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Media advisory: Professors available to talk about Baltimore riots

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

LAWRENCE — Two University of Kansas School of Public Affairs & Administration experts on policing and city management and two African and African-American studies professors are available to discuss the protests surrounding the Baltimore Police Department after the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man who suffered a spinal injury while in police custody.

Charles Epp, a professor in the School of Public Affairs and Administration, is the author of the award-winning book "Pulled Over: How Police Stops Define Race and Citizenship.” Epp and his co-authors, KU Professors Steven Maynard-Moody and Don Haider-Markel, won the 2015 Best Book Award from the American Society of Public Administration.

Research in the book found police disproportionately stop black and minority drivers to check for possible criminal activity, even when there is no evidence of it. They use minor traffic violations, like driving two miles over the speed limit, as a pretext for making these stops. The practice has eroded the black community’s trust in the police and negatively affected how minorities participate in civic life, according to the study, which included interviews with 2,329 drivers in the Kansas City metropolitan area. The authors advocate for a moratorium on all police investigatory stops.

Epp said recent protests in Baltimore and Ferguson, Missouri, over how police treated minorities are a reaction reflected in people's experience in police stops.

"We are likely heading into a long, hot summer of serious protests against policing," Epp said. "These protests are a response not only to tragic killings but also to the policing tactics that too many police departments have employed in recent decades: aggressive stops of lots and lots of minority residents. As we have seen in previous eras, these tactics lead to intense frustration and loss of trust in the police.”

Shannon Portillo, assistant professor in the School of Public Affairs & Administration, is available to discuss what the protests mean for local police and local government leaders. Portillo's broad research interests include work pulling together organizational theories rooted in public administration and law and society to explore how rules and policies are carried out within public organizations. Her research focuses on problem-solving courts, probation, restorative justice programs, policing and city management.

Earlier this year she co-authored an article in The Annual Review of Law and Social Science that focused on police as street-level bureaucrats and the discretion officers possess.

"We focus on these individual incidents, because they are at the center of protests and media attention, but they are examples of systemic problems within local law enforcement," Portillo said. "These are not just challenges for police departments but challenges for the local governments that oversee police departments and the communities they are a part of. Local government leaders, like the city council, mayor — and where applicable, city manager — should be at the center of these conversations, looking at the policies and practices of the police departments and pushing for transparency and reform."

To arrange an interview with Epp or Portillo, contact George Diepenbrock at gdiepenbrock@ku.edu or 785-864-8853.

Clarence Lang, associate professor of African and African-American studies, can provide insight into how the civil rights struggles of the 1960s weigh too heavily in today’s framing of racial issues. Lang is author of “Black America in the Shadow of the Sixties: Notes on the Civil Rights Movement, Neoliberalism, and Politics.” He argues that the legacy of the 1960s has hindered how present-day challenges of dismal social and economic conditions in contemporary black America are viewed.

“The urban disturbances occurring in Baltimore, much like the events we've witnessed in Ferguson, Missouri; New York City and so many other communities, illustrate a deeply rooted pattern of conflict between local police and black community residents, as well as a broad crisis of legitimacy confronting law enforcement agencies in the U.S.,” Lang said. “At the same time, these disturbances have also exposed the many conflicts among African-American elected officials, appointees, and civic leaders — both in Baltimore and Washington, D.C. — about what constitutes legitimate black protest and politics in the 21st century. For those of us who teach and write African-American history, this draws us toward the recent legacies of the 1960s and what we think we've learned from the civil rights movement of that period.”    

Lang is also author of “Grassroots at the Gateway: Class Politics and Black Freedom Struggle in St. Louis, 1935-1975” and can speak to the history of segregation and racial unrest in and around the St. Louis area, including Ferguson.

Shawn Alexander, associate professor of African and African-American studies and director of the Langston Hughes Center, is an expert on 19th and 20th century civil rights and racial violence. His newest book, “Reconstruction Violence and the Ku Klux Klan Hearings,” examines forgotten 1871 congressional hearings on severe violence in the South against African-Americans and sympathizers following the Civil War. He also has written several books on early civil rights leaders and movements.

“Urban disturbances are not random actions. They are a reaction to systemic oppression. The occurrences of violence that has taken place in Baltimore, as well as Ferguson and New York over the past few months, demonstrates that there are structural problems in our country that we need to address,” Alexander said.  “To label these disturbances as merely criminal, irrational activity we as a nation are once again missing the structural conditions that have created the explosiveness of our current historical moment.”

To schedule an interview with Lang or Alexander, contact Christine Metz Howard at 785-864-8852 or cmetzhoward@ku.edu.


Ruth DeWitt, Communications Manager
KU School of Public Affairs and Administration
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