I’m prepping for class tomorrow. This semester I’m teaching Black Politics at the undergrad level and American Racial Politics at the graduate level.
Tomorrow’s ARP lecture is about the role of race and racial ideology in the generation of knowledge. I’m going to start by discussing why it took so long for political scientists to study racial politics, and then move to some of the problems associated with the modes they used to study racial politics when they began to study it.
But in re-reading the articles I came across the following passage that reminds me of a problematic exchange that I’ve seen regarding police brutality in black neighborhoods. In “Inequalities That Endure? Racial Ideology, American Politics, and The Peculiar Role of the Social Sciences” Lawrence Bobo begins with two post-9/11 focus groups, one predominantly white, the other black. Asking them each what is the most pressing problems they face in their community, the black focus group says “crime and drugs”. One of the participants goes on:
The first two robberies that I had, the elderly couple that lived next door to me, they called the police. I was at work when the first two robberies occurred. They called the police two or three times. The police never even showed up. When I came in from work, I had to go…file a police report. My neighbors went with me, and they had called the police several times and they never came. Now on that Sunday when I returned from church and caught him in my house, and teh guy that I caught in my house lives around the corer, he has a case history, he has been in trouble since doomsday. When I told [the police] I had knocked him unconscious, oh yeah, they were there in a hurry. Guns drawn. And I didn’t have a weapon except for the baseball bat, [and] I wound up face down on my living room floor, and they placed handcuffs on me.” (p. 15)
According to the article, the situation was so shaky that she thought she’d have been shot by the police had it not been for the presence of one black police officer. After this encounter she ended up being arrested, while the perp was taken to the hospital.
One of my commenters, and others I’ve read elsewhere, mentioned the shibboleth of “black on black crime” when talking about Oscar Grant and other incidences of police brutality. I asked my commenter why exactly we should place violence between two civilians on the same conceptual level as that between individuals and the state?
Got no answer. Don’t really expect one.
For the agnostic of my readers, re-read that passage above if you could. Crime is a problem in black communities because they tend to be poorer. But crime is also a problem in black communities because the individuals charged with protecting them are either slacking on the job, or unable to discern between criminals and non-criminals, or both.
Which is the more pressing problem?