DOJ: Ferguson Police Engaged in Systemic Racism

Today the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) released their report the Investigation of the Ferguson Police Department, following the shooting death of Michael Brown at the hands of a Ferguson police officer.

The 102-page report documents the systemic racism that the police department of Ferguson, Missouri engaged, and it reads a bit like a piece of sociological research. The methodology included the following:

we interviewed City officials, including City Manager John Shaw, Mayor James Knowles, Chief of Police Thomas Jackson, Municipal Judge Ronald Brockmeyer, the Municipal Court Clerk, Ferguson’s Finance Director, half of FPD’s sworn officers, and others. We spent, collectively, approximately 100 person-days onsite in Ferguson. We participated in ride-alongs with on-duty officers, reviewed over 35,000 pages of police records as well as thousands of emails and other electronic materials provided by the police department. Enlisting the assistance of statistical experts, we analyzed FPD’s data on stops, searches, citations, and arrests, as well as data collected by the municipal court. We observed four separate sessions of Ferguson Municipal Court, interviewing dozens of people charged with local offenses, and we reviewed third-party studies regarding municipal court practices in Ferguson and St. Louis County more broadly. As in all of our investigations, we sought to engage the local community, conducting hundreds of in-person and telephone interviews of individuals who reside in Ferguson or who have had interactions with the police department. We contacted ten neighborhood associations and met with each group that responded to us, as well as several other community groups and advocacy organizations.”

What they found was certainly not surprising for regular readers here, but it was no less shocking for its grim familiarity. The stories of the routine, systematic, racist practices of the Ferguson Police Department (FPD) reveal that the African American citizens of that municipality live under a repressive, brutal regime that circumscribes the boundaries of their lives in ways that appear totalizing and inescapable. Through a pattern of police stops that the report deems “improper” and likely unconstitutional for things like jay-walking, coupled with a revenue-generating scheme when the inevitable violations occur, followed by an elaborate system of fines, penalties and warrants for failure to appear in court over those violations, the predominantly white FPD maintains an effective system of apartheid against the predominantly black residents of the town of Ferguson. This is a moral outrage, and it is also life-threatening in its consequences for African American residents.  Here is one account:

While the record demonstrates a pattern of stops that are improper from the beginning, it also exposes encounters that start as constitutionally defensible but quickly cross the line. For example, in the summer of 2012, an officer detained a 32-year-old African-American man who 19 was sitting in his car cooling off after playing basketball. The officer arguably had grounds to stop and question the man, since his windows appeared more deeply tinted than permitted under Ferguson’s code. Without cause, the officer went on to accuse the man of being a pedophile, prohibit the man from using his cell phone, order the man out of his car for a pat-down despite having no reason to believe he was armed, and ask to search his car. When the man refused, citing his constitutional rights, the officer reportedly pointed a gun at his head, and arrested him. The officer charged the man with eight different counts, including making a false declaration for initially providing the short form of his first name (e.g., “Mike” instead of “Michael”) and an address that, although legitimate, differed from the one on his license. The officer also charged the man both with having an expired operator’s license, and with having no operator’s license in possession. The man told us he lost his job as a contractor with the federal government as a result of the charges.

This account is not an isolated incident, but rather suggests the broader pattern of racial disparity in Ferguson.

The FPD also used police dogs against low-level, nonviolent offenders, according to the report. In 14 of the police dog attacks, all those attacked were African Americans, including one minor. The use of dogs against African American citizens conjures an earlier era of repression when dogs were key part of upholding Jim Crow. The reintroduction of trained attack dogs against African Americans raises questions about the progress the U.S. has made on civil rights.

The DOJ report also reveals a small cache of emails that circulated in the Ferguson Police Department in the days and weeks following the death of Michael Brown. Here is a recap of these provided by the Southern Poverty Law Center:

Racist Emails

That this new technology – email – is joined with the old technologies of trained attack dogs, bullets, and policing practices routed in racist brutality – highlights the mix of old and new mechanisms of racism that circulate today. In taking stock of the racist emails, the DOJ report has this to say:

“The racial animus and stereotypes expressed by these supervisors suggest that they are unlikely to hold an officer accountable for discriminatory conduct or to take any steps to discourage the development or perpetuation of racial stereotypes among officers.”

The cold, bureaucratic language of ‘racial animus’ seems too tepid for a police force that murders an 18-year-old, leaves his body in the street for hours, and then sends racist ‘joke’ emails around afterward. This, it is safe to say, is looking into the abyss of depravity that is white supremacy.

Expressed in pie chart form (h/t @digiphile) the racial disparities in Ferguson policing practices look like this:

DOJ_Ferguson01

This is a textbook illustration of what the term “disproportionate” means. If the stops and arrests of African Americans were proportional to their percentage of the population, those charts at the bottom there would both read “67%” – but since they’re higher, that’s disproportionate. In other words, something else is going on here. Something systematic having to do with race. Here’s another set of charts from the DOJ:

DOJ_Ferguson02

 

This kind of stark racial disparity is characteristic of what we, in the U.S., are taught to believe happened in the distant Jim Crow past, or in apartheid South Africa, but we have trouble believing this is happening now, in our own time.

To be sure, this is not an isolated police department, this is not unique, or an unusual set of racial disparities.

 

This is America.

Research Brief: Recent Publications on Race and Racism

Here is our latest update on some of the recent scholarly publications the sociology of race and racism. A couple of this research (e.g., Chaudry, Velasquez) could also be categorized as digital sociology, but more about that in a future post.

As always, I’ve noted which pieces are freely available on the web, or “open access” with (OA), and those behind a paywall with (locked). Why do I do this? Some people have begun to question the morality of publishing scholarly work behind paywalls with publishers that ‘make Murdoch look like a socialist.’  I think that’s a discussion we should be having as academics. For those unpersuaded by moral arguments, the purely self-interested academic should note they carry a cost in forgotten, rarely cited work.  Increasingly, open access publications get more widely cited than those locked behind paywalls.

Onward, to the latest research about race and racism.

Research in the Dictionary

 

  • Chaudry, Irfan. “#Hashtagging Hate: Using Twitter to Track Racism Online.” First Monday, 20(2), 2015. doi:10.5210/fm.v20i2.5450.  Abstract: This paper considers three different projects that have used Twitter to track racist language: 1) Racist Tweets in Canada (the author’s original work); 2) Anti-social media (a 2014 study by U.K. think tank DEMOS); and, 3) The Geography of Hate Map (created by researchers at Humboldt University) in order to showcase the ability to track racism online using Twitter. As each of these projects collected racist language on Twitter using very different methods, a discussion of each data collection method used as well as the strengths and challenges of each method is provided. More importantly, however, this paper highlights why Twitter is an important data collection tool for researchers interested in studying race and racism. (OA)
  • Garner, Steve. “Injured nations, racialising states and repressed histories: making whiteness visible in the Nordic countries.” Social Identities ahead-of-print (2015): 1-16. Abstract: This paper sets out some parameters for the special issue, focusing on Nordic countries studied as ‘injured nations’, racialising states and repressed histories. The distinctiveness of using whiteness paradigms to accomplish this are specified, and then the individual contributions to the topic are outlined. The processes of racialisation identified and analysed link the past to the present. There are different pathways, from colonised to colonising, from subaltern to dominant racialised position. The specifics of each country’s journey are noted, whilst links to contemporary discourse elsewhere are also established. Although there are populist nationalist parties active in the Nordic countries, the contributors argue that first, it is the mainstream political discourse that enables the more extreme versions: it is not a question of rupture but continuity. Secondly, racialising discourses that place people belonging to the nation in a privileged position vis-à-vis Others can be found outside the formal political arena, in development aid, national cuisine, and in national debates about violence, for example. (locked)
  • Huber, Lindsay Pérez, and Daniel G. Solorzano. “Visualizing Everyday Racism Critical Race Theory, Visual Microaggressions, and the Historical Image of Mexican Banditry.” Qualitative Inquiry 21, no. 3 (2015): 223-238. Abstract: Drawing from critical race and sociolinguistic discourse analysis, this article further develops the conceptual tool of racial microaggressions—the systemic, cumulative, everyday forms of racism experienced by People of Color—to articulate a type of racial microaggression, we call visual microaggressions. Visual microaggressions are systemic, everyday visual assaults based on race, gender, class, sexuality, language, immigration status, phenotype, accent, or surname that emerge in various mediums such as textbooks, children’s books, advertisements, film and television, dance and theater performance, and public signage and statuary. These microaggressions reinforce institutional racism and perpetuate ideologies of white supremacy. In this article, we use a racial microaggressions analytical framework to examine how the “Mexican bandit” visual microaggression has been utilized as a multimodal text that (re)produces racist discourses that in turn reinforce dominant power structures. These discourses have allowed for the Mexican bandit image to pervade the public imagination of Latinas/os for over 100 years.  (locked)
  • Pulido, Laura. “Geographies of Race and Ethnicity: White Supremacy vs White Privilege in Environmental Racism Research,” Progress in Human Geography published online before print January 21, 2015, doi: 10.1177/0309132514563008. Abstract: In this report I compare two forms of racism: white privilege and white supremacy. I examine how they are distinct and can be seen in the environmental racism arena. I argue that within US geographic scholarship white privilege has become so widespread that more aggressive forms of racism, such as white supremacy, are often overlooked. It is essential that we understand the precise dynamics that produce environmental injustice so that we can accurately target the responsible parties via strategic social movements and campaigns. Using the case of Exide Technologies in Vernon, California, I argue that the hazards generated by its longstanding regulatory noncompliance are a form of white supremacy. (locked)
  • Selod, Saher, and David G. Embrick. “Racialization and Muslims: Situating the Muslim experience in race scholarship.” Sociology Compass 7, no. 8 (2013): 644-655. Abstract: This article reviews how racialization enables an understanding of Muslim and Muslim American experience as racial. Race scholarship in the United States has historically been a Black/White paradigm. As a result, the experiences of many racial and ethnic groups who have become a part of the American landscape due to the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 have largely been ignored in race scholarship. By reviewing racialization and its application to Arabs and Muslims, it is apparent that scholars must continuously explore newer theories and languages of race. Racialization not only provides a way to understand the fluidity of race and racism but it also contributes to the advancement of race scholarship by reflecting on the current contextual influences on race. (locked)
  • Selod, Saher. “Citizenship Denied: The Racialization of Muslim American Men and Women post-9/11.” Critical Sociology (2014): 0896920513516022. Abstract:The racialization of Muslim Americans is examined in this article. Qualitative in-depth interviews with 48 Muslim Americans reveal they experience more intense forms of questioning and contestation about their status as an American once they are identified as a Muslim. Because Islam has become synonymous with terrorism, patriarchy, misogyny, and anti-American sentiments, when participants were identified as Muslims they were treated as if they were a threat to American cultural values and national security. Their racialization occurred when they experienced de-Americanization, having privileges associated with citizenship such as being viewed as a valued member of society denied to them. This article highlights the importance of gender in the process of racialization. It also demonstrates the need for race scholarship to move beyond a black and white paradigm in order to include the racialized experiences of second and third generations of newer immigrants living in the USA. (locked)
  • Shams, Tahseen. “The Declining Significance of Race or the Persistent Racialization of Blacks? A Conceptual, Empirical, and Methodological Review of Today’s Race Debate in America.” Journal of Black Studies (2015): 0021934714568566. Abstract: The sociological literature of the past several decades has emphasized two apparently contradictory perspectives—the “declining significance of race” and persistent racialization of Blacks. This article surveys the empirical evidence in support of both these perspectives and attempts to explain this seeming contradiction. Based on a thorough review of recent literature on this polarized debate, this article argues that proponents of the decline of race argument misconceptualize race and apply methodologies that fail to measure the hidden ways in which structural racism still operates against African Americans today. The article concludes that White racial framing of colorblindness operating on a flawed conceptualization of race and inadequate methodology masks a reality where racism persists robustly, but more subtly than during the pre-civil rights era. (locked)
  • Thompson, Cheryl. “Neoliberalism, Soul Food, and the Weight of Black Women.” Feminist Media Studies ahead-of-print (2015): 1-19. Abstract: This article examines the representation of Black women’s weight in contemporary diet advertising and African American film. It positions socioeconomic class as a significant factor that distinguishes between “good” weight and “bad” weight. I argue that there is a distinction to be made between representations of poor and working-class fat Black women and middle-class fat Black women. The increased presence of Black women as diet spokeswomen is also questioned. The social construction and filmic representation of the African American cuisine “Soul Food” and the political economic notion of neoliberalism are used as frameworks to deconstruct how notions of self-discipline, personal responsibility, and citizenship impact upon Black women’s bodies. As a case study, I examine the careers of Oprah Winfrey and Gabourey Sidibe and the ways in which their weight has been differently coded based on class, the neoliberal rhetoric of “personal responsibility,” and food. I ultimately critique how contemporary media has helped to shape contemporary discourses on Black women’s weight.
  • Velasquez, Tanya Grace. “From Model Minority to “Angry Asian Man”: Social Media, Racism, and Counter-Hegemonic Voices.” In Modern Societal Impacts of the Model Minority Stereotype, ed. Nicholas Daniel Hartlep, 90-132 (2015). doi:10.4018/978-1-4666-7467-7.ch004. Abstract: In various social media formats, Asian Americans have posted angry and creative reactions to cyber racism. This chapter discusses the benefits of using social media discourse analysis to teach students about the modern societal impact of the model minority stereotype and Asian Americans who resist online. Methods and theories that support this interdisciplinary approach include racial identity development theory, racial formations, critical race theory, feminist perspectives, and culturally relevant pedagogy. As a result, students learn to deconstruct cultural productions that shape the sociopolitical meanings of Asian American identity while critically reflecting on their own experiences with the stereotype. The work discussed in this chapter is based on participatory action research principles to develop critical media literacy, foster counter-hegemonic stories, and promote social change that expands our knowledge, institutional support, and compassion for the divergent experiences of Asian Americans, particularly in college settings. (locked)

 

Happy scholarly reading!

If you’d like to see your research appear in an upcoming brief, don’t be shy, drop your shameless self-promotion in the contact form.

Former Adviser Axelrod Warns White Racist Hostility to Obama Infects Politics

Ed Pilkington, chief reporter for the Guardian (US), reports:

In an interview with the Guardian before the release of his new autobiography, [David] Axelrod spoke in frank terms about what he perceives as the corrosive influence of race in the Obama era. The former White House senior adviser said that no other president in US history had had a member of Congress shout at him in the middle of a major address – as Joe Wilson of South Carolina did in 2009 with his notorious “You lie!” rebuke – or face persistent questions about his American citizenship, as Obama did from the so-called “birther” movement . … [Axelrod] warned that racial “fear” and hostility toward the first black US president has infected American politics and is partly to blame for Republican intransigence in confronting the president’s agenda. “The fact is, there are some people who are uncomfortable with the changing demographics of our country,” Axelrod said. “To those people, Obama is a living symbol of something they fear, they don’t like, and some of that has spilled into our politics.”

220px-David_Axelrod

In the book titled, Believer: My Forty Years in Politics (2015) Axelrod writes that

some folks simply refuse to accept the legitimacy of the first black president and are seriously discomforted by the growing diversity of our country. And some craven politicians and rightwing provocateurs have been more than willing to exploit that fear, confusion, and anger.

That is, an entrenched white anger exists on the subject of a black man – with a Muslim name – in the White House.

The white racial frame sheds much light on Axelrod’s discussion of race-involved “fear.” As Joe Feagin explains, the racial hierarchy, material oppression, and the rationalizing white racial frame are key dimensions of the systemic racism created at the top decision-making level by elite white men. Emotions play a vital part in sanctioning white privilege so that whites can discount or disregard the unpleasant truths of racism. Such perverse obliviousness rests firmly on the safeguarding of whites’ racial selves (The White Racial Frame: Centuries of Framing and Counter-Framing).

Beyond US politics, projections on the shifting demographics of race have led to clear expressions of white racial victimization, aggrieved entitlement, and aggressive white racial framing. White elite male controlled news outlets report on anticipated trends with memorable headlines like “Whites losing majority in U.S. in under-5 group,” “White kids will no longer make up a majority in just a few years,” and “Minorities now surpass whites in U.S. births, census shows.” Undoubtedly to perpetuate racist notions of the welfare state, the latter story mentions a seemingly troublesome aside: “[T]he numbers also serve as a guide to where taxpayer dollars could be going in the coming decades.” It fails to mention where taxpayer dollars will be coming from (workers of color, increasingly).

Studies also point to discomfort among whites with regard to the changing demographics of the US, as does the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision to nullify strategic parts of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

“Our country has changed,” explained John G. Roberts Jr. –- Chief Justice and elite white male appointed by George W. Bush in 2005. A well-known critic of the 1965 Act for nearly 30 years, and writing for the majority, Roberts explained, “While any racial discrimination in voting is too much, Congress must ensure that the legislation it passes to remedy that problem speaks to current conditions.” Roberts held that “things have changed dramatically” in the South in the nearly 50 years since the Voting Rights Act was signed. This was in spite of the fact that almost all US civil rights leaders disagreed.