Monday, July 11, 2016

Black Power as Cultural Transformation


Hal Pepinsky,, “peacemaking” at

July 11, 2016


                Today, as on WBUR’s “Here and Now” (, I hear many reminders of mass police violence against communities of color in the summer of 1967, and the ensuing Kerner Commission report on police violence as a product of institutional racism in 1968.  I might add that ensuing violence against often white and middle-class anti-war protesters as President Nixon took office helped make excessive police violence against people of color and political protesters give way, in many communities black and white, to what came to be called “community policing.”  Of course this recognition did not “solve” problems of police violence and its underlying racism.  But it did change police forces here and there across the country, while in political backlash, law-n-order “broken-windows” became institutionally, statistically, politically enshrined, with New York City’s CompStat system leading the way.

                Two generations after the Kerner report, cell phone transmissions of overtly problematic police violence against black people, including shooting deaths, readily make (inter)national news, alongside coverage of the mass shooting of police officers in Dallas, ironically a model of community policing, which ordinarily would be reported all by itself.  It is true of all elements of cultural transformation of politically organized violence (down to adult violence against children) that they are less visible, virtually silent as compared to the alarm that violence sounds in our individual and collective consciousness.  Counter-intuitively, the fact that we recognize and circulate news of police violence against people of color signifies that culturally, we white folks especially are awakening to the racism implicit in profiling and distinguishing “at-risk offenders” from ourselves, and implicit in the notion that the first duty of police is to control criminals.  And wouldn’t you know it: I hear that a Pew poll shows that while most whites report feeling race relation are worse than ever, a majority of black respondents believe that the nation as a whole has made progress in recognizing and dealing with racism.  Today, President Obama is reported to have said the same.

                The cultural bottom line is that as a whole, whites included, we recognize the racism inherent in policing as “law enforcement” much more readily than we did as I entered the graduate study of criminology in 1968.  Cultural transformation of political institutions of power over others into power sharing rests on political awakening to the violence done especially by us—notably established white men as it becomes noticeable in mass news media.  That includes criminologists in my sixties/early seventies generation who to some degree are institutionalized as “critical,” who have proliferated as college and university teachers who have been teaching about the racism, sexism and ageism underlying “criminal justice” as we know it, for fifty years too.  As someone who seeks cultural transformation of the violence inherent in imbalances of political/legal power over others, I see today’s alarm over police/black violence as increased recognition that racism is our problem, an awareness that so far as I can see has underlain cultural transformations that have been undertaken here and there by police chiefs, which are also being noticed, as in Dallas, Cincinnati, and Richmond, California.  May the force be with us.  Love and peace, hal

No comments:

Post a Comment