I am a criminologist. I am also a Black American who is tired of watching people who look like me get killed in the street. And in their cars. And in their homes. And in the street. And in their cars. And in their homes. I could keep going.
Criminology has a race problem. Too often, maintaining “academic objectivity” means overlooking the emotional implications of targeting and marginalization. Including race as a control variable or mentioning it in the footnotes is not enough.
Four police officers in Minneapolis pulled George Floyd out of his car and killed him in broad daylight for buying (and returning) cigarettes with a counterfeit twenty dollar bill. After intense public pressure, Hennepin County charged one of the officers with third degree murder. The other three walk free.
Josh Hild on Unsplash
George Floyd became a hashtag because one of his killers smirked into a bystander’s camera while George begged to breathe and called out for his mother. But he is just one of thousands of Black men and women who have been killed by police in recent years. His family is just one of thousands who do not see killers held accountable. This is state-sanctioned, indiscriminate killing of Black Americans.
The protesters in Minneapolis demanded one thing: charge the cops. When that didn’t happen, protests erupted across the country and around the world. As the federal government blames terrorists and prepares for a military response, Black voices are still being ignored.
People in the UK have asked me why protesters are willing to risk their health in the middle of a pandemic. For Black folks in the streets, the perceived risk of COVID-19 is no higher than the perceived risk of wearing a hoodie. Or playing in the park. Or jogging. Or going to church. Or owning a cell phone. Or babysitting. Or sleeping at home. I could keep going.
Targeted violence against Black bodies in the United States goes beyond the police. Police cannot stop racially profiled 911 calls or vigilante lynchings. But as long as police continue to kill Black Americans with impunity, trust is a nonstarter.
Building trust in police requires more than photo ops and going two days without killing people, which didn’t even happen in 2019. At the bare minimum, it requires accountability, demilitarization, and an end to policing and incarcerating nonviolent offenders. Then we can talk.
If you study US policing and were surprised by the uprising, check your data. Who are you interviewing? Whose opinions do you give weight?
I stopped studying policing because I could not tone down my anguish enough to feign objectivity. I know I am not the only scholar this field has lost. Black folks are hurting. Listen to us.
At the time of writing, US President Donald Trump has mobilized the U.S. Army but has not yet invoked the 1807 Insurrection Act. The U.S. government could declare war or its citizens. Or it could charge the cops.