RAY JAYAWARDHANA: Good evening. My name is Ray Jayawardhana. And I'm the Harold Tanner Dean of Arts and Sciences at Cornell. It is my pleasure to welcome students, staff, faculty, and alumni from across the university, as well as members of the public, to this important discussion.
If we are to stay true to Cornell's founding ethos of any person, any study, we must take on the most pressing concerns of our time in our research, teaching, and broader engagement. And that includes addressing issues of fairness, equity, and justice. And as the largest and most academically diverse college at Cornell, a college that aims to be at the nexus of discovery and impact, Arts and Sciences is particularly well positioned to do so. And it is our hope that this year-long webinar series will draw upon the remarkable breadth and depth of scholarship and expertise among our faculty to consider racism from multiple disciplinary perspectives.
We are grateful for the overwhelming support that we have received for this event series from the university leadership, Alumni Affairs and Development, University Relations, and eCornell. I also want to thank the Cornell Law School for partnering with us on this first event. I'm very encouraged to see so many members of our community come together to expand our understanding of racism and consider ways we might work towards solutions. Most especially, I want to thank our faculty members for sharing their expertise and insights and our inaugural distinguished visiting journalist for moderating this evening's discussion.
The series would not be possible without the partnership of our American Studies program under the directorship of Noliwe Rooks, the W.E.B. Du Bois Professor of Literature in the Africana Studies and Research Center at Cornell. She is an interdisciplinary scholar, exploring how race and gender both impact and are impacted by popular culture, social history, and political life in the United States. I want to thank you, Noliwe, for your leadership and curation. And now I turn it over to you to introduce the series. Please join me in welcoming Professor Noliwe Rooks.
NOLIWE ROOKS: Thank you so much, Dean Ray. I call you Dean Ray.
RAY JAYAWARDHANA: Of course.
NOLIWE ROOKS: On behalf of the program in American Studies, though, I want to welcome everyone who's taken the time to join us with our webinar tonight. By way of beginning, I will-- I have a very short observation that I want to make. I realized I have been teaching about race and racism for 30 years at this point. And I am confident in saying that not all of us actually learn how to develop a comfort level with talking about race and racism.
During the first few weeks of most semesters that I teach, including this one, my students regularly share with me how rare it is for them to discuss the topics in high schools, or even college classrooms. So talking about racism for them feels awkward and a bit impolite, like bringing up money or politics or religion at a dinner party. For too many, racism is something to be denounced, but not discussed. Our moderator and panelists know if it's not discussed, it can't be understood. Tonight, our panel will discuss race and racism in relation to policing and incarceration, because we know it's urgent for us to do so.
And we're particularly grateful to have Marc Lacey moderate discussion this evening. Marc Lacey is national editor of The New York Times. He spent 20 years at The Times in roles including foreign correspondent, reporting from dozens of countries, White House correspondent, and editor of "The Weekend News Report." Before arriving at The Times, he was a reporter for The Los Angeles Times. In fall of 2019, he also served as a moderator for the fourth Democratic presidential debate.
Marc is a graduate from the College of Arts and Sciences at Cornell, class of 1987. And last year, we invited Marc to be our inaugural distinguished visiting journalist. And he graciously accepted. I had the pleasure of meeting him last February when he arrived on campus for a week and guest lectured in one of my American Studies classes. We are all so grateful to welcome him back to moderate tonight's panel. Please join me in welcoming Marc Lacey.
MARC LACEY: Thank you, Noliwe. Thank you very much. And welcome, everyone. It's good to be back at Cornell virtually. As you heard, this is the first in a series of discussions that the College of Arts and Sciences is holding this semester on racism in America. And today, we're going to focus on a topic that's impossible to ignore-- policing and incarceration.
The killing of George Floyd on May 25 has opened the eyes of so many people across the US to the disparities in our criminal justice system. But the experts we've gathered here have been researching those disparities for years. They've looked at the differences between good and bad policing here and abroad. They've tracked how the public's views of mass incarceration have changed over time.
They've shown that it is not just those who are arrested and jailed who are affected by racist policing. It's their families, too. No topic could be more timely, really. We're writing articles every day in The New York Times on these issues. And today, we're going to go behind the headlines.
Before I introduce the panelists, if you would like to ask a question, please scroll down below this live stream and click the link under the event overview. It will open a new web page where you can submit your question. So now to meet our panelists.
Peter K. Enns is associate professor of government, executive director of the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research and inaugural co-director of the Cornell Center for Social Sciences. His research focuses on public opinion, representation, mass incarceration, and the legal system. Professor Enns has published two books, Incarceration Nation-- How the United States Became the Most Punitive Democracy in the World and Who Gets Represented, edited with Chris Wlezien. In 2017, he received the Emerging Scholar Award from the Elections, Public Opinion, and Voting Behavior section of the American Political Science Association, presented to the top scholar in the field within 10 years of receiving a doctorate. So welcome, Peter.
Anna Haskins is assistant professor of sociology. Her scholarly interests are in the areas of educational inequality, social stratification, race and ethnicity, and the intergenerational social consequences of mass incarceration. Her specific research assesses the effects of parental incarceration on children's educational outcomes and engagement, as well as studying more complicated intersections between schooling and punishment, such as public attitudes around college in prison programs.
Professor Haskins is an affiliate of the Center for the Study of Inequality, the Cornell Center for Social Sciences, and the Cornell Prison Education Program. She is co-author of When Parents are Incarcerated-- Interdisciplinary Research and Interventions to Support Children. Her articles include "Unintended Consequences-- Effects of Paternal Incarceration on Child School Readiness and Later Special Education Placement" and "Schools as Surveilling Institutions-- Paternal Incarceration, System Avoidance, and Parental Involvement in Schooling." Thank you for joining us, Anna.
Joe Margulies is professor of practice in the Law School and the Department of Government. His research interests include neighborhood well-being and what it takes to create and sustain healthy, vibrant, and safe neighborhoods. He also writes about the cruelty and inequity of the American criminal justice system. Professor Margulies is a civil rights attorney and critic of the national security state.
For many years, he has defended people caught up in the excesses of the war on terror. He currently represents Abu Zubaydah, whose interrogations prompted the Bush administration to draft the infamous torture memos. He is author of What Changed When Everything Changed-- 9/11 and the Making of National Identity and Guantanamo and the Abuse of Presidential Power, which has won numerous awards. Thank you, Joe, for joining us.
Sabrina Kareem is the Hardis Family Assistant Professor of Government. Her research focuses on conflict and peace processes, particularly police reform in the aftermath of civil war. She is the co-author of Equal Opportunity Peace Keeping-- Women, Peace, and Security in Post-Conflict Countries, which received several awards. She is currently working on a book manuscript entitled When Peace Makes States-- How International Security Sector Assistance Shapes Post-Conflict State Building, which evaluates how multilateral and bilateral security sector assistance shapes police forces around the world. Thank you, Sabrina.
Thank you to all our panelists. And let's jump right in with Peter. Can you start us off with some initial thoughts?
PETER K. ENNS: Absolutely. Thank you, Marc. And thank you, Noliwe and Ray for your comments. And thanks to everybody who helped coordinate tonight's event. It is really a distinct honor to be on this panel with such an esteemed group. So I think I'll start by providing just a bit of context on experiences I've had that inform my thinking on tonight's topic of "Policing, Incarceration, and Racism in America."
So first, my research- as Marc mentioned, my most recent book, Incarceration Nation, is about how the United States became the most punitive democracy in the world. And in the book, I examine the rise of mass incarceration in the US, and specifically how through the '60s, '70s, '80s, and early '90s, shifting crime rates and news coverage of crime led to an increasingly punitive public. It was this changing public sentiment that politicians and the legal system responded to, eventually creating the highest incarceration rate in the world. That's where the US now stands.
Second, my thoughts on the topic are informed through my experiences with Cornell's Prison Education Program, CPEP. I'm currently a CPEP board member. I've served as faculty director. And I've taught in Auburn Correctional Facility, a maximum-security prison about an hour north of Ithaca. The class I taught in Auburn Correctional Facility was the same class I've taught on Cornell's Ithaca campus to junior and senior government majors. That class is The Politics of Unequal Education.
Third, tonight, my comments will, obviously, reflect my general life experiences. These include having friends in prison, students who have been incarcerated, and also having friends and neighbors who are prosecutors and who are police officers. These experiences remind me that ultimately, we're talking about people's lives. We have a system that needs to change. And I believe it is possible to make changes that benefit everyone-- community members, police, those in prison, and those responsible for guarding those in prison.
And I also want to emphasize that despite spending seven years writing a book on mass incarceration, being involved with Cornell's Prison Education Program for more than a decade, and having many personal connections to those who have encountered both sides of the legal system, my thoughts about police, incarceration, systemic racism, and how to improve and transform the status quo continue to evolve. This is a complicated subject. And solutions are difficult. So I look forward to learning from my colleagues on the panel and from those of you in the audience. This is a critically important conversation, and I'm excited and honored to be here. Thank you.
MARC LACEY: Peter, thank you. Let's go to Anna for some initial thoughts.
ANNA HASKINS: Right, I just want to echo Peter's thanks to the organizers. It's really wonderful to be here engaging in this really important conversation. Let me start by stating that racism is embedded in American society. And so why we oft-- while we often think of racism as the bigotry of individual people and their discriminatory actions-- right, we think Amy Cooper, the white woman who called the police on Black birder Christian Cooper in Central Park, or Dylann Roof, the white supremacist who killed nine Black parishioners engaged in Bible study at its church in Charleston, South Carolina.
So we think of racism at this individual level. But racism also exists at the institutional level. Discriminatory treatments, unfair policies, practices, and laws, and the unequal opportunities based on race that are produced and perpetuated by schools, local governments, the media, or our criminal justice system reflect institutional racism. The research that I do centers around understanding the persistence of racial disparities at the intersection of three of America's most powerful social institutions-- the family, our schools, and the criminal justice system.
I do this by looking at the impact of a father's incarceration on a range of outcomes that are important for children's educational achievement and success. For young children, my work finds that paternal incarceration reduces kindergarten school readiness and increases the likelihood of being placed in special education or being held back a grade. For adolescents, it decreases their expectations for college completion. So given massive racial disparities and incarceration rates between communities of color and whites, we see Black, Latino, and Native boys bearing the heaviest burden when it comes to negative schooling outcomes.
But moreover, I want us to think about schools as institutions. They're increasingly incorporating features of the criminal justice system, such as metal detectors, school resource officers, video surveillance, and collaborative relationships with police, immigration officials, and child welfare authorities. These features at an institutional level can create climates of fear and distrust for families wary of criminal justice contact. Since punitive systems disproportionately affect families from low income, racial minority, and immigrant backgrounds, this means that schools could be exacerbating already existing inequities.
Institutions like our criminal justice system are mechanisms of social exclusion, stratifying the experiences of American families across racial lines. With the rise in mass imprisonment, racial disparities in incarceration rates, and the persistence of educational and inequalities by race, my work demonstrates that imprisonment in one generation can affect the educational outcomes and the academic trajectories in the next, creating these vicious cycles of inequality that span generations.
MARC LACEY: Thank you, Anna. Thank you very much. Joe, you want to jump in with some initial comments? Joe, you're-- I think you're muted.
JOE MARGUILES: I'm sorry. There you go. We had to have it. So I'm that guy, right, the first. Somebody has to do it first. Sabrina, that takes the load off of you.
I just want to thank the organizers. And I share Peter and Anna's appreciation for what you all are trying to do here. And I'm really grateful to the audience for tuning in on a Wednesday afternoon. As Marc mentioned, basically, what I study is the difference between good and bad policing. And I do that in the context of the study of neighborhoods and what makes for a healthy, vibrant, safe, sustainable neighborhood, sustainable in the sense that it's not prey to gentrification and displacement, and the role that policing can play in either the creation of a vibrant, safe neighborhood or the destruction of a neighborhood, contributing to its distress, contributing to its degeneration.
Implicit in this is the idea that I believe that there is, and my work in-- my living in distressed communities for a number of years leads me to believe that there is a space for policing. It is a very different space than most police departments occupy. But there is room. And the challenge is whether we will create a police force that contributes to the welfare of people who live in areas where crime and disorder is a reality. We don't have it now, but it's possible to get there. And that's my work.
MARC LACEY: Great. Thank you, Joe. Sabrina, do you want to start us off?
SABRINA KARIM: Right, thank you. I also just want to thank the organizers, Marc, Noliwe, and Ray for hosting this event. It's an honor to be here with this fantastic panel. And I am so happy that we have such a large turnout, because as everybody has said, these kinds of conversations are really important. And if we're not having them, then we're not leading the way. And I'm very thankful that Cornell is taking part in these kinds of conversations.
So I bring a different perspective that I think than the three panelists. And I bring a comparative and more of an international perspective to policing. So I have worked on comparative policing. And I've worked with police forces from around the world, in South America as well as in Africa, for about 10 years.
And so my primary research that I want to draw on today looks at the origins of police forces globally, as well as the conditions under which police become more militarized, as well as the conditions under which we actually get police reform or police abolishment, actually. It's not as radical as we might think. And I want to do that in the American context. So I'm going to set the stage for what policing in the US looks like, where it originated from, how it became militarized, and whether or not reform or defunding or abolishing it makes sense.
So first, with its origins-- like with many police forces around the world, the police force is created to be a mechanism of social control. And in many parts of the world, in particular in the US, that control was directed at private property. And in the South, that meant the private property of slaves. And so a lot of the police departments in the South, actually, originated from slave patrols. So right there, you can see that there are some racist origins from policing.
In the North, you might think maybe that was better. But it actually was not. So in the North, police forces are-- emerged out of the need to bust labor unions and the need to police particular communities-- communities of color, immigrant communities, et cetera, Native Americans as well. And so what many may not know is that, actually, policing was originally private and then it became public because businesses did not want to continue to pay the costs of policing. And so they transferred it onto the state.
Let me just say something quickly about police militarization as well. So in 1970, there was only one SWAT team in the United States. By 1975, there were 500 SWAT teams. And now, nearly every city, small town or not, 18,000 police forces in the US, nearly all of them have a SWAT team. So in this 40 plus year span, we saw a dramatic increase of police militarization.
And a lot of people like to attribute that to these kind of larger policy agendas by presidents, like the war on drugs or tough-on-crime bills. So that's true. Those definitely aided in a militarizing the police. But it's important to look at, actually, the specific origin of SWAT teams, for example.
So SWAT teams were kind of the first militarized aspect of policing. And they can be directly traced back to 1965, to be riots in Watts and the LAPD's inability to police and to crack down on that successfully, in quotes, manage that situation. And so they decided that they needed to create a more militarized force to be able to handle these kinds of uprisings. Again, you have racist tones in what that means, because this is-- Watts is a predominantly Black community.
And as a result, the SWAT teams were created. And they were created based on military tactics. And the very same people who were involved in counterinsurgency globally were the ones responsible for creating and helping start the SWAT teams.
And the last point here I'll say is that if we want to really hammer in tying race to the militarization of policing, we just need to look at the first time that the SWAT team was used. And that was to-- basically, there was a raid on a Black Panther party in Chicago. And that was used as a test case for the SWAT teams, kind of a first test case. So if we look at this history and we look at the origins and we look at how militarization happened, there's clearly a racist history there. Thank you very much.
MARC LACEY: Thank you, Sabrina. Let's jump right into questions for all of the panelists. I want to ask first about one of the premises of this discussion-- structural racism. Is it at the heart of policing today? Is it at the heart of policing? Is it at the heart of the rest of the criminal justice system?
Sabrina, you were talking a little bit about the history. And you were coming close to present day. But what do you what do you say to that question, racism and policing right now on the streets of American cities?
SABRINA KARIM: Yeah. Here, I think-- I think it's helpful to give some examples of policing of white people versus policing of Black people. So for example, in May of this year, we saw that there were white, armed protesters in Michigan that actually stormed the capitol of-- the Michigan State Capitol. These were white militia members carrying guns. And there were no reports of violence. They were, in quotes, peacefully protesting.
Now we compare that to the daily excessive use of force-- there's these daily reports these days-- of people of color. And so there's a complete mismatch between who's getting protected and how, as well as what constitutes a threat. And if white militia members storming the Michigan Capitol isn't a threat, but a man who's jogging on the street is, there's a big problem there. And that is the heart of what institutional racism really is.
MARC LACEY: Mhm. Thank you. And Joe, let me go to you. Is there something just racist at the core of policing in America? And Joe, we're not able to hear you again. Your mute button is stuck. There you go.
JOE MARGUILES: I'm sorry, guys. What we've known for an awfully long time is that when most whites see a Black person, they think crime-- not all, many. When they see crime, they think Black, right? So when whites see Black, they think crime. When they see crime, they think Black.
This is particularly acute, this association, this automatic association for young Black men. It's also the case for young brown men, Latino men, but more pronounced for Black. And this implicit association, automatic, translates into an allocation of resources, where police practices unfold, how you respond to perceived threats, what you perceive as a threat.
So the attitude towards translates into institutional biases that play themselves out. I prefer the term institutional racism to structural racism. But as long as we have an association between Black and crime and crime and Black, you will see an over-policing and a misalignment of resources that lead to the kind of structural inequities or institutional inequities that we see at virtually every stage of the criminal justice system.
MARC LACEY: All around America, since George Floyd's killing, there's been cries for changes in policing in America. And you hear the term police reform. You hear defund. Let's talk a little bit, and I'd like to hear from everybody, about what actually needs to be done, what can be done. What is the one reform that you see that's actually-- that's sort of most important or that's doable.
Let's start with Peter and just-- and just run down. So Peter, what's the one thing that you think can be done to address these problems?
PETER K. ENNS: Yeah. And if we're thinking a little bit more specific, one thing I would like to see is tying budgets more directly to accountability. And I mention this specific recommendation because I think this reform, although not sufficient and maybe even somewhat narrow, I believe this could resonate with both Democrats and Republicans. And, in fact, I'll go a step farther and say I'm surprised that there's not more of a bipartisan push for accountability, right? We often hear about wanting to hold those accountable-- hold folks accountable, whether it's in work or government. And with the police, that just seems to not be as evident.
And there's many examples. But I'd like to give an example, a somewhat local example. This is from Syracuse. So in Syracuse, there's a People's Agenda for Police Reform that's outlined numerous changes. And one of their proposed changes, and this relates to Sabrina's comments, is to demilitarize the Syracuse Police Department and use the Ferguson Report as a guide and minimum standard.
And what to me is super interesting about this, Mayor Walsh of Syracuse, his administration agrees with this, agrees with the demand. And they actually put on their website how they are going to respond to the demand. And so one of the items is conduct a complete inventory of all equipment acquired through military surplus programs that are in possession of the Syracuse Police Department. I read this and I thought I can't believe, they don't have an inventory of their military weapons? That strikes me as the most basic level of accountability that everybody should agree with.
Then another item-- they will establish parameters for future procurement of such equipment and establish policies for using the equipment. These seem like basic, noncontroversial steps of accountability that everybody should be able to get behind and seek. And so I think accountability, and that can be tied to the allocation of resources for immediate changes.
MARC LACEY: Thank you, Peter. Anna, is there something you've identified, one reform that would help change that the policing in America?
ANNA HASKINS: I mean, it's hard for me to say one thing. And so one of the things I will-- I want to add to the conversation, I think, in this is that we often think that policing is happening to an individual in sort of a silo. And that we don't recognize that policing is connected to families are policed, communities are policed. And so when we think about mass incarceration, when we think about policing, we think that what we need to do is address something at an individual level instead of recognizing that these institutions are interconnected with each other, schools are linked to policing [AUDIO OUT]
MARC LACEY: Anna, I'm having trouble. I think your-- your-- your volume just went out.
ANNA HASKINS: Talking, I--
MARC LACEY: Yeah, there you go.
ANNA HASKINS: OK.
MARC LACEY: OK.
ANNA HASKINS: I'll just keep talking. And so one of the things I was saying is that I think oftentimes, when we think about policy or reform, we think about it at one institution, like schools need to change this. And that is made outside of understanding how that's connected to the criminal justice system or how that's connected to the welfare state. And so what I-- what I want to add [AUDIO OUT] [INAUDIBLE] is really what we need you [AUDIO OUT] how all of these institutions are actually interlinked with each other and think about more holistic policies that address them across the board.
MARC LACEY: Yep, thank you. Thank you. Joe, Joe, what is the-- what's the single reform that you would-- you would recommend?
JOE MARGUILES: Well, I'm really glad that I got the chance to follow my friend Anna Haskins on this, because I-- this is so closely related to my work studying neighborhoods. And neighborhoods are so complex, where so many things do interact and are-- dovetail and woven together. And pushing one thing affects other things.
And if I could just focus on what policing does to a neighborhood-- the one thing that I would change is end saturation policing strategies, right? So what's a saturation policing strategy? Stop and Frisk was a saturation strategy, right, Stop and Frisk in New York. And similar kinds of strategies, and they had different names in different places, operated all over the country.
It's where the police would descend on certain neighborhoods and engage in a saturation campaign of stopping an extraordinarily high number of people for a limited strategic purpose, like getting guns off the street. We know from repeated application of these programs is what they do is they sweep entire segments of the community into the clutches of the carceral state who have no prior involvement in the criminal justice system, because they are by definition over-broad, right? What the police will say is, well, you gotta kiss a lot of frogs to go-- what?
So that's a saturation strategy that ignores the reality. What we know from sophisticated empirical research is that crime is hyper, hyper concentrated by person and place. A very small fraction of people are involved in criminal activity and a very small number of places, even in the most distressed neighborhoods.
So saturation strategies burden an entire community, sweeping whole thousands of people-- and, of course, they always have a racially disparate impact, right-- socking them with offenses that then have rippling consequences through housing, through education, through employment, through finances because of fees and fines. It affects their day care. It affects their immigration status for trivial, trivial matters that don't really relate to the well-being of the neighborhood. And they don't have much effect on serious crime.
So it is doubly ineffective. It brings people that oughtn't be into the system in, wrecks the whole community, neighborhood, and it doesn't catch the people that the folks in the neighborhood genuinely are concerned about. It has that kind of comprehensive effect that Anna was talking about. End saturation strategies.
MARC LACEY: Thank you. Thank you, Joe. That's interesting. Sabrina, what's your one recommendation to somehow reform the policing in America?
SABRINA KARIM: Thanks, Marc. So I'm going to go back to your original phrasing, which you mentioned that there is defunding and abolishing and the potential for police reform. And I'll note that this summer really brought to the mainstream here this idea of defunding and this idea of potentially even abolishing police forces in different areas. And it's important also to note that these movements have been go-- are pretty much as old as policing themselves. But it's the first time, I think this summer, that we saw that they became more mainstream.
And it's important to note, I think, the difference between those. So abolishing means getting rid of the police and starting from scratch, or shifting an idea of what policing means, so reimagining police to be something different. Defunding means taking away resources from police forces and reallocating them towards other social services.
Like Anna mentioned and Joe, that this is not just in isolation, but it's-- everything works together. The social system works together. And so we can't just improve policing. But we need to perhaps take some of that funding and move it to health care, education, et cetera.
And that is very different from police reform. So police reforms are things that are-- what Peter mentioned, holding police forces accountable, a de-escalation training, certain types of practices, like chokeholds, et cetera. Many of these have been tried in police forces all around the country and just simply haven't really worked. Community policing was supposedly an answer to police force abuse. And there's community policing everywhere, and we still see the abuse of power.
I will say, though, since I-- to answer your question, I will put out what I-- if I had to pick a reform, I will-- I will pick one. And that is, I think, a focus on the types of recruits that are brought into police forces. We need to change the standard for what entry into police forces looks like, the time for training, and maybe treat it as if it were a college degree of sorts.
It's really, really easy for somebody like Kyle Rittenhouse, if we all remember who he was, to join the police force. He was one year away from being able to join the police. And there's no checks in place for people like him to not join. And so I think focusing on who gets recruited and changing the idea of what a police officer is really affects the culture that's created.
MARC LACEY: Sabrina, let me follow up with you. We're hearing some from some of the viewers who are wondering whether there are any countries out there without a police force of any kind, and if so, can we look to them for an example of what the future of America could be?
SABRINA KARIM: Great. So there's no country without a police force, but there's a lot of variation in what police forces do. And yeah. And so you can take examples from some European countries, where in the Netherlands, for example, you have, in addition to police forces that are not-- that are not really armed, but armed lightly, you have peace officers. So the first responders are not police officers, but they are peace officers. And they are not armed. And in many European countries, police officers are actually not armed at all, so there's that kind of variation.
But I want to highlight that police abolition, which means getting rid of the police and building something new, that happens quite often. So we see that happening in places that have experienced large-scale political violence or major regime change. So post-conflict countries, like Liberia, Kosovo, Northern Ireland, they all rebuilt their police forces from scratch. In places like Estonia and Georgia, they rebuilt their police forces from scratch after they transitioned into democracy. And so it's not unprecedented to start anew.
MARC LACEY: Great. Joe, let me go to you, this notion of no police at all. I wonder how realistic you think that is. We had a story in Minneapolis. And in northern Minneapolis, a predominantly Black community, there were many residents who oppose the defund movement because they said there was high crime in their area and they needed police. So it's clearly complicated. What's your view on whether eliminating police altogether is possible, is realistic?
JOE MARGUILES: Well, I think we should also ask whether it's desirable. I know that part of North Minneapolis. I lived for many years in Minneapolis. In fact, I lived and worked very close to where George Floyd was killed. And I know that street corner very well.
And the work that I have coming out, the book I have coming out is on the transformation of a distressed neighborhood in Providence, Rhode Island, that where crime was an extremely serious problem. And nobody-- not nobody. People in that neighborhood did not want the police to be gone. They wanted the police to be different, right?
And so I agree very strongly with my colleague Sabrina who says sometimes, you have to just rip out the old and replace it with something entirely new in order to create a new culture. But they replace it with something new. I think we should all work to create a world in which the architecture of coercive state control is as small as it needs to be.
In that respect, we all ought to be abolitionists, right? We ought to say that the ambition should be that the police do not lay hands on someone and take them away. I think that's the world we want to create.
But there are serious obstacles to creating that sewn into the DNA of American society-- economic inequality, substance abuse, the ready availability of guns, the problem of untreated mental illness. You're going to have conflicts that require someone to resolve them who is sanctioned by the state to remove a person from the scene. That's what an officer can do.
Now, you want to do it very differently than it's currently done, right? It's important to say that, simply because you will probably always need something called law enforcement, that it doesn't have to be what we have. And it shouldn't be what we have. But that's very, very different than saying we want no one out there at all who is empowered to intervene to protect one person from another.
MARC LACEY: Joe, we're hearing from some members of the audience who want to ask you about a comment you made earlier on. Where and exactly how did this association between crime and Black people and crime equals Black people, where did that originate? Tell us a bit more about that.
JOE MARGUILES: Well, my friends and colleagues and Noliwe and Anna can also chime in on this. It is centuries old. It long predates our current debates about policing.
It's now measured much more precisely, much more carefully. And there is wonderful work by people like Jennifer Eberhart out at Stanford on the phenomenon of association between Black and crime and crime and Black and other sort of markers of otherness in Blackness. Those are deep, deep ingrained into American culture and American political life and had been for-- since the memory of man runneth not. What we have is more sophisticated capacity to measure it. But it originates from prejudice and discrimination and stereotypes that trace their origin back well into slavery.
MARC LACEY: Mhm. Anna, do you-- do you--
JOE MARGUILES: I had one more point that I wanted to add. I'm sorry. There's never been a period in American history, never, ever been a period in American history where they have not been prevalent, those stereotypes, those biases, those associations. It's never been absent.
MARC LACEY: Anna, do you want to weigh in on that as well?
ANNA HASKINS: Sure. What I wanted to add just to say is that there are sociologists that study-- that study skin color, skin tone, and criminal involvement and ask a perception. So if you say this person has a criminal record and you ask them what do you think their race is-- this is work by Aliya Saperstein and Andrew Penner. They sort of create Blackness onto that person's body from that. So that's an example.
But also, sociologists like Loic Wacquant have talked about how mass incarceration is really this fourth peculiar institution in the United States, following this lineage of slavery and Jim Crow and sort of the rise of ghettos after the great migration. And so as this institution, whose job it is to really control Black bodies-- and so while there are these associations of mass incarceration and policing, again, Sabrina mentioned this, right? And there are sociologists. Rashawn Ray is another person that comes to mind that talks about how policing really came out of slave owners trying to find their runaway slaves, right?
And so, again, this is the idea of crime and policing and Blackness. They're all sort of embodied in each other. And this is why racism is so deeply embedded in each of those cases.
MARC LACEY: Thank you. Thank you. Criminal justice reform may well be the only issue that Democrats and Republicans have some common ground on. And President Trump at the Republican National Convention was touting the First Step Act. Former Vice President Biden, Kamala Harris have definitely weighed in on it. They've actually tried to deflect criticism of their get-tough-on-crime approaches in the past. Peter, can you talk a little bit about the politics of this issue heading into November? Where is public opinion on this right now?
PETER K. ENNS: Yeah, sure. And thanks, Marc. And I think the kind of historical background you mentioned and what Anna and Joe were mentioning is really important, because the racist roots of the current system are absolute, as they mentioned. And the historical trajectory is right.
But we also, I think it's important to think of the variation over time. Because if we viewed something as fixed, as a constant, envisioning and imagining change is really hard. And there have been variations. And the US was not always the world's leader in incarceration, right? So in the '30s and '40s, the US incarceration rate looked like many other countries.
And actually, it was mostly wh-- majority whites who were incarcerated. And now the US is the world's leader. And it's majority minorities who are incarcerated. So these shifts happened.
And we're at a moment of-- the data suggests another shift. And so let me explain what I mean by that. At the mid-'90s, the US public was at its most punitive. And so that's when we saw the 1994 crime bill. And then since, then the crime rate has gone down.
And if we look at public opinion data, the public has become less punitive as the crime rate has gone down. And that doesn't mean the public's not punitive or in favor of all of the reforms we've been discussing. But this shift over time is very important. And that helps explain why in such a polarized Congress, the First Step Act-- which from my opinion is very much a first step, maybe a very tiny first step in terms of the types of criminal justice reform we need. But we've also seen some states ending the cash bail system. We've seen the decriminalization of-- excuse me-- certain drugs.
Another great example-- in Florida, voters voted to restore the rights of most of those in Florida who were not eligible to vote because of a felony conviction. And so we're seeing evidence in line with this declining public punitiveness. And I think that means it's an important moment for-- to try to realize major reforms. I don't know that it will be a-- ultimately, my view on the election is it's going to-- it's a very much Democrat-Republican, approve of Trump, disapprove of Trump. But in terms of a moment for criminal justice reform, I think that's a possibility.
MARC LACEY: One of the people in the audience is asking a question that I'd love anybody to jump in on. And it's really why now for all of the public attention on these issues? Police brutality of Black people has been going on for a long time. What is it about George Floyd that sparked the entire country to rise up and focus on this?
Who wants to take this on? Everybody here, as I said at the start, has been studying these issues, writing papers, writing books on these issues for years. Why right now is it such a topic of conversation?
JOE MARGUILES: Well, I'll take a first stab at it. But I'd be interested to hear what others think. Partly it's the extraordinary-- look, I watch, because it's important for my work, I watch all the videos of the shootings and the beatings. And they become awful. They're just astounding after a while. But I feel I can't really talk about them unless I watch them.
And as much as I know Minneapolis police-- because I was a criminal defense lawyer. I've cross-examined an awful lot of Minneapolis police officers and sued a bunch of Minneapolis police officers and lived right there-- I was shocked at what I saw in the Floyd murder, right? Eight minutes and 48 seconds snuffing the life out of a man as bystanders were-- and as he was protesting "I can't breathe," right? It's extraordinarily callous. So that's one thing.
But it also comes on the heels of-- there is a reason why for basically the last 15 years or so of the 20th century, it has been this moment where there has been an increased willingness to talk about criminal justice reform. And one reason for that is that the carceral state, the apparatus of it had become enormous. The fraction of people who are ensnared in the carceral state grossly exceeds the crime problem in real terms or in perceived terms.
As Peter just described, crime rates have been going down since 1992. They are at historically low levels, property and violent crime, notwithstanding the uptick for the last few months. But even as they've gone down, the number of people in the system who have a criminal history, who have an arrest record or a conviction record, is astronomical. That's over 40% of the young people between the age of 18 and 23, 40-- over 40%, and over half of the young Black men in that. So it vastly exceeds the problem.
So there was this receptivity to the argument that the system had simply gotten gargantuan and out of control. And so when that happens-- when crime rates are down, there isn't the same sense of fear. Punitiveness is down. It's one of the reasons why the president's "law and order, be afraid, be very afraid" campaign does not have the same resonance as when Nixon tried it in '68. There is a greater willingness to entertain questions about what we are doing when you see on video someone like Derek Chauvin snuff the life out of George Floyd.
MARC LACEY: Great. Anna, I'd love for you to respond to them, then I'll go to Sabrina as well. Anna?
ANNA HASKINS: Great. So I think this is an excellent question from the audience, because I wonder myself. As you noted, we've been studying this for decades, right? So why now? And so as a sociologist, I think about what other things are happening in society.
And so I do think for me, why now is happening-- why this is happening now is in the intersection with the media being something much more available. And you could see this video when you think-- I mean, think about how long nearly nine minutes is. And I think, given that we're all sort of socially isolated in our pandemic homes, we are-- we feel our vulnerability. And I think we sort of can connect in some ways more with vulnerability that's happening to others.
And I also just think that we, given the-- the rece-- the economic-- the pandemic's creating this economic downturn for the country, we also are highly aware of inequality in the world. Economic inequality can then lead us into thinking about other types of inequality, including racial injustice. And so in my mind, I sort of think about each of those things happening together has created this moment where we're paying attention to the suffering of others.
MARC LACEY: Mhm. Sabrina, you've seen other countries that have gone through reckonings and reformed their departments. What do you think it is that caused hundreds of thousands of people all across the country to go out into the streets?
SABRINA KARIM: Yeah, no, I think this is the-- this is a really important question. And there's a lot of political scientists that study protest movements. I'm not one of them, but they would be able to answer this question maybe better than I.
But I will add that the types of coalition building that happens is really important to the growth of a movement. So several, many-- not too long ago, the Black Lives Matter movement was considered a fringe movement. The Democratic Party wasn't even sure that they wanted to adopt it as part of their platform.
We go from that to now Mitt Romney is promoting the Black Lives movement. It's a huge swing and a huge shift in public opinion. But I think what happened is that you had-- because of the outrage that Joe and Anna talked about with this particular video, you started to see people that were kind of more on the middle ground that actually joined the movement.
And so when people see that somebody-- a broader range of people are joining a movement, then it makes them more likely to join as well. And so then, you just-- you get a growth, both in terms of diversification, but also geographically and in size. So it's the kind of-- the new members that bought into the movement, I think, facilitated a mass participation. That would be my political science answer to that.
MARC LACEY: Yep, make sense. There was a survey that came out today that's rather dispiriting. It basically said that support for Black Lives Matter has declined among white Americans since George Floyd's death, but it remains high among Black Americans. Overall, support for Black Lives Matter has declined from 67% during June, just after-- during all these protests to about 55% today, 67% to 55%.
Peter, and anybody who wants to jump in, there was this everybody out in the streets, everybody horrified by George Floyd. Since then, there have been new videos, new shootings, new incidents. Is this something that you fear is going to fade, the national focus on this problem? Let's start with you, Peter.
PETER K. ENNS: Yeah, sure. And I do think any time we see sort of an emergence of protest and attention and positive attention to an issue, sustaining that is a challenge for organizers, and I think also a frustration in the sense the issues haven't been solved. They still are there, but maintaining the momentum.
I think digging into the data of this Pew study you mentioned, Marc, a few things stand out. One is support for Black Lives Matter is still higher than it had been previously. And so in some ways, the uptick around when the protests were most-- most-- the media was covering them in the most frequent manner, it makes sense that there might be a decline after that.
What I think also jumped out at me is that in addition to the differences by race you highlighted is difference by political attitude. And so Democrat support-- support for Black Lives Matter among Democrats in June and just the early September is around 90% for both. And, in fact, the difference, we would say, is not-- is smaller than the sampling margin of error, meaning we couldn't-- we can't say there's a statistical change.
For Republicans, it's dropped from 37% support for Black Lives Matter down to 16%. So most of this decline you mentioned is coming from Republicans. And so that may be-- Sabrina mentioned Mitt Romney. But most Republicans aren't out there. And so this may be that a partisan message, particularly from Donald Trump and other Republicans, is hitting some of the Republican Party, not all, but most of the rest of the public that the support is maintaining at the levels we saw in June.
MARC LACEY: Mhm. Who else wants to weigh in on the question of whether the broad public support for change runs the risk of fading as we head into-- as more distance grows from George Floyd's death?
JOE MARGUILES: Well, see, I'm going to-- I want to take issue with it. You just reframed the question, right? So broad public support for change versus support for the movement for Black lives or Black Lives Matter are two different things.
And you asked before about whether there really is bipartisan support for criminal justice reform. I actually think that that support, that bipartisan support and the public support for genuine meaningful reform, as opposed to just plucking the low-hanging fruit, is pretty shallow. I don't actually think there's very much deep public or political support for meaningful change in police practices, for instance.
And that, I think, is where the rubber meets the road. I think there is change-- there is support for change that tinkers around the edges. And that's what most criminal justice reform has done. I agree with Peter, for instance, when he said the First Step Act is a baby step.
All federal action that's been taken in the field of-- sorry-- criminal justice reform has been de minimus. Some has been a little bit better at some state levels. Some of it has been really quite good. But meaningful support for meaningful change at the policing level-- very, very limited.
MARC LACEY: Mhm. Great, thank you. I wanted to go to you, Anna. You've been talking about how the issue of mass incarceration extends way beyond those who are locked away for years. The effects are much broader than that. Talk a little bit about what you mean when you-- when you say that, that it's not just these people who have been-- who have been thrown into jail, prison.
ANNA HASKINS: Yeah, so thank you. I mean, I can-- I am teaching a class right now about this. So talk a little bit is hard, because I can fill an entire semester with a class-- this class is called Mass Incarceration and Family Life. So it looks at all the sort of ripple effects of incarceration outside of-- that happen outside of the individual offender.
And so what I'll just add is that I think that mass incarceration or being dubbed a criminal is sort of a sticky stigma that attaches not just to the individual, but to their families. And that's sort of the first ring. But we can also think about how that stuck to communities as well, particularly communities that have large swaths of the population removed from them and then returned from prison after release.
And so the work that I do sort of looks at how families are affected, relationships are-- relationships are affected, parenting is affected, kids are affected, and then neighborhoods are affected for those that live in high-incarceration neighborhoods. So one thing that I want to add-- and maybe Joe can talk a little bit about this, too-- is that I think even-- you would agree to say OK, maybe if a kid's father is incarcerated and that father was involved in that kid's life, the removal of that parent has some impact on that kid. And that's what I find.
And what we also know, though, is that if you live in a high-incarceration neighborhood, even if you don't have a parent incarcerated, even if you don't have a family member incarcerated, there are negative effects on your-- and I look at kids. So there are negative effects on kids' health and academic outcomes by just living in a neighborhood that has a high incarceration rate. And that has to also-- that has to do with policing. That has to do with sort of instability in sort of community efficiency and effectiveness, right, and so because members are rotating in and out.
And so I do think it's really important to recognize that it's not just the individual that's feeling the impact of being part of the criminal justice system. But it's their children. It's their family members. It's the community that they live in.
MARC LACEY: Joe, did you want to add anything?
JOE MARGUILES: Well, I agree. The evidence is really strong. There are some scholars-- I'm thinking of people like Todd Clear-- who have studied the incarceration cycle of people churning in and out, of being taken from a neighborhood, incarcerated for a period of time-- 24 months, 36 months, 47 months, something like that-- and then coming back. And there's this constant churning of people in and out of-- taken in and out.
And the disruption that has on the web of social relationships-- family, employment, church, neighborhood groups-- constantly formed and ripped and formed and ripped. And some researchers have actually found that when that kind of churning reaches a certain level, it actually becomes criminogenic. It actually increases crime rates, right?
So in addition to all the other impacts of these-- this disruption of fragile-- the fragile web of social relationships, it actually increases-- it's associated with an increased level in crime. So the very act of getting what they think is getting the bad people out of the neighborhood and taking them out, putting them back, taking them out, may make neighborhoods even worse. That's why you need really intelligent thinking about alternatives to incarceration, alternatives.
Because, as Anna would agree, it's not just policing, right? It's the architecture of enforcement. It's prosecutors. It's judges. It's parole officers. It's probation.
Its the whole institution. It's the whole architecture. And you need to rethink that and come up with alternatives to it. And there are models out there for alternatives. It's not like we're making this up from scratch.
MARC LACEY: A number of you have worked in prisons. And I'm interested in hearing about what you think some of the biggest misconceptions are about prisoners you teach when you're teaching classes. What do you think the sort of big myths are, or misunderstandings are about the people who you meet behind bars? Joe, you want to start? And there's a few--
JOE MARGUILES: Well, I'm happy to. Peter, do you want to take this start?
MARC LACEY: Yeah, Peter. Peter, you want to start?
PETER K. ENNS: Sure, I can. Happy to take the question. And one thing I'd say is the differences across prisons, even within a single state, are pretty massive in terms of the conditions, how they're operated, and so forth. And that's one thing I learned through teaching, although it would sometimes come up from students, mentioning being in other prisons and how they were different.
And also, my-- if you read about prisons, you learn inmates are transferred so often and that-- from prison to prison. And so if it's a state prison, around the state. And that's one misconception I think people have. And you could envision how that affects trying to earn a degree in prison if on a whim you could be transferred to another prison, and now the degree program is no longer offered there. So that's a factor.
Another one of the misconceptions I think is of the students in the prison. And frankly, they were, in my class, phenomenal-- did the reading, incredible written work. Now, that written work, a few had access to typewriters. Most were writing with a pencil.
And so that's sort of-- we might, in this day and age, where we're communicating via Zoom, forget that in a maximum-security prison, you're not typing from a computer. You actually have absolutely no internet access. And that's just not allowed.
Sometimes when I say that, people say well, you must have a lot of time in prison to do the reading. That's another misconception. A lot of these folks are working full time. They're getting paid maybe $0.20 or less an hour, but working an eight-hour shift and in the prison facility in a workshop.
And so it really, on the one hand, is incomparable. And it's so different. On the other hand, like I mentioned at the outset, I thought the exact same major seminar I've taught at Ithaca. It's a lecture-based class, about 15 students when I taught it in Ithaca's campus, when I taught at Auburn.
And the experience with the students was phenomenal. I even had the same guest speaker both times-- one on Ithaca's campus, one in Auburn. So there's parallels and commonalities and then just extreme differences that are almost impossible to anticipate or even convey.
MARC LACEY: Anna?
ANNA HASKINS: Yeah, what I want to say-- because I think a misconception, if you've never had anybody-- if you don't know anybody that's been involved in the criminal justice system is that I feel like as soon as you get the label prisoner, it kind of dehumanizes you. And so I think people forget that these are moms and dads. These are brothers and sisters. These are sons and daughters.
And it takes away-- so I think people are often surprised when you talk about, well, why would a dad's incarceration have any effect on their kids? Well, these are dads that are involved in their kids' lives, right? And so I think we often think all of a sudden that the-- what-- the act that someone does or the racist policing that someone gets wrapped up into is-- usually replaces who they are as humans.
And so what I often find is that people that I-- the misconception that people have if they know nothing about the criminal justice system and they've never met a prisoner and they've never engaged is that they forget that these are actually real human beings. They are dehumanized in sort of the way that we think about that. And I think that that's what is surprising, that surprises me the most when I talk to people about engaging in prisons and with prisoners.
PETER K. ENNS: Yeah.
MARC LACEY: Yeah.
PETER K. ENNS: Can I just get-- Marc, can I just-- just extrapolate--
MARC LACEY: Yeah, Joe?
PETER K. ENNS: --for a second? And I have the distinction of being the old man on this panel. And I've been in a lot of prisons around the country, state and federal, including the prison down in Guantanamo a lot of times. And really to echo in and to just amplify that voice, the biggest misconception-- and it is a painful one, it is a painful one for the guys who are inside-- is the belief that the people who are inside are other, right?
They are them. They are not us, right? They are fundamentally, foundationally different from us, right?
And if I have learned anything over decades working inside prisons, it's that this-- I have distilled this down to my personal philosophy. This eight words is my personal philosophy-- there is no them. There is only us. And that inability to communicate that-- the guys just feel like they will be stamped with that for all their-- for the rest of their days, bam, on their head when they walk out, prisoner for evermore, criminal for evermore-- that is the most painful, shameful thing that we subject them to. And the misconception that that's justified is grotesque.
MARC LACEY: And Joe, our system largely does do that, stamp them. So even when they're out, they're not truly out, right? They're still facing fines and other restrictions. It's easier for them to go back.
JOE MARGUILES: Oh, yeah. So the whole universe, they're called collateral consequences. The whole universe of collateral consequences that we heap upon folks who are-- who are-- become part of the criminal justice system-- you don't have to go to prison to be subjected to those collateral consequences. But if you do, they are the most severe.
They are tangible, material things. You cannot get this job. You cannot live in this neighborhood. You cannot get this loan. You cannot vote in many jurisdictions. To the more, as Anna was describing, the softer, stigmatic ones, right, you carry it with you wherever you go.
That is one of the areas in which criminal justice reform has had some success. We've had some marginal success in shaving down collateral consequences. As Peter described, the voters in Florida voted overwhelmingly, right, it was 65 to 35 in favor of re-enfranchising the great majority of felons, ex-felons who had-- were now back in Califor-- back in Florida. That was just taken away from them, which is a tragedy, just a shameful tragedy, and contrary to the will of Floridians.
But the collateral consequences is a major. It's like giving them a 400-pound backpack when they leave and say now, go out and run the race of life. It's very cruel.
MARC LACEY: I wanted to switch back to policing. And there have been a number of Black police chiefs who have taken over their departments, pledging reform, only to lose their jobs in recent weeks over their criticism over their leadership. And the question I'd like to ask-- and I'm going to throw it to you, Sabrina-- does diversifying those who run police departments or diversifying the officers entering police academies result in better policing?
SABRINA KARIM: Yep, so this is actually a question that I've looked at quite a bit in terms of diversity-- ethnic diversity, racial diversity, and diversity in terms of gender as well. The first thing I want to say is that diversity is generally a good practice just in and of itself. But there should not be a reason for inclusion. And that's where we get into problems.
So if there is a-- if there's-- if African-Americans are brought in to policing or women are brought into policing because they're meant to fix a problem that it sets them up to fail. And it actually also takes away the responsibility of being better away from the people that are actually doing the harm. So within a police force, right, we have a particular-- a culture, an ethos of what policing is.
And that identity of a police officer is in competition with the identity of being a Black person or being a woman. And so the person who is the minority wants to fit into this policing culture. And so there is really-- it's really hard for them to go against anything, against the police culture. In fact, my research actually shows that oftentimes, the minority is more harsh on their own community because they need to prove themselves that they belong in the police force. And so they're actually more discriminatory against their own community because they have to prove that they belong to the other police officers.
And, like I said, really, if we want to change things, the change should be directed at the people that are doing the harm. So if the reforms aren't oriented towards the white male police officers who are oftentimes the ones doing the harm, then it's not really a reform. And the burden is placed on the wrong people.
MARC LACEY: Yep, yep. We actually have a police officer who's watching the discussion. And he says that "I believe if you change the culture by putting the right people in positions of leadership, you can change how policing is done." He doesn't indicate a particular force. But that seems to make sense, right? Put leadership in that is-- that is trying to change how-- trying to change the culture, right?
JOE MARGUILES: I think that's a necessary, but not sufficient change. And if you look at those departments that have made the most progress toward achieving real cultural change, it has to include change at the top. That was the transformation that took place in Providence, which is the city that I study. And I've studied that police department pretty closely.
But it was not-- it was not simply the top, right? It was all the senior officers. And then it had to reach how they were trained, how they recruited, the culture on the street.
I mean, that was the change, for instance, in Camden, in the police department in Camden, which not perfect, but is held up as a model of transforming a very bad department into a much better department. It's similar to what Sabrina was describing. They basically did away with the former department. They, because of budget concerns, got rid of the entire old force and started virtually from scratch with different leadership, different senior officers, different line officers, different training, different culture, end saturation policing strategies, much more focus, much more community-oriented, et cetera. And that kind of root-and-branch change is what's necessary.
MARC LACEY: Joe, let me ask you-- we're also getting some questions from people asking about police unions and the role they play in blocking change. We've written stories about police unions that are effectively protecting officers who are accused of abuses, not playing a positive role. How significant do you view police unions in being part of the problem?
JOE MARGUILES: I would preface this by saying that in general, I'm pro-union. And I think that a lot of the union bashing that goes on in this country is unproductive and unhelpful. And it doesn't make the lives of working people better.
But it is true that police unions, on many-- in many cases are on the wrong side of history. And they are supporting strategies and behavior, like, for instance, the warrior model of policing, which is hyper-aggressive, hyper-- extremely well-armed, takes as its orienting philosophy that every interaction with a community member is potentially lethal. And that creates an environment that is a tinder, right? And so all you have to do is toss a match in it, and [SNAPS] and you're going to have violence.
When officers are trained that way, they're trained to view everyone as a potentially lethal threat, even though we know empirically that the overwhelming majority of the people that they encounter are not that way. When unions support that, they're part of the problem, not part of the solution.
MARC LACEY: Joe, I'd love to get Sabrina to comment, to weigh in on this as well.
SABRINA KARIM: Yeah, so I would actually mention that there's two potential obstacles to any kind of major reforms. And so one of them is potentially police unions, because-- not because unions are bad, like Joe was saying, but because they hold so much power over how the contracting works. Oftentimes, there's no challenge-- these contracts are often made with local governments, the city councils. And so actually, if we're upset about it, we should-- we should be just as worried-- putting pressure on local government as much as blaming police unions, because they're the ones that are making the contracts with police unions. And so that's one obstacle, is because they hold so much power, there's just very little accountability in the process.
The other obstacle, I would say, in the US is unlike most other countries in the world, we do not have a nationalized police force. It's a completely decentralized police force. So every city, every county, every state, they have their own set of standards that are different, that are, again, oftentimes determined at the very local level.
Again, the city councils, the county boards-- they're the ones that are deciding what the standards are. And so even though the bill that's stuck in the Senate right now that is trying to potential standardize some of the requirements for recruitment and training, et cetera, that still is very limited in terms of what can happen at the national scale. And so I think those two are kind of the-- one of-- some of the bigger obstacles.
I just really quickly on the prior point about leadership, senior leaders. So some of my research has actually shown that it's not just focusing these reforms onto your leaders, replacing-- and finding good leadership. But you actually need to find good leadership at the mid-tier level. So it's not the very, very top, but it's the middle managers that are extremely important, because they're the ones that are kind of more operational people on the ground, determining-- having daily interactions with the people that are actually on the ground, that are often the ones that are the beat cops, et cetera, and influencing their behavior.
And so it's like you need this trickle-down effect. It has to start at the top. But really, the mid-level is really important.
MARC LACEY: We're hearing from some people in the audience, asking about what about policing and racism against African-Americans? There is a lot of focus on African-Americans. What about Asian-Americans? What about Latinos, Native Americans? Has anybody studied sort of policing of different ethnic groups that wants to weigh in?
SABRINA KARIM: So I can weigh in here a little bit, if there's nobody else. I've been--
JOE MARGUILES: No, go ahead, Sabrina. We probably know the same studies. Go ahead.
ANNA HASKINS: Yeah, so I think-- it's really interesting to think about how policing varies based off of different communities. I think, as others have mentioned, there's this attachment to the idea of threat to particular minority groups. So in particular, Black people and also potentially Latinos, much less so Asian-Americans.
Native Americans are-- it's a completely different story. So because they live on reservations, they have their own policing system. And there's a really, really sad history with how policing has evolved into Native American reservations as well that has its own racist practices. I think it's maybe beyond the scope for tonight.
But I think it's important to definitely desegregate and think about the different way that policing happens in different communities. It's not just Black communities in which there's racism. There's racism across the board in any kind of minority community.
MARC LACEY: Perfect. This has been really fascinating. We'd like to close up for the night with each of you speaking for about a minute with any final observations, something you left unsaid, something you want the audience to leave this gathering in mind. So let's start in the same order. Peter, you want to start us off?
PETER K. ENNS: Sure. Thanks, Marc. And I want to build on-- Sabrina and Joe in particular helped us think about "defund the police" is actually about not just defunding, but thinking about allocating money in other areas, and abolish-- the words not just abolish, but replace or rebuild in the examples of other countries or communities that we heard from. And I just want to suggest, I think those terms almost sound more radical than they are, defund and abolish, but also at the same time, not sufficiently ambitious.
Meaning it's not just about removing funding. It's about funding more and funding the right things. And it may be an even bigger allo-- much bigger allocation of resources. And it's not just about removing, but it's thinking about how are we going to rebuild and replace? And so I just want to really push us to think even beyond and bigger than those words.
MARC LACEY: Great. Anna?
ANNA HASKINS: Right, yes. So I want to say like we cannot get the story about mass incarceration right if we don't talk about race and racism, and particularly structural racism. Structural racism is the system of hierarchy and inequality that's really categorized by white supremacy. And so this is the fundamental cause of disadvantaged social statuses of Blacks and other racially marginalized groups in the United States. And solutions aimed at addressing policing and addressing the disparities that we see in mass incarceration must take structural racism head on.
I also want to say that incarceration and criminal justice involvement happen at the community level as well as the individual level. And so these are experienced both within communities and individuals, as I mentioned before. And so really, programs and policies and reform need to be holistic in nature. They need to aim to address the consequences beyond the individual offender.
And then the last thing that I want to have the audience take away is that even if we ended mass incarceration tomorrow, even if we defunded or abolished the police tomorrow, we would still have intergenerational cycles of trauma, distrust, as well as behavioral, educational, and health disadvantages to contend with. And so we have to keep in mind that there are people right now existing that have been traumatized, that have you know negative experiences. And so changing the system, we also have to keep in mind how we're going to address those continued traumas that are existing in society. So that's-- those are my two cents, my final cents.
MARC LACEY: Thank you. To you, Joe?
JOE MARGUILES: Thanks. Yeah, I would just leave with this idea-- when problems have endured for generations and they seem so enormous and so intractable, it's easy to think that they will be with us forever and that change is impossible. And I want to leave people with the idea that that's a fallacy and a dangerous one. It is possible to create good, safe, healthy, viable, vibrant, exciting, sustainable neighborhoods, where people are treated with respect and have a decent opportunity to live and to thrive.
Those things can happen. We know how to do this. It will, as Peter describes, take resources, right? The housing crisis is not going to be solved without resources. The crisis in public health is not going to be solved without resources.
But we can do this. The despair that we see, the inequality that we see, the lives on the fragile knife edge between viability and ruin, that doesn't have to be. We can fix this. That's the lesson. And it goes with policing as well. We can make this better.
MARC LACEY: Thanks, Joe. And Sabrina, a final-- some final words?
SABRINA KARIM: Yeah, so let me just-- I guess I'll end by kind of playing a little bit of an empathetic role and talking a little bit about what police officers that I've spent a lot of time with have told me, that what they don't understand-- what people-- what the public doesn't understand about their job. And that is that-- across the board, I've heard this over and over again, that know we are the people that go out and do the most dangerous job. We see the worst of humanity on a day-to-day basis. That's a common refrain of mostly officers. And so people don't understand the toll that takes on us.
And what I want to say to that is that I think that's true. I think everybody just thinks to call the police whenever there is a problem. Now, again, some communities are actually getting services. Many are not.
But that the burden should not-- all of society's burdens should not be placed on police officers. And that's exactly what these-- the defunding or abolishing-- maybe those aren't the right terms. And I think if we were to-- we could think of a better advertising campaign for those kinds of policies.
That's exactly what these kinds of policies are trying to do, is to take that burden away and find better ways to address a lot of the societal problems that we face. And because it's all interconnected, so policing is related to the justice system, which is related to health care, which is related to education. We just need to do a better job of bringing up all of these systems so that the burden isn't placed on one particular institution.
MARC LACEY: Great, thank you. I want to thank all the panelists. And I want to thank Noliwe, who organized all of this. I'm going to throw it to you. But thank you for bringing us all together on this important topic.
And a lot of people in the crowd are looking forward, Noliwe, to hear from you. You are going to be a panelist at an upcoming session on education and residential segregation. So everybody in the crowd today, come back for that. Noliwe, some final remarks? We're having trouble hearing you.
NOLIWE ROOKS: I need to unmute.
MARC LACEY: There you go.
NOLIWE ROOKS: So thank y'all. We couldn't see the comments. But I kept getting little notes of comments from the audience. I kept getting notes, like they think you're being ignored. They think you're being silenced, right?
It's a tech issue that because I was opening and closing the panel, my video had to stay live. But I wasn't supposed to talk. But yes, in November, I will be-- I will have a lot to say.
The other thing I want to say, just really quickly, is that I just want to call Breonna Taylor's name. Just recently, her family was awarded $12 million for her murder. And that's great, but that's not justice. And I just want to say that.
So in terms of closing out, thank you all, again, so much for your participation, for your time, for your insight, for sharing your work with everyone. And Marc, how great to have a seasoned interlocutor draw out from us. We academics often get into just sort of talking about our research, and not necessarily maybe having to think on our feet in the ways that you asked the panelists to do, and which they did beautifully.
I also want to thank all of our partners in the webinar, which includes Alumni Affairs and Development, eCornell, and the Cornell Law School. And thanks to everyone who tuned in. We had over 2,000 folks tune in. So we appreciate you. We appreciate your support.
And the next room webinar will be on residential and educational segregation. And I'mma have a lot to say then. So hopefully you will tune back in. And we'll email people who registered with details for that one. So thanks, again, to everyone who participated, everyone who tuned in. And enjoy your evenings.
We've received your request
You will be notified by email when the transcript and captions are available. The process may take up to 5 business days. Please contact email@example.com if you have any questions about this request.
In the first webinar in the College of Arts & Sciences year-long Racism in America series, faculty experts discussed how racism came to be so enmeshed in policing and incarceration in the United States and why efforts aimed at ameliorating its impact so often fail. The panel was moderated by Marc Lacey ’87, national editor for The New York Times and the inaugural College of Arts & Sciences Distinguished Visiting Journalist.