Ferguson, Baltimore and Cincinnati

Ferguson, Baltimore and Cincinnati

By Earl Wright II

On Tuesday, October 4, I will participate on a panel discussion on the implications of the Department of Justice reports on Ferguson, Missouri and Baltimore, Maryland titled, “DOJ Reports on Policing in Ferguson and Baltimore: What They Mean for Cincinnati and the Country.” During the few minutes I have to talk I will focus on two matters:

  • connecting the findings of the recent DOJ reports to an American history of policing that dates back to this nation’s years of reconstruction
  • advising the leadership in Cincinnati to use the findings from the DOJ reports proactively to provide leadership on issues of policing and, more importantly, to learn from the mistakes of police militarization as the trial of Ray Tensing nears and the decision on his guilt or innocence lay in the balance.

Black Codes

The Black CodesIn 1903 sociologist W. E. B. Du Bois wrote about the shadow slavery program that followed the ‘peculiar institution.’ During these years “Black Codes,” de jure and de facto laws severely governing the lives and freedoms of Black Americans, were established. Examples of punishable offenses include the gathering of two or more Blacks in a public area, and being unemployed. Having little to no protection under the law, thousands of men and women were unjustly jailed, some for simply not being gainfully employed. Their labor was literally sold to the highest bidder in the region. The successful bidder (i.e., plantation owner) then legally controlled the (slave) labor of the persons whom he purchased from local officials. This was practiced during the early twentieth century.

What say we today?

This practice is still in play today. One can look at laws connected to the American drug war that has led to a supply of able bodied persons whose ‘talents’ have been and continue to be utilized in private and government prisons for the production of various products at minimal expenditures. As it relates to Ferguson, Missouri, government officials purposely used the criminal justice system to extract monies from its primarily Black citizens to supplement the local budget.

The targeting of Blacks in this manner is eerily similar to that of years past. This gives one pause to raise the question, “How far removed from the reconstruction era are we?”

Militarized Use of Force

Ferguson shootingIn Ferguson and Baltimore the world witnessed how the militarization of an institution sworn to “serve and protect” the members of its community engaged in militaristic tactics designed for combat against enemies of this nation and in locations far from our borders. The militarized use of force against the members of ones community should not occur, unless the force employed against the policing community are also militarized. Notwithstanding the latter, the military rule over American communities must not be allowed.

What has the city of Cincinnati learned?

As the city of Cincinnati prepares for the trial of the University of Cincinnati police officer charged with killing Samuel DuBose one must ask the question, “what has the city of Cincinnati learned from the tactics of community engagement observed in other cities?” One can only hope that the powers that be in this city and region have carefully and clearheadedly examined the best practices in community engagement and policing. For if they have not then the name Cincinnati may, again, be added to the string of other cities whose citizens expressed displeasure with their treatment via the criminal justice system in ways that some may deem unpleasant. In order to prevent such unfortunate situations some of us at the University of Cincinnati are participating in a unit, The Cincinnati Project, that may serve as an intermediary between residents and the policing community.

The Cincinnati Project Serves as a Bridge

The Cincinnati Project (TCP) was established in 2014 to serve as a bridge between community stakeholders and institutional units at the University of Cincinnati such that those relationships can be (re)established and/or improved. The primary goal of TCP is to offer the skills and talents of members of the university community to the larger Cincinnati community whereby specific research needs of grassroots members of the community can be met. Moreover, TCP engages with community stakeholders as equal partners, not as a body of scholars single-mindedly focused on exploiting members of the community for our personal gain. However, as it relates to matters of social justice broadly and this panel discussion specifically, the goal of TCP is to serve as an intermediary whose efforts are useful in the maintenance of a prosperous and forward moving Queen City.

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At the 2016 NAACP Convention

At the 2016 NAACP Convention

By Jennifer Malat

The Cincinnati Project organized quickly when we received a last-minute invitation to help with a series of community-police relations forums at the NAACP Convention.

We were asked to help with qualitative data collection and analysis—in other words, taking detailed notes and writing summaries—in partnership with community members. UC Arts & Sciences undergraduate and graduate sociology and psychology students assisted with this project. 

UC students at 2016 NAACP Convention

UC students at the NAACP Convention

All of the students have a particular interest in the study of racial inequality and were eager to join the research team. The students benefited not only by being present at a national convention, they (me too!) also had the opportunity to learn from experts outside of UC.

Working with the 2002 Collaborative Agreement

 As part of this research project, we met community organizers and facilitators who worked on the 2002 Collaborative Agreement to improve community-police interactions. In our role of taking notes, we listened to their experiences and noted their advice for NAACP attendees who hope to reduce violence against black citizens. This experience is one example of a goal for The Cincinnati Project: UC researchers and students learning from community experts while providing research service. 

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We are living in a NEW Social Movement

By Jennifer Malat


Never Doubt quote by Margaret MeadRecently I had lunch with 
Patricia Hill Collins, a prominent social theorist at the University of Maryland, and our upcoming symposium keynote speaker. As we talked about the widespread enthusiasm for the idea of The Cincinnati Project, I shared that it has been surprisingly easy to find people who would like to partner with us.

Is this because we are living in a new social movement?

Dr. Collins and I discussed this question. She told me that she worked with students last fall on this very subject. From their research, they concluded that we are, indeed, living in a new social movement. Their specific research and findings will be discussed at a later date.

How do we define a social movement? There have been many efforts by sociologists to clarify the criteria for a social movement. A concise definition by Blumer and Park in 1939 defined social movements as “collective enterprises to establish a new order of life. They have their inception in the condition of unrest, and derive their motive power on one hand from dissatisfaction with the current form of life, and on the other hand, from wishes and hopes for a new scheme or system of living.”*

Sociologists tend to modify the definition when witnessing a new social movement. For example, in the early twentieth century, a social movement polarized around unrest with the current political model. Since around the 1990’s, a “contention” model of social movement is more widely used, and this allows for the definition to include those who are seeking to change culture, not just politics or economics.**

Usually people who are living during a social movement aren’t aware of it. Only later do historians and sociologists tell a story of action that changed the direction of society.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr during Civil Rights Movement

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., leading a civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, in March 1965.

From 1954– 1968, The Civil Rights Movement conducted coordinated efforts including boycotts, sit-ins, and marches, along with the individual efforts of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Junior. It’s easier to see the collective impact of these efforts after the fact.

Today, we see signs of a social movement in the actions and words from many people of our society: grassroots organizing, government officials speaking out, and artists making demands and expressing the emotions of millions in their work.  Black Lives Matter is the most prominent of the current movement, but attention is also being given to high rates of poverty and inequality as well. Since we have recognized that we are in the midst of a social movement, our challenge to our students, our peers, our partners is, 

“How will we use this social movement to make our community a better place for ALL people?”

*Herbert Blumer. “Collective Behavior,” in Robert E. Park, ed. An Outline of the Principles of Sociology. New York: Barnes and Noble, 1939, p. 199.
**McAdam, Doug, Sidney G. Tarrow, and Charles Tilly. Dynamics of Contention (Cambridge Studies in Contentious Politics). New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001.
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