Social Justice in Ferguson: Addressing Racial Bias in Policing

Over 1,400 sociologists have signed an open letter protesting police brutality in Ferguson, USA. The letter includes practical measures to address the killing of Michael Brown and mistreatment of protesters in Ferguson. Coordinated by Sociologists for Justice, the letter shows that systemic racism needs to be addressed as well as wider socio-economic and political issues to ensure effective change is enacted.

The book The New Jim Crow outlines how the criminal justice system in America is affected by systemic racism. Additionally, decades of sociological research shows that police officers’ decision-making is affected by racial stereotypes and that better training can address this bias (more links below). Effective change in community policing begins by understanding the effects of the victimisation of people of colour and by addressing the institutional practices that lead to excessive policing of people of colour.

Below are the suggestions outlined in the open letter, but I urge you to read the letter in full as it summarises sociological research on race bias in policing. You can also add your name to the open letter, as I have done.

Social Justice for Michael Brown and Ferguson
We are troubled by the killing of Michael Brown. We are troubled by the excessive show of force and militarised response to protesters who rightfully seek justice and demand a change in the treatment of people of colour by law enforcement. – Sociologists for Justice.

Practical Measures to Address Justice in Ferguson

There are no short cuts to addressing systemic problems. However, as our nation again confronts the reality of race within the criminal justice system, we urge the following actions to facilitate an appropriate response to the death of Michael Brown, and to begin moving toward addressing the systemic racialised police practices that devalue and threaten Black lives.

1. Immediate assurance from law enforcement authorities in Missouri and the federal government that constitutional rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of the press will be protected.
2. A civil rights investigation into the incidents related to the death of Michael Brown and general police practices in Ferguson.
3. The establishment of an independent committee to study and analyse the failures of the policing efforts during the week following Michael Brown’s death.
4. Ferguson residents, including leaders of grassroots organizations, should be included on the committee throughout this process. The committee must provide a clear roadmap for resetting community-police relations in a way that grants oversight power to residents.

5. An independent comprehensive national study of the role of implicit bias and systemic racism in policing. Federal funding should be allocated to support police departments in implementing the recommendations from the study and ongoing monitoring and public reporting of key benchmarks (e.g., use of force, arrests by race) and improvements in police practices.
6. Legislation requiring the use of dash and body-worn cameras to record all police interactions. Data from these devices should be immediately stored in tamper-proof databases, and there should be clear procedures for public access to any such recordings.
7. Increased transparency of public law enforcement, including independent oversight agencies with guaranteed full access to law enforcement policies and on-the-ground operations; and more streamlined, transparent and efficient procedures for the processing of complaints and FOIA requests.
8. Federal legislation, currently being developed by Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA), to halt the transfer of military equipment to local police departments, and additional legislation to curtail the use of such equipment against domestic civilian populations.
9. Establishment of a ‘Ferguson Fund’ that will support long term strategies grounded in the principles of social justice, systems reform and racial equity to bring about substantial and sustained change in Ferguson and other communities facing similar challenges.
– Sociologists for Justice.

Add your name to the open letter.

Learn More

OpenAccess research on racial bias in policing:

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