Statement on Black Lives Matter, Protest, and Policing: Things We Can Do Now.

The Department of Political Science joins with the American Political Science Association in expressing our horror and outrage at the recent murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, David McAtee, and many others.  These recent cases are part of the history of police violence directed at Black persons in the United States, including the history of the city in which our university resides.  

In 2012, a “routine traffic stop” by a Cleveland police officer ultimately resulted in a vehicle chase and the death of two Black persons.  The car chase involved “a minimum of 62 police vehicles” and a shootout in which 13 police officers participated, firing 137 shots into the subject vehicle.  The subjects of the chase, Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams, were unarmed.  The US Department of Justice report “concluded that we have reasonable cause to believe that Cleveland Department of Police engages in a pattern or practice of the use of excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution” (see Justice Department Report, which “alleged that the excessive force violated Cleveland citizens’ constitutional rights, and was based on more than 600 incidents between 2012 and 2013”).  The Ohio Prosecutor’s Summary Statement can also be found here.  

In 2014, Tamir Rice, a twelve-year-old Black child, was playing by himself in a public park in Cleveland when he was shot and killed by Cleveland police officer Tim Loehmann.  The New York Times reported that Officer Loehmann shot Tamir within two seconds of arriving on the scene, and that police tackled Tamir’s 14-year-old sister and handcuffed her and, when Tamir’s mother arrived on the scene of her son’s murder, the officers also threatened to arrest her (paraphrased from the NYT report).  On perceptions of proportionate response to protest, see David Armstrong, Christian Davenport, and Thomas Zeitzoff, here.

Finally, you can read the APSA statement here.

The Department of Political Science affirms that Black Lives Matter and that peaceful protest, even when contentious, is protected speech.  As political scientists, we recognize that protest mobilization – the First Amendment right to “peaceably to assemble … and to petition the government for redress of grievances” – is often necessary and frequently successful in bringing about policy reforms, and that protesters’ use of violence, even when clearly identified, is infrequent, relatively rare, and involves a very small number of those persons who mobilize, including during these most recent mass demonstrations across the country and throughout the world.  

Writing only for myself, as a native of northeast Ohio, I have long been sickened by such incidents, deeply ashamed of my country for our unwillingness to resolve issues of racism, and outraged nearly beyond reason by the apparently perpetual police violence against Black persons in the US, including against children.  Our country needs to do better, and so does CWRU.

Here Are Some Things We Can Do Now:

  1.  Read and learn.  Political scientists have long studied the politics of race and racism, policing, and protest in the US, and core readings and analyses are available for those who want to learn more.  The American Political Science Association has ungated  more than 50 articles, in its journals, addressing these issues.  The articles can be accessed easily and for free here.  There are several sources that provide insights about protest and its impact on social justice and political change.  See, e.g., Erica Chenoweth’s work here; David Meyer’s Politics Outdoors blog; and Christian Davenport’s work with Political Violence at a Glance. 

    For deeper reading, from my Political Movements course, see, e.g., Dennis Chong, Collective Action and the Civil Rights Movement; Christian Davenport, How Social Movements Die:  Repression and Demobilization of the Republic of New Africa; Paul Frymer, Black and Blue:  African Americans, the Labor Movement, and the Decline of the Democratic Party; as well as, e.g., Christian Davenport, Sarah A. Soule and David A. Armstrong II, “Protesting While Black?  The Differential Policing of American Activism, 1960 to 1990,” American Sociological Review, 76 (1), 2011: 152-178; and Patrick Rafail, “Asymmetry in Protest Control:  Comparing Protest Policing in Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver, 1998-2004,” Mobilization, 15 (4), 2010: 489-509; see also Jennifer. Earl, “Tanks, Tear Gas and Taxes: Toward a Theory of Movement Repression,” Sociological Theory, 21(1) 2003: 44-68, and Jennifer Earl, Sarah A. Soule, and John D. McCarthy, “Protest under Fire? Explaining the Policing of Protest,” American Sociological Review, 68(4) 2003: 581-606. 

    See also the Portals Policing Project.   Social scientists also recognize the police as non-elite authorities that have functioned as an occupying force in poor neighborhoods, and in race-class subjugated communities, and where Black persons and persons of color live.  As a result, everyday harassment is the norm.  As Professor Vesla Weaver states, in these neighborhoods, the police “are like wallpaper.”  They are always present.  And when Black people leave their neighborhoods and go into other neighborhoods, even for a run, they are seen as suspect.  They are followed and harassed, and, in the case of Ahmaud Arbery, murdered.   As one of my colleagues observed, police serve as “bouncers” to keep Black people out of white neighborhoods, and monitor them even when they are residents of these neighborhoods,  See the link, below, for a detailed discussion of race and policing

  2. Listen and learn.   Political scientists and sociologists have convened to discuss racist policing in the United States and concrete ideas for change.  Here are just three outstanding conversations in the past week that are especially helpful:
    1. Race and the Criminal Justice System: Where Do We Go From Here 
    2. Conflict Consortium Re Current Contention in the US 
    3. Black Men, Speak!  Thanks to Professor Saladin Ambar, for sharing this link with me.
  1. Give money (if you can).  Students at Rice University raised more than $93,000 to contribute to Black Lives Matter Houston.  Here are just three places where those who are able can donate money:
    1. The Frederick Douglass Project for Justice
    2. The Bail Project 
    3. Black Lives Matter Cleveland

There are other things that CWRU and the Department of Political Science can do in the coming days and weeks.  These are things that we can do now, without waiting, and that will teach us and that will be helpful.

Finally, please join, as respectful observers, the conversation organized by Aliah Lawson, POSC major and President of CWRU’s Black Student Union, among others, Wednesday, June 10, from 1:30 to 3:30pm.  See the flyer, below.  You can register at

With all best wishes,

Karen Beckwith
Flora Stone Mather Professor and Chair
Department of Political Science
Case Western Reserve University
Mather House 223
Cleveland, Ohio. 44106. USA

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