Demonstrations spread across the U.S. to confront the deaths of black men and women at the hands of police. Experts will discuss how to prevent more unarmed black men and women from being killed by police, and what can be done by individuals outside of law enforcement.
- Kevin Cokley Ph.D - Professor of African & African Diaspora Studies and Director of the Institute for Urban Policy & Research Analysis - University of Texas at Austin.
- Christopher M. Whitt, Ph.D - Vice Provost for Institutional Diversity and Inclusion - Creighton University.
- Ayesha Bell Hardaway - Assistant Professor of Law, School of Law - Case Western Reserve University.
- Sabrina Strings Ph.D - Assistant Professor of sociology - UC Irvine
- Danielle Kilgo Ph.D. - Formerly Assistant Professor of Journalism at The Media School - Indiana University (teaching at University of Minnesota in the Fall)
When: June 2, 2020, 2-3 PM EDT
Where: Newswise Live event space on Zoom - https://newswiselive.zoom.us/j/7459578068
This live event will also be recorded and transcribed for use by media and communicators after it is concluded.
Thom: Welcome to today's news wise live expert panel. Our topic today is police brutality and the Black Lives Matter protests that are going on around the United States. We have with us five professors from different universities working with News wise. I want to introduce our panellists real quick. First, we have Dr. Christopher Whitt. Dr. Whitt is the Vice Provost for Institutional Diversity and Inclusion at Creighton University and that's in Omaha, Nebraska. We also have Professor Ayesha Bell Hardaway. She's a JD. She's Assistant Professor of law at the School of Law at Case Western Reserve University. We also have Dr. Sabrina Strings. She is Assistant Professor of sociology at UC Irvine. We also have Professor Kevin Cokley. Professor Cokley is a Professor of African and African Diaspora studies, and he's the Director of the Institute for Urban Policy and Research Analysis at the University of Texas at Austin. And last but not least, we have Professor Danielle Kilgo. And Professor Kilgo – she's formerly from Indiana University. She just finished up her tenure there where she was Assistant Professor of journalism at the media school. She's in the process of moving to Minneapolis, and she'll begin teaching soon at the University of Minnesota. So, thank you to all the panellists for joining today. I want to start out here with Dr. Whitt – as Vice Provost as leadership at an academic institution, I thought this would help to frame our discussion a little bit by starting with you and what I want to ask with your background in political science and now being a leader in academia. Why is it so important that we accurately diagnose this problem? And name the institutionalized racism that's part of the structure that's allowing excessive use of force by police against Black men and women.
Dr. Whitt: Quite often when we don't end up identifying the actual issue within our institutions or within our society as a whole, we end up coming up with the wrong solutions or not coming up with solutions at all. So, if we take the time and we say that there are a few bad apples, or we only say that racism is something that is very individual and it's in the hearts of a few individuals, and if they just knew one another, it would all go away. We're really denying the reality that has gotten us to the place we have today, that it's woven into the fabric of our institutions. It’s woven into the fabric of our society. So, we really need to make sure that we're identifying the problem so then we can look for systemic solutions as opposed to having a systemic problem that we identify as individual. And we never come up with a solution, we just keep perpetuating a cycle.
Thom: Thank you, Dr. Whitt. I want to ask Dr. Strings with your background in history. Bring us up to speed a little bit because I worry a lot of the time that some people just do not understand the history of institutionalized racism, and you've studied this all the way back to 19th century before the Civil War all the way through today. What's some of the contexts that people really need to understand about the history of policing Black bodies in the United States and how that has been built into the structure and practice of policing in America?
Dr. Strings: Well, people need to keep in mind that policing in the United States is an outgrowth of white plantation owners desire to keep Black bodies on their plantations. And so, what they would often do would be to employ individuals we might think of as loosely bounty hunters to go out and search for the escaped slaves and bring them back to the plantations. And then over time, there would be like visit vigilante groups that would organize. And even when policing was institutionalized in the form that we think of it as today, there were nevertheless still laws on the books called Black Coats that more or less gave police officers impunity in the ways in which they dealt with African Americans. So, we think of this as being an historical time period that is no longer relevant to today. But keep in mind that clear through to the 20th century, at the very least, there were many instances of KKK violence, other forms of terrorist acts against Black people in which police officers were themselves involved. So, there is a long and very troubled history of policing in this country that dates back to the era of slavery in which policing arose.
Thom: Thank you Professor Strings. I want to ask Professor Bell Hardaway – are you concerned at all about the focus of these protests and the coverage of it, having been pulled away a little bit from the case of George Floyd, the African American man who was killed at the hands of police in Minneapolis. Does that concern you that the clashes with police and things like looting are now taking some of that spotlight? And what do you think about how we can make sure not to lose the thread of why these protests began while they've clearly kind of taken on a bigger meaning and a life of their own?
Prof. Bell Hardaway: Yeah – no, thank you for that. It's really indicative of how quickly our new cycles turn when we think about how fast this conversation has turned. I have said before and I'll say again that I think it's really important for us to always remember the harm that led to the demonstrations and the protests. Can you hear me fine, Thom?
Thom: We can, we can. Thank you.
Prof. Bell Hardaway: Okay. That we that we think about the harm and that that harm is why people have been out, demanding change and asking their communities to take notice, their elected officials to take notice. In this particular moment, right, it has been the killing of George Floyd. Before that, we have a laundry list of names that go before him. And so when we start worrying more about the property damage that some may notice or have the effect of either as a result of just the demonstrations becoming less than peaceful or in being in response to heavy handed policing as a result of peaceful demonstrations, it takes you very much back to what Professor Strings were just noting in terms of the need and the desire to control Black bodies, and also recognizing that property is more important than the lives of Black people. And we can't get distracted by the original issue that brought folks out across this entire country in the last week or so, and start worrying again about property.
Thom: Thank you for Professor. Dr. Whitt, you have something you'd like to add to that?
Dr. Whitt: Think about the vicarious trauma that we feel through witnessing, you know, the cavalier manner in which George Floyd was killed. And I think it really stirs something in the souls of so many people because it was over eight minutes, and it was this slow death. And it was very much the officer had his hand in his pocket – all of those things. It starts something in people but we also have to remember that if it was an isolated incident, you most probably wouldn't have people taking to the streets in so many cities, you wouldn't have people who are just so full of pain and hurt and rage all mixed together, if not for so many other institutional ills that have been passed from generation to generation when we look at housing, education, wealth accumulation, even the idea of being looked at in our full humanity. We're having full access to all of the freedoms and privileges of citizenship. There's been active denial of all of those things through society, policy and practice since the inception of our country and that comes out when you have a spark like a George Floyd. It’s not a George Floyd, his murder is the only thing that's moving people – it’s all these other things cumulatively with that just put people over the top. And we can't forget that. All those other things are interconnected.
Thom: Thank you Dr. Whitt. Yeah, I'd like to go to Dr. Cokley and with your with your background in psychology, speaking to a little bit of what Dr. Whitt mentioned of the moment that we're in but also this long, long history that Dr. Strings referred to. Going back all the way to the LA riots and after the Rodney King case, going back to Trayvon Martin and going back to Mike Brown, Eric Garner all these cases at one after another – what's different about this moment and how are we seeing the psychology have Black men and women in the United States kind of coming to fruition, that is, is a moment where we're just seeing such a peak. What's going on there that people need to understand better?
Dr. Cokley: Well, I don't know that this moment is any different than previous moments beyond the fact that with the advent of social media, we now have a very clear documentation of what, for those of us in the Black community have known for many, many years. I like to remind people about the classic book, Black Rage, written by two African American psychiatrist and William Greer and Price Cobb in 1968. And they wrote the book as a result of their clinical practice, working with a number of Black people and seeing first-hand the frustrations, the anxieties, the anger and the rage that their Black clients were experiencing during the oppressive times of the 60s. And they wrote the book, I think to sort of try to help, particularly White American to understand, why are Black people so damn mad? And so, the book aptly titled Black Rage, captures what life was like for Black people. And so, the things that have already been identified, it doesn't matter what area of life you're talking about – education, health, mental health, housing, the economy; it doesn't matter that there are these really dramatic disparities and inequities that Black folks have experienced. And so when you couple those inequities with the kindle of some tragic incident such as the killing of a Black person in broad daylight, it results in the eruption of emotions and anger that we now see expressed in the form of what I prefer to call ‘urban rebellions’ or words some immediate would refer to as writing.
Thom: Thank you, Dr. Cokley. And I've tried to give some questions to help sort of set up a little bit of the context. And one other aspect of that is how the media is portraying these ‘urban rebellions. I'll use that term, if you don't mind, Dr. Cokley too, I don't like to say writing. These ‘urban rebellions’, Professor Kilgo, how do you think the media is covering this? Let me make sure your audio is there live. One second. If you could click on your unmute.
Dr. Kilgo: Got it, right.
Thom: My host privileges are not working properly.
Dr. Kilgo: That's okay. So, I mean, the media coverage that I've seen, I work a lot in patterns. And so, this is just predictive, but the media coverage that I see and it looks a lot like the media coverage that we've seen before, and the coverage of protests after the death of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown and Freddie Gray. And that emphasizes a lot more the protesters actions, this idea that they are engaged in some sort of unprovoked violence is violence like protesters’ rage and they just break stuff after they finish holding their signs. There's more of an emphasis on that over the demands and grievances that are really important. And there are mentions of George Floyd name and that this is a case, but there isn't that routine and consistent connection with the systematic models of oppression that led to this incident in the first place. And the history of racism, that is essential knowledge to understand why the protesters are out there in the first place. So that's largely absent from the coverage right now.
Thom: It would be beneficial certainly to have media bring that context to the conversation more. That's a lot of what we hope to be able to do today. And on that note, we have, you know, kind of some big questions that I want to ask each of you to respond to. So Dr. Kilgo, since you just finished the response, I'll ask you to take this up first. What are those concrete changes that need to happen in police policy to reduce the death of Black men and women in their custody?
Dr. Kilgo: In police policy?
Dr. Kilgo: There really isn't my expertise there but I do think that there has to be a general public awareness of racism’s impact on Black communities around the United States, around the globe. There has to be a general acknowledgement and active want to implement anti-racist policies, not just in policing agencies but in every single profession. That is a part of our system.
Thom: Dr. Whitt, what would you say to concrete policy changes to reduce deaths of Blacks at the hands of police?
Dr. Whitt: Once again, I would agree that, you know, police policy is not my area of expertise but I definitely would say that any organization or any endeavour that we have has to really take the time to name its problems. It means to take the time to really talk about how did they get to whatever point that they're at? So, from top down bottom up, there really needs to be an acknowledgement of the fact that ‘hey, maybe some parts of these systems. I always say that, you know, the systems aren't exactly broken. We have to look at how they were designed as was mentioned earlier, and what vestiges we live with – well, how do we want to reconstruct them? And really look at those systems and look at the relationships that exist between the police departments and the unions and the prosecutors and say, ‘well, are there any elements of these relationships that have been hurtful in these situations in terms of not having accountability?’ And I would say lastly, that there needs to be an acknowledgement of the fact that policing is one of the most immediate forms of the application of the institutional racism that we live with, but we see it play out in all these other ways. So, if we're working on this, we also need to be working on all the other elements of institutional racism. We can't say, ‘we're going to put all our eggs in the policing basket and not looking at education, not look at media, not looking at housing, wealth accumulation and all those things. Oh, we'll get to those things later’, because as soon as we take our eye off of policing, then it will come right back because now we're focused on other things. So, it really has to be a collective change that we take. So
Thom: Thank you. Dr. Strings, what are your thoughts about this?
Dr. Strings: I actually want to build on and uplift what Dr. Whitt was just articulating, which is that we can't look at this as if it exists in a vacuum. What we are experiencing right now is a pandemic in which there is this massive social movement and these two things are deeply connected. We need to keep that in mind. It’s because of the fact that people, especially Black people, are unemployed and underemployed, and then also facing racial profiling from police and then also not having enough food to feed their children. All of these things are contributing to the massive need to hit the streets right now. So, it's absolutely understandable. But when we do want to zero in just on what's happening with policing, I think we first need to consider the fact that some of the laws that are on the books go back to the era just after slavery. In California, for example, in 2019, the Governor Newsom passed Act AB 392, which was the first attempt since 1872 to limit police use of force. And many people argue that it did not go far enough and I absolutely understand that. And that one was in response largely to events surrounding the death of Stephon Clark who was murdered by police in Sacramento for the crime of holding a cell phone, right; so, we can remember this. So, first we need to have that more laws that limit police use of force. We also need to prevent these kinds of state-sanctioned forms of racial profiling like stop and frisk, which by the way, many people are unaware – still on the books, even in places like New York where there has been massive criticism. So, we need to prevent these kinds of laws, repeal these kinds of laws. We need civilian oversight of the police, which many organizations do not have. They are responsible for overseeing themselves, which we can understand immediately the conflict of interest there. And we need data, data, data. We don't have nearly enough information about what the police are doing on the ground, when they're using force and why, and this is one of the difficulties that we have in trying to address the systemic problem.
Thom: Thank you, Dr. Strings. Dr. Cokley, what are your thoughts about how we can make some concrete changes to change policing policy, maybe from your perspective in psychology, maybe more about the culture? Any thoughts about this at all?
Dr. Cokley: Well, I will remind you that I'm also the Director of a policy institute, the Institute for Urban Policy Research and Analysis, and as well as being a psychology professor. You know, Professor Strings said much of what I would have said – we absolutely have to eliminate, you know, the sort of protections that police officers have regarding accountability from improper use of force. This is really difficult. There's something that's called qualified immunity. And this is a formal legal doctrine that makes it very difficult to really bring forth any sort of justice against any sort of governmental employee, police officers in particular, when they've engaged in actions that have clearly violated human and civil rights. So, we need to eliminate those protections. We also need to look at sort of police union contracts which are very, very liberal in terms of how they go about sort of protecting police officers. And that's where the accountability system really is set. And so, if we don't have an opportunity to sort of work with police unions to help them to understand that it is not in their interest to really engage in the series of protectionism for bad actors in the forms of police officers, then accountability for police officers becomes much more difficult. I also agree about the need to get more reliable data as someone who is data driven. We know that it's very difficult to sometimes do some comparisons. For example, we don't have reliable data on police brutality before 2014. And so, it makes it difficult to sort of really understand the trends that we know have taken place over time and we need to have a nationwide standard for the use of force. And part of the problem is, is that when you look at different departments, large and small, there are different standards and expectations regarding use of force. And so, if we had a nationwide standard for use of force that could be implemented and enforced, I think that that would make it easier for law enforcement across the country to understand what is expected of them.
Thom: Thank you Dr. Cokley. I now want to go, last but not least, of course to Professor Bell Hardaway as a lawyer as a law professor, I'm sure you have thoughts about this too. Tell us what concrete changes we could make to improve this situation?
Prof. Bell Hardaway: Yeah, I think it's really important for us to recognize that all of the things that Professor Cokley and Professor Strings highlighted in terms of civilian oversight and some real consideration about the appropriateness of the judicially created qualified immunity standard as well as concerns about what policies look like generally across the country, are really important. But we need to understand that there are several departments within our country that have done that work, that have civilian oversight. New York City is one of them, Minneapolis is another. And when we make those things toothless Tigers, when we make those organizations toothless tigers and individuals are able to have multiple charges brought up against them regarding this conduct, but they still maintain their employment and they aren't even disciplined, right, that that doing what we can in those rounds just seems to have not been enough. And so, I think it's really important that someone, I think Professor Cokley raised the issue of police unions. I've written a bit on this area and I feel it's really important for us to start to talk about not just working with them, but returning managerial rights back to the public employers, which is where they rest so that public employees are accountable to the elected and appointed officials who are their bosses. When we're in a place where the police interest can override the ability to discipline people who are terrible at their jobs, right, that is a real problem. And that's where we are right now, and not every department or every state in America has the ability for police officers to unionize. But in those places where we have seen an inability to discipline and remove officers from their jobs, it's because of the power of the police union that has greatly perverted the purpose of labour organizing in this country. And we have to be clear about the fact that that has happened. And then very specifically, I think someone also raised the point about the fact that there is no national standard for use of force when there are some best practices that do exist and are widely known across law enforcement, and the fact that in cities like Minneapolis can choose to still have on their books a policy that creates this false distinction between an unconscious chokehold, and a conch or neck restraint they call it, an unconscious neck restraint is quite honestly laughable. The reality of the situation is, is when you put pressure on an individual's neck to restrict blood and airflow to their brain, you are likely to kill them. And law enforcement agencies have known that across this country since the 80s. And the fact that Minneapolis revised their policy as recently as 2012 to include that false distinction is a problem. And I would encourage individuals who are in their communities looking for things to do to evaluate to get access to those police policies, their individual police policies, and then have conversations with their elected officials about why it isn't appropriate in 2020 for them to exist.
Thom: To Dr. Whitt – a little bit of what was mentioned already about police unions and how they tend to insulate and protect their own rather than hold them accountable, how is it that police departments and their labour unions have wielded so much power to protect officers from accountability and consequences in these kinds of situations? And I mean, is it fair to say that police unions are more of a political body than really a labour rights group at this point, and what can be done to change that?
Dr. Whitt: Remember that police departments provide services that are deemed as needed by people across the spectrum within any particular municipality. So, if we look at, you know, when you talk about garbage workers unions, when you talk about the fire department, there are other services that are rendered in cities that are essential. And so, unions have that leverage there that if their demands aren't met, you know, will they pull back on surface, will you be able to have what's needed within a city? I mean, that's one perspective that sometimes we forget about. I'm originally from Baltimore. And, you know, there's lots of reports in 2015 after the uprisings following the Freddie Gray situation where, you know, the stories have been that police ended up pulling back in many cases. We've seen other issues of that or instances of that possibility in cities across the country just as we see if teachers are going on strike, but before they go on strike, they decide to do a sick out or different things like that. I mean unions have that power, and we just have to remember that that power is being wielded in negotiation, but they end up having powers where they're supposed to protect the people who within their unions, but because we don't take time to name institutional racism, then we're not equipped either within the unions or within our communities to name the times that these organizations are upholding institutionalized racism. We don't take the time to recognize either through the work of the unions or the work of the police departments themselves, where the over policing of Black people in Black bodies is really – what benefit is that giving to White individuals and White communities? What benefit are we seeing from mass incarceration or various elements of prosecutorial discretion? So when we look at all those different elements, and we name the problem as it affects Black people, but we're not taking the time to name the ways in which there is an abundance of benefit to the White community or White individuals through the work of these unions and these organizations, and we missed the mark in really checking that power.
Thom: Very interesting, Dr. Whitt. Thank you. I want to go to Dr. Strings and ask about consequences for law enforcement historically – how has this been handled and why is it so important for the public to see accountability and consequences and what should police departments and local governments be doing to make this a public and transparent process that isn't being done now? Maybe it's being done better in some places than others. How can that be improved? And what do people need to understand about that, Dr. Strings?
Dr. Strings: So, I teach a class in social inequality. And in that class, we talk about policing in America. And it happens frequently that there will be a student who will say something along the lines of ‘there are good cops’. And that is absolutely beside the point. No one's questioning that. No one’s saying that there are good cops and there are bad cops, and we just have to know. The problem that we're facing is an institutionalized problem. To the extent that policing in this country has a culture of maintaining a blue line, then we are able to see how systemically we're not able to get justice for the Black people who are often the targets of police violence. So, if police wants to show that they are being accountable in their actions, what they can do is that they can actually have community involvement in their policing decisions. They can train the officers to work within the community and not just to manage or control the community. And a lot of these ideas are coming from organizations like Campaign Zero, and the ACLU, which suggests that with community involvement and with different types of training, training that is oriented toward making sure that we are de-escalating rather than escalating and making sure that we are accountable to communities, that these are some of the ways that police departments can show that what we're dealing with whenever we're having these kinds of rogue officers with a knee on a neck for eight and a half minutes or some such thing, is not the kind of thing that we will tolerate. And it's not the kind of thing that we would ever have included in any type of training. This way we have the community understanding that their views are actually valuable. We value the human lives that have been too frequently lost and that we are actually making ourselves accountable by instituting new measures to prevent these kinds of things in the future.
Thom: Thank you, Dr. Strings. I want to ask Dr. Kilgo how is the media depicting police behaviour that crosses the lines, not just the original inciting event with the death of George Floyd but in the coverage of the protests? We've seen countless examples that are being collated and collected on social media about what appears to be police instigating and provoking altercations with protesters. How's the media doing? What kind of job is the media doing handling that? Are they being given a pass? Are they being held accountable effectively?
Dr Kilgo: Right so the coverage that you see now, there's definitely more attention to police behaviour and repression tactics, both as its directed towards protestors and the press and this coverage that I've seen in the past – I'm a quantitative scholar and before it did show up enough to be able to count, but I can’t put it in my model because the police behaviour during protests was not evident, it was reduced to protestors and police clash and protestors arrested. So there is a significant amount of attention that I've seen in this coverage now that sort of lifts that accountability but is there an impressive amount of coverage that’s really talking about all the different police policies and tactics and the institutions that lead to the actions that they take – no. that’s still not showing up. As well, she just mentioned that there was a student in her class that said they're a good cop; the media has a history of portraying that narrative for the public when these incidents aren’t in place. So those ideas of – but some cops are good – it comes a lot of times from the fact that there is a good cop narrative that is pushed forward. Good police behaviour is shown in the media and so it’s important to be able to of course balance out that, those representations and be more fair and accurate.
Thom: So to follow up with that, so the fact that this is being actually mentioned and covered more consistently and you're able to maybe collect some data on that for the very first time, what kind of hypothesis might you draw about whether this is a good thing about creating more transparency and accountability or is it something that we may have another step backward at some point?
Dr. Kilgo: I think that there's an uptick and an attention to the police behaviour because the presses first amendment right is being challenged as well. so this is really one of the first times that the main stream press, not the alternative and ethnic presses, but the mainstream press has felt attacked by police, has felt that they were also being repressed and pushed back, that this is the first time they felt like they couldn’t work alongside - not with but just literally alongside the police and so I think that part of the attention or the hype about police behaviour, because we have journalists that have lost eyes, and the hope is that, that experience will become part of the norm – not journalists getting hurt but journalists reporting police behaviour will become part of the norm of reporting, that would be the ideal. But patterns of protest coverage have been the same for decades. The theory of the protests paradigm was created in the 1980’s so we’re talking 40 years of protest coverage that has not changed.
Thom: Thank you Dr. Kilgo. I want to ask professor Bell Hardaway, something that you’ve worked on that I’d like to ask you to explain a little bit, consent decrees – where we’ve seen cases where there have been incidents or patterns of bad police behaviour, the department of justice initiatives a process where they undergo a consent decree. Can you explain a little bit about how that works?
Prof. Bell Hardaway: Yeah absolutely. So, a consent decree more largely in a legal realm is when a judge enters an order enforcing a settlement agreement between two parties. In a federal police or in the police reform context, we see either a constitutional right organisations or the department of justice fighting off suits against municipalities and local law enforcement agencies regarding discriminatory police inquest, action issues such as stop and frisk - that was mentioned earlier and then in the major cities like Baltimore, Cleveland, Chicago and the like, these lawsuits that allege what you mentioned, a pattern in practice of constitutional violence. That creates an opportunity for there to be a systemic reform of all of the issue related to policy, training, equipment and the like. Those things along multi-year process that you have to take step by step, but really gets at – trying to – the role a bit alternately while all those things on paper really matter but understanding how you shift the culture of a particular organisation is incredibly important. And so consent decrees are necessary right because at a point in time the US supreme court in a famous case [inaudible 34:36] said that individuals interestingly enough even an individual out of LA who was the subject of a chokehold, that individuals who experience excessive force or violence by the police, don’t have the ability to change police practices - so if I get choked by the police and I recognise as the case goes that this is the pattern and practice of what they do to all black men and women that they stop for minor traffic violations, or the majority of black men and women that they stop for minor traffic violations, if I said – your policy allows this – one of the remedies that I want in my lawsuit is for that policy to go away, the supreme court of the United States has said, it is not your right as an individual plaintiff to do that and so consent decrees and other structural reform litigation is really important to communities impacted by police violence so that there is the ability to do that wholesale broad stroke systemic reform.
Thom: And I know you can't talk about the details but for context you're working currently on the consent decree which came out of the results of the case of Tamir Rice being shot by police, is that correct?
Prof. Bell Hardaway: The department of justice investigation mentions several incidents of excessive force. They actually had started their investigation, it’s a public document and you're right, I can't talk about any of the specific details of its inner workings right now but it is public knowledge that they had started their investigation at the time when Tamir was killed.
Thom: Great, thank you professor Bell Hardaway. I want to ask Dr. Cokley with the coverage and the rhetoric and the dialogue going on on social media and in the media about these protests and clashes with police, what is your response to people who used the vandalism and looting as an argument to discredit the larger message of the Black Lives Matter movement?
Dr. Cokley: Well you know I find there to be a certain irony of people who are privileged to then try to criticise those people who are not privileged and those people who are in perpetual systems of oppression. And so, that would be my first response. I guess beyond that, I would try to help people to understand that when you are feeling helpless and you know as a psychologist we study and understand the psychology of helplessness. You find yourself doing things that you might not otherwise do. And so, when people find themselves in situations where they feel like they have no other alternative, one of the things that we know about behaviour is that the key to mental health is when individuals believe that they have choices and options. But when they don’t feel like they have choices and options, then there's a sense of desperation that takes place and out of senses of desperation, you will in this instance see urban rebellion, vandalism, uprisings, riots, whatever you're preferred term is.
So, I would try to help people to understand, the psychology of helplessness and what happens when people feel like they have been robbed of agency, they have been robbed of choices, they have been robbed of options, this unfortunately is what can happen.
Thom: Thank you Dr. Cokley. Dr Whitt- as a vice provost for diversity and inclusion, I want to know your perspective on improving diversity and inclusion in police departments. How do police departments improve and strengthen their ties to community by utilising better diversity and inclusion in their workforce and other methods. What are your thoughts about that?
Dr. Whitt: A few things come to mind - we’ve heard a number of times I believe it was in Minnesota as well as some other cities where the public agency, the police department may have banned warrior style training and then we see the police unions step in and say we still want to provide that type of training for our officers. We see this hike in militarisation, we see all of these ways in which they're inserting new priorities, either officially through departments or through unions but then we end up in many cases seeing things that are connected to diversity and inclusion such as anti-bias training and things of that nature, really being presented as an add on. Being presented as a burden. So, we see a desire for some of the things that actually exacerbate the problems we have, being embraced and then we see the things that would help us to make that progress being looked at as – I need to check that box. And one of the ways that we really could change the paradigm is changing the ways in which people are promoted. What are the reasons that they would be rewarded, I mean we have to remember that being a police officer is a career? It’s a career that people use to feed their families just like some of us working higher education to feed our families whatever else – and if people are encouraged to have certain indicators that they’ve done a good job in leaning in to diversity and inclusion, we reward that. That we actually say that both collectively and individually we want to be intentionally inclusive. And we want to move away from being rewarded for the most arrests or being rewarded for these other things that are signs of reward and success and policing and we move into the fact that we want these good relationships and we want to shift culture, I think we really can take some of the best DNR practices from other sectors and infuse them into policing.
Thom: Thank you Dr. Whitt. I want to just remind any of our attendees from the media, we would love to have your questions. We will invite you to ask the question yourself on video and audio or I can ask it on your behalf. You can start that process by just chatting to me, at the bottom of the Zoom video a little chat icon and you can tell us your question, I’ll ask if you want to ask it yourself and if not, I can ask it for you. Thank you so much, and what I want to do next to go to Professor Bell Hardaway, similar to the question I asked Dr. Cokley a few minutes ago and a little bit of your perspective with the law background could be interesting on this. We’ve seen so many cases where these unarmed black men and women die at the hands of the police, the whole altercation beginning with some very minor crime. George Floyd’s incident being a suspected counterfeit $20 bill.
The penalty of that if you're convicted in court is not death. So, when we talk about the George Floyd case and then the protests and then we get all these concern trolling from some quarters of our public discourse about the looting and vandalism, property can be repaired, business owners can be compensated, George Floyd can't get his life back. What are your thoughts about the disconnect there between those two issues and how people communicate and talk about that and how we can break that down a little bit?
Dr. Bell Hardaway: You're absolutely right. George Floyd would not have been eligible for the death penalty, at best under Minnesota law he would have been subjected to a year in prison and up to a $3000 fine. Instead he lost his life and that is largely because the colonisation and the formation of this country was born out of violence, the domination and the oppression of the Native Americans and then the domination of black people. But out of that we created the criminal system and the criminal system in and of itself is violent. Indeed America has thrived on the pathological inclination of violence and what we know is that our criminal system is the largest perpetrator of this pathological violence, but for whatever reason we’re focusing instead on the individual actors and then cause them or make us – the black people feel as if there's something inherently wrong with us because of things like outrage at a protest or poverty that leads to other things related to status. I’ll call them status crimes but we know that the criminal justice system is the larger perpetrator of the pathological violence that America sees.
Thom: Dr. Kilgo, take us back a little bit to some of the issues from cases earlier on in this movement, such as Trayvon Martin and Freddie Gray. How has the coverage of these protests maybe been better? What still maybe needs to improve? And how is this potentially moving the movement itself forward with the way that the story is being told?
Dr. Kilgo: Again, the attention to police behaviour is unique and different and we’ve never really seen that kind of attention before outside of the case that triggers the protests in the first place. The coverage that I see now is really different. Each is unique. So, when Trayvon Martin was killed and Zimmerman was acquitted Obama was president and this is when he’s being quoted throughout the media as “this could have been my son” and the controversy that swarmed around the president taking a side and his shift in language and –
Thom: It seems like such a quaint thing to be concerned about doesn’t it?
Dr. Kilgo: Indeed. So that coverage was a little different because official sources were being used to sort of argue it out. This is a little bit different because we have the official sources that are using racist language to discuss protestors, to describe protestors. I mean on top of the politics that are there and we also have the pandemic and that’s also – it is a unique situation because the pandemic has expanded the ways in which we can blame protestors for what's happening in society, so I've noticed a bunch of articles that is talking about how protestors are going to fuel Covid-19 as if they are the vessels which will keep us in our homes again in the fall and I think that just these sort of triggers – it’s a system right. I mean this is what we’ve talked about the whole time, but there is a system of oppression that is working against protestors, against this movement, against the eradication of this injustice.
Thom: Thank you Dr. Kilgo, we have a question from the chat, not a media attendee but one of our public participants asks about the lack of research about law enforcement, I think Dr. Strings maybe could be a good one to answer this, but any of you would be welcome to respond. So, if we do have a lack of research about law enforcement, what are any current references that can even loosely be used for discussion about policy change. I gather than this is from Barry Thomas, I gather than Barry wants to understand a little bit more about how we can take even that lack of research specifically on some of these cases, but maybe take research from other areas, maybe other countries. Any thoughts about this?
Dr. String: There are a couple of different sites that are offering resources for police accountability. One of them is the Synthesing [inaudible 46:22] Project and the other one is We Charge Genocide and so in each of these what they're highlighting is the fact that we do not have systemic data collections as it pertains to police activities. And therefore, it’s difficult to talk even in generalisations about how frequent these kind of murders are. We know about them largely because of videos taken by civilians and this is completely insufficient and so it’s difficult to speak in board terms about the video that does exist. Although I do believe that Dr. Cokley probably has additional information to add to that.
Thom: Dr. Cokley go ahead.
Dr. Cokley: Well, she's absolutely right. What I can tell you from psychologist vantage point is that we do have research that looks at impressive bias and how impressive bias might be a play amongst law enforcement. Now, to be fair people are not always convinced or compelled by the results of that research but that being said, we know or we at least have some idea of some of the factors at play that influence police behaviours. So, I would sort of suggest that people who would want to know more about what do we know from the literature about how police behaviours can be predicted by unconscious biases. We definitely have literature that can provide some understanding in that regard.
Thom: Thank you Dr. Cokley. For Dr. Strings, I want to ask about a couple of cases related to the current situation, one of the big controversies with the George Floyd case was that it took a while for there to be any disciplinary actions. One of the officers have been charged, the others have not. There's a lot of people speaking out that that’s not been handled very well. There's other cases in recent memory such as Amber Geiger, a police officer in a Dallas suburb who coming home one night entered the wrong apartment and shot a black man – Botham Jean his name was, in his own living room thinking that she's entered her own apartment. It was in the middle of a home invasion. She got five years.
Also, this recent case in South East Georgia, Ahmad Aubrey a young black man going for a jog was pursued and killed by two white men and it took two months or more for charges to be filed in that case. So, in that context, Dr. Strings, why does there appear to be such leniency for white perpetrators of violence against black citizens such as these cases and how can we change that?
Dr. Strings: You know I think this is speaking to something that professor Bell Hardaway was talking about earlier, which is the problem of black people not being viewed as human beings historically in this country but as property and to the extent that the history of this country really involves white persons being able to treat black bodies in whatever way that they see fit. We should not be surprised that in the contemporary time, this is ongoing. It’s easy for people to say things like slavery was a long time ago, or even Jim Crow was a long time ago, which is ludicrous, because Jim Crow was in the lifetime of many individuals who are even on this panel, but the idea is that, just because time has moved forward, we’ve gotten past a lot of these historical inequities that have allowed white people to exercise power, control and violence over black people. But we have not, because we have never had any form of reckoning, any form of laws, any form of consistent application of various laws that would allow black people to feel like full citizens in the United States. For many of us, we feel that we are second class citizens because we know that at any moment an Amy Cooper can swoop through and call the police on us and threaten our lives.
Thom: Yeah thank you for that Dr. Strings. Dr. Whitt – the few bad apples language. We’ve kind of mentioned this a few times throughout the panel, how is that particularly unhelpful to allow people to kind of chalk things up to a few bad apples in a way to kind of dodge accountability and downplay the severity of these things. How can we respond better to people who make that argument and communicate the seriousness of what these incidents really reveal about the system?
Dr. Whitt: When we talk about this idea of – like you said a few bad apples, we’ve started to really diminish what the people have done and we really need to think about the fact of –as was mentioned, this idea of a lack of respect for black humanity. How just cutting that can be, that that is representative of these organisations that we’re talking about agents of the state coming in and doing these things and taking lives and really doing it with no real regard and having their colleagues not really work against them. Not turn them in and when you have that going on, you can't have that separation. You can't have that separation, if we were to say something like – you think about an infestation of pests in a home and you say – oh it’s just that one roach, it’s just that one rodent. Who in their right mind would go and buy something to kill one roach and not really take care of more of those? Who in their right mind would look at their home and say – well we don’t need to patch up holes, we can keep having food out, we can do all these different things and we’ll do away with the pests? No, you really have to change the environment, you have to look at everyone involved so the same thing can be said of these law enforcement officers, who are doing such vile things in the name of the state, that we have to look at the processes, the structures and the culture and move away from this whole idea of this individual focus because this isn’t an individual problem.
Thom: Professor Bell Hardaway, recently on social media I saw a quote from Will Smith about the fact that police brutality hasn’t really gotten worst necessarily, it’s just finally being recorded. We’ve seen in the news coverage, we’ve seen cases where police are crossing lines to antagonise and provoke peaceful protestors into some sort of altercation, even footage for example on live TV a couple of night ago of a student in Atlanta having his car window smashed and getting tazed and getting dragged out of his vehicle. Where is the accountability for officers that cross these lines?
Prof. Bell Hardaway: Yeah, you raise a really good point. So accountability for officers should be two levels – first administratively right, so with the officers in Atlanta, they were fired and we’re seeing departments with this level of exposure and I mean exposure being recorded on cell phones, having – at least have the courage of conscious at this point to actually act in a crisis. So, there's that administrative sort of accountability. What we don’t see as often, you mentioned the fact that Chauvin was charged criminally but the other three have not been charged in the Minneapolis case, but we don’t see the criminal responsibility being meted out very often for officers who use excessive force. The young man, the Morehouse student who was in Atlanta, pulled from his car, his girlfriend a Spellman university student on the other side and I don’t do respectability politics but it was mentioned in the news article so I think it’s important for us to know – she was also tazed right. Not charged but tazed and he was tazed, had his arm broken and received 20 stitches. If that injury results from the acts of anyone else on the street, they are charged criminally. I defend them in my clinic regularly for things such as assault, right. It’s really that simple. The fact that we don’t see our officers charged criminally either because they have the gloss of use of force authority or the lack of accountability through internal affairs investigations and then local prosecutors that work very closely with these same officers right, not then holding them accountable criminally is a real problem and we should use this moment in this conversation to start asking why? It’s great for officers to be fired, it’s really good that Chauvin is going to be prosecuted. But on the everyday instance where an officer does like what we saw in Atlanta, why are we not talking about criminal charges for those individuals?
Thom: I just want to clarify one point that you made when you name checked these prestigious black colleges that these young people attended and you said something about respectability politics, I want to give you an opportunity to clarify that a little bit more and my understanding – tell me if I'm right, is because these were potentially outstanding students at really great schools that they should have been immune from police treating them this way or - ?
Prof. Bell Hardaway: No, really more so what I mean is that somehow, we use their status as an excuse or to say – you’ve treated the wrong person the wrong way. For me – I don't care if they were drop outs, if they had just five minutes – 15 minutes before been spray painting something on a wall, what we saw happen in that car right with his window being bust out and being dragged out, guns drawn and being accused of having a gun, when everyone knew he did not as justification for the way he was treated and assaulted is a problem. So, I just said that it’s wonderful that they are advanced in their education and are engaged in what they're doing in their lives, but I think it really doesn't matter. So, I was checking myself for lifting up those institutions.
Thom: I understand and thank you for educating us about that and that’s certainly something to avoid, whether someone is an outstanding student or a drop out, the law is the law and they should be treated equally. Absolutely.
Dr. Cokley I want to ask, what do you think the American public at large really needs to hear and understand and acknowledge about the black experience in America that this protest has really kind of brought to the surface for non-blacks in America, with regard to both policing and other issues. What are black citizens trying to express right now that you need the rest of us to hear and understand?
Dr. Cokley: Well I would say that black people have a history of having profound mistrust towards white institutions, white people specifically but white institutions in particular. We have been raised – many of us have been raised to understand that we are not living in a world that values us, we are not living in a world where there is equity, where there will be equal outcomes for all of us, and so we have been raised – many of us to have an inherent mistrust towards those institutions that have historically been very oppressive of us. Nothing can point this out more clearly than if you look at any sort of Pew survey and you look at attitudes towards police and you consistently see a racial gap in attitudes towards police. White people by and large have really mistrust for attitudes towards the police. White people by and large view police much different and I think that that’s just a microcosm of the different experiences that we have in this country and so what I would want white people to understand is that, before you start judging the behaviours of a group of people for whom you have not walked in their shoes or lived their experience, think about for a moment, what it might be like to actually have that experience and how your perspectives might impact change if you were to live the lives of the people that you're too quick to criticize.
Thom: Thank you Dr. Cokley – to Dr. Kilgo I’d like to ask what you think and what your advice would be for individuals. Not police, not necessarily elected leaders, what can individual citizens do to positively affect the culture of policing and policy about these things and also the experience of their fellow black citizens?
Dr. Kilgo: I mean I think when incidents like this happen, black people don’t wake up and expect to be beat down by a police officer, they don’t wake up and expect to have a knee in their neck and I think that that’s a really important point to remember especially when you’re in these situations, if you witness a situation, pull out that magic box iPhone in your hand and be witness. Be a witness and help others be accountable because it takes more than one sometimes. I know for me, when I was writing an article I said – before the second autopsy of Mr. Floyd came out, I had said that he had seemingly suffocated under an officers knee and I got a lot of pushback because I a black person was siding with a black person and I got a lot of push back by people online and it took a lot of people and an autopsy report to sort of validate what I was seeing and for me I think that people can step in and have that – they can use their technology and that currency to bear witness, to help support narratives that are often treated as untrue in our world. That’s just the way it is. So film the police and then also engage in anti-racism, anti-racist policies and endorsing them every day and not just when the protests are popular, not just when it’s cool to show up, every single day of your life because I think that that’s what happens- the news cycle goes so quickly that two weeks from now people might not remember what's going on and we may go back to talking about Covid again, but I think it’s really important to remember that black people still experience this two weeks from now and they experienced it decades and centuries before this and they’ll continue to experience it until everyone on a regular basis, everyday remembers that anti-racism is the only way to change our racist institutions.
Thom: Yeah thank you Dr. Kilgo, I'm reminded of something I've heard Dr. Cornel West say many times and that is that justice is what love looks like in public and I take that with me in all these cases. Dr. Whitt one question for you and maybe I’d like to invite the other panellists to chime in on this, we’ve kind of alluded a little bit to how the rest of America, white people in particular can support what this movement is trying to accomplish and what we can do. What would you say that black people in America need from white allies at this point?
Dr. Whitt: First of I think that white people need to have that hurt, to have their stomach turn when they see these things that same way that black people do. I've had many, many well-meaning friends, colleagues, allies who are from the white majority, who have reached out to me and they're saying, well you know we’re checking on you right now during this time, I know this must be tough and all of those things and on one hand I want to appreciate the fact that they're acknowledging these things, but on the other hand – where is the shared humanity? And this is from allies, so I can only imagine people who have total disregard for this how they feel, but we really need people to say – wait, that was another American. That was another Nebraskan, Minnesotan, whomever, that was another human being. A human being whose life has been taken and I hurt, I have pain for that. So often we see widespread empathy collectively across the black community as well as with individuals, because of the lives that we live when we see pain in many cases – and I hate to make a blanket statement but in many cases when we see pain, we can relate to it regardless of the people are black or not and we need white America and white Americans to really take that time to feel that pain. To say this is wrong that this has happened. That really makes a big difference in terms of moving forward. I also would say that white people need to really look at their spheres of influence. Their influence in their families, their households, their workplaces, their churches, their friend groups, all of these places and engage in these conversations. Black people and other people of colour are not going to be the ones to do away with white supremacy or to do away with racism. We need the majority with the power to talk about this amongst themselves with the empathy.
Dr. Cokley: If I can add to that what professor Whitt said is absolutely right and one of the signs that I have found to be really compelling that has been displayed at most of these protests is a sign that white silence is violence and I think it’s such a succinct but powerful phrase that I think really drives home the point that professor Whitt was saying. That if you are a well-intentioned, moral individual that believes himself to be a lover of humanity and you remain on the side-lines and are silent in the midst of all of this injustice, then I find you to be just as complicit as those individuals who are engaging in the acts themselves. And so, this is not the time or place for people to simply be a supporter in private. We need your voices; we need you to be just as outraged as those of us who are victimised by these acts of racism.
Thom: Go ahead professor Bell Hardaway.
Prof. Bell Hardaway: Yeah you know it’s so interesting, I know people mean well and I'm with you Dr. Whitt on being torn between appreciating the outrage but at the end of it, I am left with the notion and a feeling of – don’t send me text messages. I don’t need for you to send meals to me and my family, it’s not that type of a situation right now. Instead what I really need for folks to do, the white people that are in the rooms with me, who right now have influence and decision making capacity, to speak up, to stand up for what they say they are about and that they care about and don’t leave it to me or any other black person who is in the room to do all of the talking. Too often when I'm in these spaces, I am the one who has to advance a certain thought or perspective and that should not be. So, keep the text messages, please speak up in the places and the spaces where it matters.
Thom: thank you.
Dr. Whitt: I would like to add to that also, I really would hope that our white brothers and sisters across the country would really know that this institutionalised racism is so insidious that none of us can achieve our way out of it. My wife and I often talk about the fact that both of us have markable degrees, great titles all of that, but we have a 3 month old baby boy and we have a 3 year old toddler and we always look at them and we say, when will they go from being cute to being seen as a threat? When will be the moment that we have to snatch away some of their innocence and some of their childhood to get them ready to survive? I find myself during these times thinking about that even more and I also find myself particularly when talking to my 3 year old, reminding him that daddy loves you, daddy loves you no matter what ever happens, daddy loves you and it makes almost a tear come to my eye because just because I have degrees and all those things, doesn't mean I can't be walking down the street and something transpire where someone's knee would be on my throat and I have eight minutes to think about how I won’t be there for my wife, and I won’t be there for my son because – not because I'm black, but because somebody had a hate in their heart and they felt there would be no repercussions for taking my life because I'm black. So I really see myself in that and I would hope that white folks know that their colleagues even in the highest of levels of success have those things going through their minds and going through their households and people are breaking into spontaneous crying at certain points with this so – I just hope they know that.
Thom: Dr. Kilgo, Dr. Strings, do you want to get in here on this?
Dr. Strings: Yeah, I think that a lot of people on this panel have made some wonderful points but I also want to speak to something that Dr. Kilgo mentioned earlier which was this idea that people tend to have very short memories when it comes to institutionalised violence against black bodies. So, it’s not okay for people to think that they're going to go to one protest and they've really done something. We think about the gains of the civil rights movement, those took place over the course of three decades. It’s easy to forget that. That lasted easily from the 1940’s just after world war II well into the 70’s and even with that there was still a lot more work to be done as people like Elijah Cumming was constantly saying during his lifetime and so what we’re facing right now is the beginning of a social movement that will necessarily have to go on, people have to be willing to be in the streets, to speak out, to take action, and it’s not going to be just one time or even one type of action that needs to be taken. We need to be fugitives in a certain sense, ready to move and act in as necessary.
Dr. Kilgo: I think for white people especially it’s important to adopt perhaps the black psychology of double consciousness. We walk around in a world where we think about the way we want to see the world and the way white people perceive the world. We think about how we want our kids to grow up and be astronauts but also how the white world will try to knock that opportunity down and the challenges that they will face. And you know, that’s the double consciousness, the way that we survive in an oppressive society, and if white people were to adopt that same strategy, this is how I think and this is how I see things but I wonder how a black person sees this moment or this issue or this time. I think it would be incredibly – it could be changing to the empathy that’s needed to really create conversations and discourse that could be progressive and to create change in our society.
Thom: Thank you Dr. Kilgo. We’ve gone a few minutes over the hour, I hope that’s okay, we just had such great dialogue going on, I wanted to give all the panellists as much time to speak on these questions as possible. With that we’ll go ahead and bring things to a close, just a reminder to our media in attendance, we will have a transcript and video available. If you registered for the event, we’ll make sure you get that. If you didn't register, make sure to send us an email to [email protected] and we’ll put you on our list to get the video and transcript when it is available. With that – to you Dr. Whitt, Dr. Kilgo, Dr. Strings, Dr. Cokley and Professor Bell Hardaway, thank you all very, very much for sharing your thoughts. It’s been very informative and educational and with that we’ll close. Thank you all very much, stay safe, stay healthy and good luck.