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Reframing Deviance: Policing in the Public Eye

Updated: Sep 18, 2020

Let’s talk about the #BlackLivesMatter Movement. 

Throughout the past few months there have been ongoing protests following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Within the two weeks following his death, all 50 states alongside 18 other countries around the world had erupted in protest. 

In some eyes, the uprising that the world has watched unfold this year may be a dramatic unveiling of injustice in our nation's history, but I would disagree. Allow me to clarify; I am not saying that the sudden mainstream media attention that police brutality has been given is not shocking, but rather that this violence and the targeting of Black bodies has been a longstanding occurrence in the world of law enforcement. Simply because it is viewed as relevant now, does not mean it hasn't always existed.

To the many people in my own life who I have had conversations with surrounding the most recent injustices, if you believe this to be a new issue… trust me when I say it’s not. 

The fact is that institutionalized racism and violence toward Black communities in America have existed and persisted for centuries. With this, it should come as no surprise that civil unrest and rebellions in response to such injustices trail closely behind. Since our systems, such as policing, were founded upon prejudiced principles, it is inevitable that change will be demanded in time by those who have endured the harm. From slave rebellions to protests for civil rights, we as a nation have perpetually failed to make effective changes to systems with roots in racially biased ideologies. Why is this? The people in power now are largely the same demographic of those who created the skewed institutions in the first place — white men

The policing system that exists today is a prime example. Across the country, police are viewed as a means of social control and authoritative power over the masses in efforts to enforce the law. They are supposed to be the ones you call for protection and security. 

So when did using lethal force against unarmed Black people become a part of their job description?  

The underlying issue here is that, as a society, we have been conditioned to associate Black skin with deviance and crime. This belief and stereotype is deeply rooted in numerous societal institutions including policing. As a result, Black skin is weaponized and immediately viewed as a lethal threat. 

How many times are police officers going to get away with being trigger-happy?

How many murders and settlements will there have to be to see systemic change?

How many lives must be lost to realize policing as we know it is a failed and corrupt institution?

Ultimately, we need to reframe our thinking of what is deviant in society. Skin color does not equate to deviance actions do. With the presence of social media as a global platform we are bringing the injustices at the hands of law enforcement to light as they happen. While this movement remains in the public eye, the need to police the police cannot be denied. In essence, communities are taking the power of social control back through the power of connectivity.

Black Lives Matter is not just a trend. Even though justice and reform will never bring back the innocent lives taken or serve as reparations to the mental and physical harm done to Black communities, it is past time that law enforcement authorities are held accountable for their grave abuses of power. It is past time to put a stop to the blatant discrimination and racially motivated acts of violence against Black people. It is past time to #DefundThePolice and reallocate funds into community support programs.

I sincerely hope that the momentum of this movement persists and is not disrupted by the very sources of social control it seeks to dismantle.

Demetria Smith, B.A. Candidate in Sociology, The George Washington University

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