Race relations in the United States will continue to deteriorate until there are clear, concise and decisive actions taken at all levels in disavowing racial bias, intolerance and violence, a Tulane sociologist says.

“There are no ‘two sides’ to this,” said Andrea S. Boyles, an expert in race and social justice and Black citizen-police conflict.  “As long as the dominant or White America continues the ‘we all’ and ‘both sides’ rhetoric — dressed as law and order — there will be no change or improvement in race relations.”

Boyles called the shooting of Jacob Blake by a police officer in Kenosha, Wisconsin as “more of the same,” saying Black citizens continue to be stereotyped as criminal and supporters of lawlessness. Blake, who was unarmed, was shot seven times and is paralyzed from the waist down.

“These suggestions are racist,” Boyles said. “It is also true that this kind of discriminative characterization of Black people has been repeatedly used to scare, promote and justify less restraint and increased violent responses toward them.”

She said Blake’s shooting and other forms of violent policing of Black people continue to happen because such occurrences are being politicized, “as if the debate could go either way.”

“This translates to ‘both sides’ narratives and nods for commissioned and noncommissioned people to continue killing or victimizing Blacks on impulse — whether directly intended or not,” Boyles said. “The unwritten understanding is that if  White citizens just say that they were afraid or felt threatened by Black people, there will be sympathy and clearing for racialized actions. 

“People are being taught to do this through the countless cases of Black shootings, where there have been no consequences,” she said.

Boyles is new to Tulane but was on the faculty of Lindenwood University-Belleville in southern Illinois when Michael Brown, 19, an unarmed Black teen, was shot and killed by a police officer in nearby Ferguson, Missouri in 2014.  The killing, for which the police officer was not charged, led to protests for more than 400 days and sparked fierce debate about the relationship between police and African Americans.

Boyles, who was a participant observer/ethnographer during the protests, subsequently wrote Race, Place, and Suburban Policing: Too Close for Comfort  in 2015 and You Can’t Stop the Revolution: Community Disorder and Social Ties in Post-Ferguson America in 2019.  Both books were published by the University of California Press.