and “racialized character flaws” are artificially created.

Stop-and-frisk policies divide law enforcement officials and communities and undermine trust within a community, Rose said, adding that a communal failure to speak out against racialized policing only perpetuates it.

Fear tactics and “activation of deep-seated racial bias” lead some to believe stop-and-frisk reduces crime, a notion Rose criticized. She pointed to more substantial crime reduction rates over the past decade in cities that did not employ stop-and-frisk as evidence that the practice is ineffective.

“It’s extremely important to look for alternative models” of law enforcement to challenge the “myth-based” racial profiling of a stop-and-frisk approach, Rose said.

Panelists discussed their own experiences with race in the criminal justice system.

Richard Tyson Smith, visiting assistant professor of sociology, described his inability as a young, white college student to understand the significance of the 1992 police beating of Rodney King, a black man, in Los Angeles, Calif., as he watched news coverage of its fallout.

Smith said his “naive response” reflected a fundamental disconnect between white middle-class youths and racial issues related to law enforcement.

“We just simply didn’t know this was such a powerful American phenomenon with such deep roots,” Smith said.

Stefano Bloch, a postdoctoral fellow at the Cogut Center for the Humanities, said he experienced systemic abuse and repeated silencing by police officers as a Hispanic youth.

Bloch said he was “incredibly proud” of protestors when they told Kelly to “shut his (expletive) mouth” Tuesday. He added that he disagreed with President Christina Paxson’s statement that the shutdown of Kelly’s lecture was “a sad day for Brown,” a remark that received widespread applause.

The protestors’ action also received praise from panelist Linda Quiquivix, a postdoctoral fellow at the Cogut Center for the Humanities.

“We all recognize that the shutting down part was important because it wouldn’t have received as much publicity and as much news if it had just been a protest,” Quiquivix said.

“Acting out and speaking out is very important” to ending racialized policing practices like stop-and-frisk, Bloch said. He voiced support for U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin’s ruling in August that the NYPD policy was unconstitutional, adding that he agreed with Scheindlin that subjective criteria such as “furtive movements” could not be used to justify the disproportionate detention of racial minorities.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit stayed Schleindlin’s decision and removed her from the case, ruling that the judge had given “an appearance of partiality” in the case, multiple news outlets reported Thursday.

“I got my most important political upbringing out on the streets,” Quiquivix said, urging audience members to reach out to the Providence community more frequently in order to understand social differences. She added that “a lot of learning” can happen beyond the College Hill “bubble” if students and faculty members are willing to engage with the broader community.

Stop-and-frisk was not the only target of panelists’ criticisms for the NYPD. The force’s surveillance tactics employed in relation to Muslim communities since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks drew a sharp denunciation from Nancy Khalek, assistant professor of the humanities for religious studies.

Police surveillance of Muslim community centers, schools and mosques plays into a “long history” of U.S. law enforcement officials’ targeting of minority communities due to a “gap between reality and myth” when it comes to identifying public safety threats, Khalek said.

The panelists fielded a host of questions from audience members on community members’ rights to be heard during polarizing discussions such as Kelly’s lecture.

“I’m not entirely sure there’s a one-size-fits-all way for determining what constitutes free speech,” Khalek said.

Some attendees said they appreciated the panel’s grappling with the complex issues of race and policing that underlay the cancellation of Kelly’s lecture.

“Overall, I’m really proud of the faculty who came here,” said Hayward Leach ’14. “I think they addressed the question of identity in a constructive way.”

“This is a nuanced issue and there’s no one way to approach it,” said Liam Dean-Johnson ’16.

 

A previous version of this article incorrectly quoted Stefano Bloch as saying he was “incredibly proud” of protestors when they told Kelly to “shut his (expletive) mouth.” In fact, Bloch said he was “incredibly proud” of protestors when they told Kelly to “shut his expletive mouth.”



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