The Northeastern Political Science Association stands with the American Political Science Association and other academic and professional associations in recognizing and condemning the manifestations of systemic racism that pervade American society and result in the disparate treatment of people of color and whites.
The murder of George Floyd, which has shocked the nation, years of officer-involved shootings of unarmed African-Americans, as well as the killing of Ahmaud Arbery by a trio of white vigilantes, are the most glaring instances of excessive force in the name of law enforcement.
Yet we must also address the uneven application of the laws. In Brooklyn, New York, 39 of the 40 individuals arrested for violating social distancing orders were people of color. Videos on the internet of New York City Police officers handing out masks to white sunbathers in Central Park contrasted with other videos depicting the violent arrest of people of color by the NYPD for violating the same edict. More than a third of the arrests were made in the predominantly black neighborhood of Brownsville. No arrests were made in the largely white Brooklyn neighborhood of Park Slope.
Further, we are outraged by the militarization of local law enforcement agencies. The deployment of tear gas, rubber bullets and other so-called “less lethal” weapons against our fellow citizens who are peacefully protesting and robustly exercising their First Amendment freedoms, is outrageous. Tear gas, the use of which is banned in warfare by international conventions, was used by police against Americans in 98 cities since George Floyd’s murder.
The clearing of Lafayette Park for the purpose of a photo opportunity, which included at least one high-ranking uniformed military officer, was reminiscent of what is seen in authoritarian regimes. It should alert every American to the slippery slope of authoritarianism that some of our leaders seem to desire. The playwright Sam Shepard wrote, “Democracy’s a very fragile thing. You have to take care of democracy. As soon as you stop being responsible to it and allow it to turn into scare tactics, it’s no longer democracy, is it? It’s something else. It may be an inch away from totalitarianism.”
However, uneven law enforcement is but one manifestation of the systemic racism that pervades our society. The continuing economic and social inequality in our society, and the failure of professions, including our own, to encourage diversity in a manner that would result in a profession that would look like America, must be addressed. Higher education, the field in which many of us work, must acknowledge and act upon its failures. We often speak of higher education as a paragon of diversity, yet the truth offers a different narrative. Our institutions continue shifting more of their limited financial aid resources to “merit aid,” reducing the availability of need-based aid to needy students, who are more likely to be people of color. A 2019 study by the American Council on Education found that 73.2 percent of full-time faculty were white, and that more than 83 percent of College presidents are white. If we pride ourselves on diversity, one can only imagine the situation in other industries that do not make such a claim.
As stated by APSA, “political scientists have long examined the linkages between race, power, governance, social injustice and oppression. This scholarship has made an invaluable contribution to our discipline and to public discourse. It has illuminated the sources and structures of pervasive inequality and human rights abuses in the United States, as well as the resulting social, political, and public policy consequences.” We must now do more and to further disseminate our work so that our nation can act.
Towards that end, the University of Chicago Press, publisher of Polity, the journal of the Northeastern Political Science Association, has dropped the paywall for Polity articles about race, policing, and inequality. We invite you to explore these resources, as we move forward to a more just society.