36 Policing and White Power: (EF, JP) Global Policing Series

Black lives matter. Yet for decades or centuries in America that basic truth has been ignored, denied, violently suppressed. Many of the mechanisms that create an oppressed and subordinated American community of color can seem subtle and indirect, despite the insidious ways they pervade housing law (The Color of Law), education (Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together, Savage Inequalities) and the carceral state (The Condemnation of Blackness, The New Jim Crow, Locking Up Our Own).

Although there is plenty of subtle racism in policing as well, there can be a brutally frontal quality to white-power policing: just look at the racial disparity in the stubbornly astronomically number of fatal shootings by police.

In this episode, we join other public discussions (including Brandeis University’s America’s Racial Reckoning: Black Lives and Black Futures in Historical, Political and Legal Context and Democracy Now’s interview with Angela Davis on abolition) of police brutality, systemic and personal racism and Black Lives Matter. We are lucky to be joined by Daniel Kryder and David Cunningham, two scholars who have worked on these questions for decades.

We focus special attention on white supremacy and its relationship to various mechanisms of law and order. Its effects and its victims (even if we only say the names of the dead, thousands and thousands of them over the years,) are getting harder to overlook, though many white people and institutions have tried to over the years. How much of the current system of racial and class disparity can be traced back to slavery or to subsequent 19th century racial logic? How much arises from the confluence of other forces?

The conversation notes the widespread white participation in recent protests–did we ever expect to hear Mitt Romney chanting “Black Lives Matter”?– and what this might suggest about the possibilities for actual change. It also touches on the roles of the media and institutions such as police unions and the erosion of federal oversight of local police departments.

Daniel Kryder is Professor of Politics at Brandeis, and an expert on the racial politics of policing in America. His publications include Divided Arsenal: Race and the American State During World War II.

Daniel Kryder
David Cunningham

David Cunningham chair of Sociology at Washington University in St Louis, has ongoing research on (1) the organization and enforcement of segregation under Jim Crow, (2) the enduring legacies of racist violence, (3) the policing of organized white supremacy, and (4) the recent wave of conflicts around Confederate monuments and other sites of contested memory. 

Mentioned in this episode:

Klansville, USA (cf. the PBS show of the same name that drew heavily on the book; and an interview David did on the topic of today’s Klan)

Kerner Commission Report (1968)

Ethical Society of Police (cf. this compelling local post-Ferguson PBS documentary that speaks with St. Louis African-American police officers)

Recallable Books

Walter Johnson, “The Broken Heart of America” (2020)

James Baldwin, “The Fire Next Time” (1963)

Ta-Nehisi Coates, “Between the World and Me” (2015)

Listen and Read Here:

Upcoming Episodes: Books in Dark Times returns with poet Elizabeth Bradfield and historian of science Lorraine Daston. Global Policing episodes on Turkey and Australia loom on the horizon.

Author: plotznik

I teach English (mainly the novel and Victorian literature) at Brandeis University, and live in Brookline.

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