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Ethis of Now: Racism, Police Violence, and Protests

Racism, Police Violence, and Protests

In a lunch-hour conversation on Friday, June 5, the Kenan Institute for Ethics’ signature series, The Ethics of Now from Home broke from its weekly webinar schedule to quickly respond to George Floyd’s murder, racism, police violence, and public demonstrations happening all across the nation. In the conversation, “Racism, Police Violence, and Protests,” series host Adriane Lentz-Smith (Associate Professor of History), was joined by William A. “Sandy” Darity Jr. (Samuel DuBois Cook Distinguished Professor of Public Policy) for an insightful conversation followed by attendee Q&A.

Lentz-Smith and Darity reflected on the current pandemic’s role in exacerbating and amplifying deep-rooted problems, from the racial wealth gap to state-sanctioned destruction of black lives and property. “The kinds of inequalities that are linked to America’s racial history and its racial present were exposed dramatically by the COVID-19 crisis,” said Darity, “and I think that the murder of George Floyd, which was extraordinarily visible to everyone across the country, was an instance that brought to light another dimension of inequality, which is anti-black police violence.”


Despite this grim legacy, Darity was not wholly pessimistic about the rule of law and the Constitution. While “American police forces have disproportionately functioned as an ally in a white supremacist mission,” he noted that U.S. military leaders seem to have “deeply internalized the notion of their constitutional position and their constitutional status,” and have resisted using the military to repress protestors.

For Darity, effective policy solutions to police violence must uphold existing law and change the incentives for doing so.  “Policing practices are violating the written law on a continuous basis,” he reminded attendees. However, he suggested if penalties for police brutality – malpractice – were paid out of police pensions rather than municipal budgets; if qualified immunity were revoked; if police unions were less powerful; and if police forces were demilitarized, the incentive structures around policing would improve.

Prison abolition could also shift the focus and manner of policing. “[S]omething we really, really have to address is the enormous over-incarceration that takes place, and that has implications for the system of criminal justice writ large, and also for police practices,” Darity affirmed. “We would not have to have as much policing by any means if there were not a host of minor offenses we put black people in jail for.”
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In terms of what individuals can do, within and beyond the current nationwide protests, one attendee commented, “There does not seem to be a leader, although it seems that we are now in a movement.” Darity encouraged citizens to address the issues at all three levels of politics: municipal, state, and federal. He also emphasized a distinct, yet important role for a national consortium bringing together state and local governments, universities, and corporations to lobby Congress for reparations programs. Lentz-Smith noted that the emphasis on particular visionaries in the civil rights movement may overshadow the leadership that emerged from remarkable activist groups doing the work. “So it’s less a question of who do we look for to tell us what to do, but how do we work together,” she said.


The Ethics of Now from Home webinar series continues this Thursday, June 11th (7pm) with Professor Lentz-Smith and WLF Bass Connections Associate Professor in Public Policy Anna Gassman-Pines for the conversation “Well-Being for Children and Families during COVID-19.” View the full-length videos of previous webinars from the Kenan Institute’s YouTube channel.