As sociologists, we know that ranking people by invented categories of race has historically gone hand in hand with determining access to valued resources. We know that in the United States we have built organizations and institutions to implement this idea, from government agencies that enforced Jim Crow and segregation in housing, to banking systems, educational institutions, and a vast infrastructure to control and incarcerate African Americans in disproportionate numbers. The police have been one deadly means by which Black and Brown people have been surveilled and punished for perceived violations of the racist order.
We are saddened and angered but not surprised by the most recent instances of police repression and brutality against George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. They are tragically part of a growing number of people to die by police. According to the advocacy group Mapping Police Violence, Black people were 24% of those killed by the police in 2019 although they are only 13% of the population. Latinx died at the hands of police at 1.5 times the rate of Whites. In Colorado, police killed 21 African Americans between 2013-2019. African-Americans made up 9% of those killed by police during this period despite being only 4% of the state population. Historically, the police have experienced far too little accountability for their use of force and violent deaths: 99% of killings by police from 2013-2019 resulted in no officers being charged. That needs to change. It is not only police who are responsible, but the institutional framework that makes a lack of accountability possible – in particular the application of “qualified immunity”. Neither have police departments implemented proven solutions to reducing police killings.
Against this backdrop, we are especially mindful of how systemic racism and discrimination affect our students, staff, and faculty. The trauma inflicted by overt racial violence, racist rhetoric from political leaders, discrimination by white liberals espousing moderation, and everyday aggressions are real and devastating. We are committed to examining and exposing racism in our sociological work, but also strive to create a department that welcomes all and actively works from the premise that BLACK LIVES MATTER, and that there is no room in a democratic polity for police repression. To our Black students in particular we want to say: we care about you, worry about your physical and emotional wellbeing, and we commit to exploring the causes and remedies for this unspeakable evil. We also commit to listening to your take on these matters. As Dr. Martin Luther King noted decades ago, what affects one in our community, affects us all.
We urge CU Boulder’s administration to offer resources specifically targeted to (1) address racial trauma as has been done by several large universities, (2) to invest in training, hiring, and recruiting that reflects a valuing of racial equity, and (3) to hold CUPD and the Boulder Police Department to the highest standards of community policing and equitable and civil treatment of all, especially students, faculty and staff of color.
Sadly, over 55 years after the Civil Rights Movement, we must reiterate what should by now be obvious: BLACK LIVES MATTER everywhere, including Colorado. We urge all in our community of learning to recognize and address inequality, injustice, and violence.
The Sociology Department