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Radcliffe Fellow Labels Problems with Chicago Police Systemic

By Ashley J Kim, Contributing Writer

Associate professor of African and African American studies Laurence A. Ralph argued that treating cases of the police using extralegal force as isolated problems can lead to less accountability.

At the talk Wednesday, which was held at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Ralph focused on his upcoming book on policing, race, and the limits of democracy in the 21st century.

Judith E. Vichniac, Associate Dean of the Radcliffe Institute’s Fellowship Program, introduced Ralph before his presentation.

“Professor Ralph writes about injuries, not just physical injuries, but he’s also talking about social injuries, as well,” she said.

Having started his ethnographic fieldwork in Chicago in 2006, Ralph described his book as a story blending interview data, media accounts, court transcripts, and his own personal observations.

“Throughout the book, I critically examine the American faith in policing, and detail why this faith is eroding in Chicago,” Ralph said.

During the event, Ralph read excerpts of the first chapter of his book.

In the chapter, he argues that treating each occurrence of police brutality as a rare and isolated event can lead to chronic ignorance of general misconduct and decreased police accountability, enabling violence to continue and even increase.

“And when we think about police violence there’s a lot of reasons why people think that they can’t know about it, because they weren’t there when the police allegedly committed a misconduct or something like that,” Ralph said.

“So, when we do have evidence and we do have video, they seem like exceptional cases, but we don’t know the extent to which [police violence] is exceptional. And I want to question this idea, this faith that they are automatically exceptional cases—that if a cop killed somebody then that was just a bad apple.”

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