Racial surveillance has a long history

Publication Type: 
Other Writing
Publication Date: 
January 4, 2016

The path from Laquan McDonald’s summary execution by Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke to the reluctant release — over a year later — by the Chicago Police Department of video of the killing shines yet another spotlight on the disproportionate use of force by police against young black men and women and the failure of authorities to identify and punish this behavior.

The McDonald killing also reflects a larger injustice that afflicts our society. This injustice manifests itself in a system of behaviors, norms, laws and technologies ostensibly put in place to maintain public order but is most often directed against people Victorian-era authorities called the “dangerous classes” — minorities and the poor, who are treated as a persistent threat to the established social order.

In the U.S., this system of structural surveillance emerges from a history of racism and white supremacy that links the use of deadly force by police against young black men and women to our systems of criminal justice, social programs and public health. Its reach, as well as its near invisibility to those privileged enough to escape its gaze, makes it especially difficult to address in its entirety, and we are often left to deal with its effects in piecemeal, incident by sickening incident.

Read the full op-ed at The Hill