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Black America and the Police

Bringing together scholars from the United States, the UK, and continental Europe, “Black America and the Police” traces the vexed relationship between African American communities and law enforcement to reveal the histories and mentalities that anchor suspicion on both sides. Despite the centrality of racial histories in the constitution of American criminal justice, the impact of police power on African American expression continues to be a blind spot of American Studies. The conference analyzes past and contemporary tensions between uniformed police and black legal subjects in order to compile and assess a vast archive of cultural emblems in different media that document and critique a mutual loss of trust resulting in tragic incidents of excessive, often deadly violence.

For this purpose, the organizer has assembled members of academia (historians, sociologists, criminologists, political scientists, and cultural theorists), as well as artists and community activists to scrutinize the ways racism still permeates social structures, and to retrace the legacy of oppression—from slavery and segregation to the New Jim Crow—that allows racism to endure. “Black America and the Police” breaks new ground in several ways. It provides the first comprehensive scholarly platform in which to observe the mutual estrangement of police and black communities. It assembles a uniquely diverse group of scholars to cast a wide thematic net that defies racial, national, and ideological lines. Internationally, it establishes the new research area of race and police power and in so doing challenges American Studies to deliver on its interdisciplinary promise on an issue of political salience. Locally, it raises questions of race and criminal justice that seem specific to US culture, but are gaining urgency in post-refugee crisis Europe.

Conference program