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Resources on the History of Policing and Today's Calls for Reform

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Demonstrators at a Black Lives Matter protest. (Derek Lartaud/KQED)

As demonstrations continue in the streets, parks and public squares across the world, protesters wave signs calling for widespread change in response to the police killings of black Americans, as well as a full-scale reevaluation of the role of law enforcement in communities and schools. Minneapolis, where George Floyd was killed last month, has already taken steps to overhaul its police force.

Calls to reform, defund or abolish police departments may sound new and surprising to some students. Others may be well-versed in the established work in many communities to hold police officers accountable and allocate public money to a wider array of social services.

Learn more about policing in the United States, its historical roots in slavery and the Industrial Revolution, and the connections between today’s protests and longstanding efforts to reform and re-imagine law enforcement.

Resources on the historical roots of policing and connections to current protests

American Police
This podcast from NPR’s Throughline traces the history of policing in the United States to slave patrols in the South and the teeming cities of the 19th-century Northeast. In both contexts, law enforcement was viewed as a way of “controlling essential workers,” according to guest Khalil Gibran Muhammad, professor at the Harvard Kennedy School.


Opportunity Lost: The 1968 Government Report on White Racism that America Chose to Ignore
KQED News examines historical connections between the protests of today and the Kerner Commission report released following violent unrest in 15 black urban neighborhoods in the summer of 1967. The report called out unequal opportunity rooted in racism as the cause–and came up with solutions to address these structural problems that were never implemented.

Protesting for the Soul of America: The New Civil Rights Movement
KQED’s Truth Be Told podcast also explores the historical connections and parallels between 1967 and today, as well as the ongoing, profound consequences of racism, what justice can look like, celebrating blackness and the power of youth voice. Guests: Bestselling author and podcaster Carvell Wallace and Eddie S. Glaude, Jr, chair of the Department of African American Studies at Princeton University.

Don’t Understand the Protests? What You’re Seeing Is People Pushed to the Edge
In a Los Angeles Times op-ed, basketball star and author Kareem Abdul-Jabbar unpacks the recent protests as a black American talking to non-black readers.

Police Violence Since Oscar Grant: Has Anything Truly Changed?
This article and interactive timeline from KQED News explores the more recent history of police violence and efforts at reform, starting from the 2009 killing of Oscar Grant at Fruitvale BART station.

Resources on police accountability and re-imagining law enforcement

Students Are Demanding an End to Campus Cops After the Death of George Floyd
This report in Time is about school districts that have already ended contracts with police departments and student-led efforts to do the same in other cities and towns.

How Much Do We Need the Police?
NPR’s Code Switch podcast talks to author Alex S. Vitale who argues that the fraying social safety net has meant police have been called to deal with problems like mental illness, homelessness and non-violent drug addiction. Instead, he argues, funding should shift from policing to social services.

Looking for Accountability in Police-Involved Deaths of Blacks
These graphs from The New York Times from 2017 provide a look at three different police accountability measures and how they were applied to high-profile police killings of Philando Castile, Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice and others.


More from resources on racism from KQED Education: Understand, Learn and Act: Teaching In the Midst of Mass Protests for Black Lives

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