As part of the Woodrow Wilson School's Friday, Dec. 9 event “From Ferguson to Dallas to Charlotte: Racial Justice and Policing in America,” a panel, moderated by Ben Jealous, discussed the role of activism in effecting change.
Jealous is a former President and CEO of the NAACP and a John L. Weinberg Visiting Professor at the University.
The panel included two University seniors, Destiny Crockett ’17 and Asanni York ’17. Crockett and York are both members of the Black Justice League, a coalition of students “standing in solidarity with Ferguson and dismantling racism on our campus,” according to the group's Facebook page.
The two other panel members were Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, an assistant professor in the department of African American Studies at the University, and Heather Ann Thompson, a professor in the department of Afro-American and African Studies and the department of history at the University of Michigan.
One question Jealous posed discussed police reform. Taylor explained that, in the context of our current society, police reform on a large scale is unattainable; however, small changes are not, Taylor said.
“We still talk about policing as if its primary concern is crime management,” Thompson said. She explained that the criminal justice system is the mechanism for doing many things in addition to crime management – such as maintaining white superiority.
“When we began the War on Crime in 1965,” Thompson said, “the murder rate had been entirely historically unremarkable, and today it is even lower than that.”
Despite this, a law-and-order candidate has been elected to office, she said.
Thompson also talked about the effect of policing on white working-class persons. She said that they should have a real interest in how policing works because it often disadvantages them. One example of policing that is disadvantageous to white working class people is that which helped end the Occupy movement that began in 2011.
The students also contributed to the discussion. Crockett encouraged the audience to “check on people who are getting pulled over and sit with them.” This, she said, is something small that could make a real difference.
At the end of the discussion, several audience members asked questions. A University graduate student, who did not identify herself, asked if radical political imagination, such as that of the Black Panther Party, should be adopted by today’s activists. While reluctant to embrace the Black Panther Party, the panel agreed that radical political imagination is necessary.
This panel, titled “Role of Activism in Effecting Change,” was part of the larger event that brought a distinguished group of scholars, law enforcement officials, activists, policymakers, students, and community members to the Woodrow Wilson School to discuss racial justice and policing in America. Speakers, keynote presentations, and panel discussions were all part of this forum. A major focus was the topic of law enforcement agencies and communities working together to ensure the well-being of all. The event focused on this issue by looking closely at the series of events from Ferguson to Charlotte.
The policy forum took place from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. in Robertson Hall, Dodds Auditorium. The event was organized by the Woodrow Wilson School and co-sponsored by Princeton's Women’s Center, Fields Center for Equality and Cultural Understanding, Office of the Vice President for Campus Life, Department of Public Safety, and the LGBT Center.