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Naomi Murakawa: The Perils of Policing Reform
September 10, 2015 @ 4:00 pm - 6:00 pm
Since the high-profile killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, the Obama administration has launched policing reforms to heal racial “mistrust” through a renewed commitment to “community policing” and “procedural justice.” Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing and the new National Center for Building Community Trust and Justice showcase the hope of racial repair via procedural legitimacy. This talk suggests that new proposals fit within a well-established intellectual architecture of liberal law-and-order, extending from the pursuit of stable police “race relations” in the 1950s, healthy “police-community relations” in the late 1960s, and proactive “community-oriented policing” in the 1990s. For all their differences, these pursuits repose on a shared premise about the nature of Black discontent with policing: while it is partially justified, it is also a manifestation of misplaced resentment, atavistic suspicion, and simple failures to sustain healthy communication with police officers. Following from this logic, many reforms aim to change the optics of policing by hiring more police officers of color, by funding more police training to improve communication skills, and by requiring more procedural niceties that ultimately bolster the professional status of police. As such, reforms to build racial trust ultimately mystify racial power in ways that consolidate carceral power.
Naomi Murakawa is an associate professor in the Department of African American Studies at Princeton University. She studies the reproduction of inequality in 20th and 21st century American politics, and her research focuses on racial criminalization and the politics of carceral expansion. She is the author of The First Civil Right: How Liberals Built Prison America (Oxford University Press, 2014), which won the Michael Harrington Award from the American Political Science Association. Her work has appeared in Law and Society Review, Du Bois Review, Theoretical Criminology and numerous edited volumes. She received her Ph.D. in political science from Yale University in 2005. She will be with the Graduate Center for the Fall 2015 term.