During recent months, news headlines about the tensions between law enforcement and many African-American communities have captured national attention. On a Friday afternoon in September, University of Richmond’s Jepson School of Leadership Studies brought together a panel to discuss how history continues to shape these current tensions, how race and other dynamics illuminate systemic strains in the country’s urban centers, and what we as a country can do to recognize these problems more responsibly and promote healing.
“We’ve convened this conversation because we want scholars to bear their expertise on this crisis, and we hope that people walk away with a deeper understanding of a grossly misunderstood crisis,” said Julian Hayter, assistant professor of leadership studies, in his opening remarks.
Organized by Sandra Peart, dean of the Jepson School, along with Hayter and Al Goethals, who holds the E. Claiborne Robins Distinguished Professorship in Leadership Studies, the panel took place in conjunction with the 2016–17 Jepson Leadership Forum series, “Reconstruction and the Arc of Racial (In)Justice.”
The panel was comprised of local law enforcement officials, visiting historians, and representatives from across the University. Panelists Claudrena Harold, associate professor of history at the University of Virginia, and Pippa Holloway, professor of history and director of graduate studies at Middle Tennessee State University, both participated in the 2016–17 Jepson Colloquium surrounding this year’s forum topic.
Hayter opened up the discussion by asking panelists what they believed should be the focus of the conversation, and they responded from many different angles — from poverty to law, economics to education — and in ways that were both theoretical and deeply personal.
Erik Johnson, assistant professor of economics at Robins School of Business, considered the economic conditions in places like Ferguson, Mo., noting that costs are often borne by the most vulnerable population and that in some places it is hard to even observe who benefits.
Chief David McCoy, associate vice president of public safety and chief of police at the University of Richmond, stressed the need for police officers to build relationships in the communities they serve, telling a story about a teenager he worked with as a young officer who later became a homicide victim.
“Neighborhoods confer legitimacy to only those who act in procedurally just ways,” said McCoy. “Anybody that’s wearing a badge has to understand respect and dignity in every interaction.”
Dean Jamelle Wilson, who came to the conversation having served as superintendent in Hanover County for four years before becoming dean of the School of Professional & Continuing Studies, said, “There is a need in my view and from my experience for our police officers to not only be available in times of crisis, just as Dave talked about, but to be present in communities all the time, regularly. So that children, as they are growing, recognize ‘police’ does not equal ‘bad.’”
Patrice Rankine, dean of the School of Arts & Sciences, discussed his personal experiences, observing: “Identity is more than skin deep.”
The panel concluded by taking comments and questions from audience members. A reception immediately followed the panel, providing an opportunity to continue the conversation in an informal setting.