In the wake of George Floyd’s death and the ensuing protests across the country, four UC Berkeley professors discussed their thoughts in the first segment of a longer series on race and policing.
Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of UC Berkeley School of Law, hosted the livestreamed discussion as each professor presented on a unique topic within race and policing. Chemerinsky spoke alongside law professors Khiara Bridges and Roxanna Altholz, as well as public health professor Osagie Obasogie.
Bridges was the first speaker and focused on critical race theory, or CRT, which states that race is a social construct used by white people to oppress people of color.
“One of the many ways that critical rights theorists thought that traditional civil rights discourse was limited was with regard to its definition of race, of racism,” Bridges said at the event.
Traditional civil rights discourse defines racism as “discrete, easily identifiable, invariably intentional, always irrational acts that are perpetrated by bad actors,” according to Bridges. CRT states that this is a largely false definition of racism today and that adopting a more broad definition of racism changes how issues in race and policing must be addressed.
The next speaker, Obasogie, focused on the “medical gaslighting” of Black people, which he explained as ways in which medical reports are presented to “raise doubt” about the responsibility of police officers even with allegedly contradictory video evidence.
In Floyd’s case, Obasogie said the “gaslighting” was the focus on Floyd’s existing medical conditions.
“Law enforcement and their medical colleagues engage in banter that places the problem of Black deaths on the anatomy and pathology of Black people rather than on the abuse inflicted by police officers,” Obasogie said at the event.
Next, Altholz brought up a study completed earlier this year about unsolved murders in Oakland, titled “Living with Impunity.” The study looked into the experiences of family members of Black and Latinx crime victims in Oakland, which Altholz attributed to the alleged “shortcomings” of Oakland police in assisting these people.
“The Oakland Police Department does not have a protocol for communicating with family members,” Altholz claimed at the event.
Altholz also shared quotes from family members of homicide victims and specific laws that give police the power to decide which family members can receive state financial assistance, which she said can lead to more racial disparities.
Chemerinsky concluded the presentation with information on the process of police reform.
“Cities will rarely voluntarily reform their own police departments,” Chemerinsky said during the event. “The police departments virtually will never reform themselves.”
Legally, a significant way to reform policing externally is to file lawsuits against departments, officers and cities, according to Chemerinsky. He said, however, that the U.S. Supreme Court makes suing for the systemic reform of police departments “almost impossible.”
The panel ended with a question about the professors’ thoughts on defunding municipal police departments and on large universities cutting ties with police. Obasogie said he thinks the majority of tasks police officers do can be done by specialists without service weapons.