Andre Carrington, professor of English and Philosophy at Drexel University, organized a panel discussion Feb. 20 on the hashtag “BlackLivesMatter,” as part of the nationwide celebration of Black History Month. Of the originally scheduled five panelists, only three were present: Carrington; Lallen Johnson, assistant professor of criminal justice at Drexel; and Khadijah White, assistant professor of journalism at Rutgers University.
It being a Friday night, the turnout was relatively small at only 20 people. The small audience was, however, diverse, and engaged with the topic of discussion, which included a couple of predetermined questions.
The first question for the panelists to discuss was, “What have you found about historical and current police violence against black people in your own research?”
Johnson went first and introduced the concept of that there are two different existing “trigger fingers” for police officers — one for white people, and one for black people. “Their perception of danger changes,” Johnson said. He referenced a study to prove this notion in which police officers and civilians were both placed in front of a projector that would display images of dangerous-looking people that they would have to either choose to shoot or not shoot upon first glance. According to this research, both police officers and civilians chose to shoot upon first glance of the images of black people more often than they did when the images of white people appeared.
White discussed where this tendency originates when she presented her own research on current police violence against black people. “The media embeds the idea that violence and crime is just a part of black culture by always portraying black people as dangerous,” she said. White went on to discuss how this already unfair perspective is made worse by the fact that murders or drug busts are only reported to news outlets by the same people who punish the offenders, which excludes the opinions and views of people surrounding the crimes.
Carrington, the last panelist to speak, read off a list of victims of police brutality and the descriptions of their killings from the past four years, which numbered close to the 20s, and then proceeded to note how Drexel Alerts not only perpetuate the dangerous image of black people, but also never report when someone is killed although that is criminal activity as well. Carrington concluded the discussion with an exhortation.
“This is not the beginning of a dialogue, this is one discussion in the larger dialogue that has been going on for a long time now to find out whether black lives matter,” Carrington said. This panel discussion was just one event on campus this month that celebrates and explores the history and culture of black people, which, according to the panelists, was their motivation.