Oct. 4 Panel Focuses on Policing Patterns and Civil Rights Violations

Fatal encounters between police and black citizens have sparked protests, court cases and a national conversation about policing practices across the country, including in Cincinnati. They have also led to illuminating reports by the U.S. Department of Justice, which serve as the topic of an Oct. 4 panel at the University of Cincinnati.

The deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Freddy Gray in Baltimore led to reports from the U.S. Department of Justice that describe patterns of unfair treatment of citizens, particularly poor and black citizens. Turning those reports into progress in Cincinnati starts by initiating -- and sustaining -- conversations that lead to action, said Curtis Webb, a Sociology graduate student in the University of Cincinnati College of Arts and Sciences. 

Webb also serves as program coordinator of The Cincinnati Project, an effort that connects campus researchers and their work with members of the community who are also focused on taking actionable steps toward equity and social justice in our region. 

The Cincinnati Project, along with Cincinnati Law’s Center for Race, Gender and Social Justice and the Division of Student Affairs co-hosts the panel discussion reviewing the DOJ findings and how they might be applied in Cincinnati. The discussion, which starts at 3:30 p.m., will take place in room 450 of the Richard E. Lindner Center (next to Nippert Stadium) on the Uptown Campus. Featured panelists will be:

• Alphonse Gerhardstein, Cincinnati civil rights lawyer and founder of the Ohio Justice and Policy Center, who led the lawsuit against the Cincinnati Police Department that led to the groundbreaking collaborative agreement.
• Janet Moore, associate professor at Cincinnati Law, who specializes in civil rights and criminal law. 
• Iris Roley, Bond Hill business owner and project manager of Cincinnati’s Black United Front who helped craft the City of Cincinnati’s Collaborative Agreement, one of the country’s most innovative plans designed to improve police-community relations.
• Tracy Teslow, an associate professor in History, who specializes in research about the history of race and ethnicity in the U.S., especially in the 20th century.
• Earl Wright II, co-founder and director of classroom-partnered research at The Cincinnati Project as well as a professor of Africana Studies, who has helped rewrite the history of his discipline through his research of W.E.B. DuBois, American sociologist, historian, civil rights activist, Pan-Africanist, author and editor.

“We are excited to come at this issue in a real and substantial way,” Webb said. “Someone may be spurred through this conversation.”

Jennifer Malat, co-founder and director of The Cincinnati Project, agreed.

“Some people, particularly white people, are unaware of how poor communities of color are policed in some cities,” said Malat, a sociology professor and associate dean for Social Sciences. “I hope the panel can better inform people that the problems range from the tragic police shootings that we see on TV to less severe police mistreatment of citizens that doesn't make the news.”

Both the Ferguson and Baltimore reports were described by various media outlets as “scathing,” detailing routine civil rights violations — including unwarranted traffic stops and instances of excessive force — targeting citizens of color. Panelists will discuss the historical precedents for current practices as well as potential solutions for the future.

“Nothing could be more important right now,” said Cincinnati Law’s Verna Williams, Judge Joseph P. Kinneary Professor of Law and co-director of the Center for Race, Gender, and Social Justice. “We want to provide a forum for people to talk about the important issues that are confronting all of us today about police and communities and how they can work together to correct longstanding injustices.”

Highlights from the reports:
• The 67 percent of African-Americans in Ferguson account for 93 percent of arrests made from 2012-2014.
• Court practices exacerbated the harm of Ferguson’s unconstitutional police practices. 
• Baltimore police’s enforcement strategies produced severe and unjustified disparities in the rates of stops, searches and arrests of African Americans and the use of excessive force.
• Policing practices in Baltimore included retaliating against people engaging in constitutionally protected expression.

Malat sees the DOJ reports as important tools for both education and action. “The problem of unfair policing of black citizens has a history that predates the current attention to the problem,” she said. “The panel will provide insight into the history of these issues, the current state of policing black citizens, how people have previously advocated for change and what efforts for change are happening now.”

When Wright reviewed the Ferguson findings, he was struck by similarities to post-Civil War “convict lease” laws, or “Black Codes,” that limited the rights of poor and black citizens. Once arrested for ill-defined crimes such as vagrancy, freed blacks could be “leased” by plantation and factory owners for private labors. “What have we learned, if anything?” Wright asked.

He said that the reports contain important lessons about the existence and impact of institutional biases and the dangers of police militarization, both of which need to be openly discussed so that they might help shape future actions and long-term reforms.

The panel offers Webb an opportunity to channel his academic and personal energies in the wake of recent protests in Charleston and Tulsa. “It’s very difficult to deal with, it’s very consuming,” he said of the most recent fatal interactions with police. “The best way I know how to deal with it is to keep working toward equity.”

WHAT: DOJ Reports on Policing in Ferguson and Baltimore:  What They Mean for Cincinnati and the Country 
WHERE:  Richard E. Linder Center, Room 450 (next to Nippert Stadium)
WHEN: Oct. 4, 2016 at 3:30 p.m.

For updates, follow The Cincinnati Project on Twitter: @thecinciproject 

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