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Activism: The Time is Now

Jessa Shortridge, One Book Ambassador

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

On Wednesday evening, nearly 30 participants hopped onto a Zoom panel discussion about activism, systemic racism, and Just Mercy. The event was moderated by Melissa Foster, the Faculty-in-Residence of the South Area. Three insightful panelists spoke: Rob Brown, Director of Social Justice Education here at NU; Christopher Paul Harris, Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of African American Studies at NU; and Jeffrey Coleman, Associate Professor of Spanish at Marquette University.

The panel began with introductions, and then Melissa introduced the topic of activism and how it connects with the book Just Mercy. Coleman discussed how activism takes many forms, and for Bryan Stevenson, author of Just Mercy, this means representing the incarcerated. Harris argued that today social media can play a role in activism, by being an organizing force and circulating ideas and images. Brown added that it is important to hear from many diverse voices and allow diversity to be a connecting, intersectional force rather than a divisive one.

Foster brought up the concept of activism requiring bravery, and the panelists began discussing this. Coleman brought up an example from Just Mercy, when Bryan Stevenson was struggling with what his work really meant and whether it was making a real difference. Activism requires bravery, not just to stand up to injustice, but also to find value and purpose in one's work even when it's hard or the impact of one's actions are difficult to see. Bravery is also required to push out of one's comfort zone, Harris added. He reflected on his own experiences as a cisgender heterosexual man, having to learn to give more space to other marginalized voices, and admit when he was wrong. Bravery, as Brown stated, is in taking responsibility for what is happening in one's community and being open to the unknown. He discussed the current movement for police abolition, and how it takes bravery to construct an entirely new system that uplifts and supports the entire community.

At the end the panel was opened up for audience questions. The panelists discussed how to have difficult conversations with family members about racism. They encouraged the person whose question it was to approach the conversation from a place of respect and civility, and bring the "receipts" - the evidence and arguments already constructed by researchers and activists before us. They emphasized meeting people where they're at but also setting boundaries, and not tolerating hateful and hurtful speech. There are also resources on campus and on the internet about how to have these conversations, and the panelists encouraged audience members to keep learning and growing.

 Foster closed out the panel by encouraging students to have hope. She said that doing anything is more helpful than doing nothing. Even if you make just one phone call, email one senator, defend one person, or donate to one organization, you are still making a difference. Activism is not a solo endeavor, and all panelists encouraged viewers to get involved in organizations and groups with the support structure to keep you motivated and excited about making change.

Transforming Criminal Justice in Illinois and Beyond: Solitary Confinement 

Eleanor Ellis, One Book Ambassador

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

On Tuesday, October 13th, the Northwestern Prison Education Program (NPEP) held the second event in their roundtable series, “Transforming Criminal Justice.” Around 45 people attended this Zoom panel discussion on solitary confinement. The program began with a moment of acknowledgment for the thousands of incarcerated individuals currently in solitary confinement and the many more who have been further isolated since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Then, attendees had the opportunity to hear from three panelists: Anthony Gay, a solitary survivor, activist, and former prisoner; Maggie Filler, an attorney with the MacArthur Justice Center; and Daniel Greenfield, Supreme Court and Appellate Counsel for the MacArthur Justice Center.

In the first part of the event, Anthony Gay shared his story and explained why he is committed to using his voice to advocate for those still in the brutal conditions of solitary confinement. Incarcerated as a teenager, Gay spent over two decades in isolation. During the panel, he recalled how he lost his social identity—the prison officials saw him as a “monster,” not as a person deserving of care. He also shared that he, and others in solitary, would engage in increasingly serious forms of self-harm as a means to get any human interaction, whether being checked on by nurses or being moved to another location. Rather than provide mental health treatment, prison officials continually prosecuted Gay, until his term extended to over 101 years. In the face of this cruelty, violence, and dehumanization, however, Gay said, “I refused to give up because I knew somewhere in my heart that I was human. I was a person.” In an effort to maintain this sense of identity and his psychological wellbeing, he turned to writing. As he acknowledged his own pain, he also says that at the time he thought, “When I do get out, I’m gonna reach back.” Since being released, he has published a book, Rope of Hope, and has continued to advocate for people still in solitary.

After Gay shared his experiences, Filler and Greenfield provided a broader historical and legal context for the conversation. Filler emphasized how solitary confinement deprives people of any “meaningful human contact” and causes long-term harmful effects. This includes a condition known as “Post-SHU Syndrome,” which can negatively impact survivors even after they re-enter society. Greenfield then discussed the strategies legal advocates use to fight against solitary confinement, as well as the challenges they face, such as the increasing conservatism of the federal courts.

Like the stories recounted in Just Mercy, Gay’s experiences lay bare our country’s carceral response to mental health issues, the arbitrariness of sentencing, and the lasting harmful effects of incarceration—and solitary confinement in particular—on individuals. The program was not only a powerful reminder of the cruelties of the criminal justice system, but also a look to the future. Panelists urged attendees in Illinois to contact their representatives about the Anthony Gay Isolated Confinement Restriction Act, which is currently before the state legislature. They also shared how Northwestern students can take action now by becoming and remaining active participants in politics. In the closing moments of the event, Gay expressed his hope that his story will inspire people to stand up and speak out against solitary confinement. “It won’t stop until the people decide it needs to stop—and we are the people.”

Watch this and previous NPEP roundtables here.

Racial Disparity in Arrests Increases as Crime Rates Decline

Bobby Read, One Book Ambassador

Wednesday, October 7, 2020


On Wednesday, October 7, 2020, Beth Redbird and Kat Albrecht presented their research on racial disparity in arrests and the relation it has to crime rates. With roughly 30 people in attendance, Redbird started the presentation by posing various questions, notably “Is policing changing?” and “What is bias anyway?”. These questions made Redbird and Albrecht look at different municipalities to really find the evidence and data they needed to complete their research. It was discovered that crime and arrest rates are not related. In fact, there are tremendously more arrests, especially arrests of minorities, than crime occurs. The two researchers decided they had found evidence of bias and racial disparity in arrests however, how can they measure bias? The measure implemented by the two researchers captured the same measure that was discovered by the Department of Justice. In other words, the Department of Justice would go into different communities and investigate police departments and municipalities and determine whether or not there was bias present. If you look at the before and after measures in racial arrests for these communities, some have severe drops after the Department of Justice concluded their investigation and some stay pretty steady. The places where a drop is recorded were places in which the DOJ exposed bias behaviors and activities. The data collected by Redbird and Albrecht was consistent with the DOJ and produced the same trends that were recorded with the DOJ. Simply stated, bias in their measures drop in the year after the DOJ comes into municipalities and exposes the bias behaviors and activities.

In today’s society, it is becoming more and more obvious that policing needs to change. An increasing amount of studies are being conducted that investigate the racial disparities in not only arrests, but imprisonment and police brutality. This event helped emphasize the need for reform in America and explain, on an understable level, that there is in fact great bias in many municipalities across the country. Redbird and Albrecht do an amazing job of showing the racial injustice through their research, something that is very prevalent in Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy. Readers see racial injustice in many of the cases that Stevenson focuses on; however, it is particularly salient in Walter’s wrongful conviction. The murder victim was white and Walter was black, a perfect case for a biased police department. But the racial injustice doesn’t end there. It is seen as Walter’s hearing is heard by a white judge and then passed on to a court where most likely the jurors would be white. This adds on another theme, which is the systemic power, oppression, and overall dehumanization that is both apparent in Just Mercy and the research discussed by Redbird and Albrecht. Society needs to begin paying attention to the data collected in regards to police bias and racial disparity in arrests because it won't get better until we decide that it needs to. As we have seen in 2020, change and reform is possible if we come together as one and speak out for those that are no longer able to speak for themselves.

America's Prisons: Legal Rights of the Incarcerated

Ella DeBode, One Book Ambassador

Monday, October 5, 2020


On Monday, October 5, 2020, nearly twenty students and faculty attended a talk by Deborah Golden, a prisoners’ rights lawyer, entitled, “America’s Prisons: Legal Rights of the Incarcerated.” As Ms. Golden shared stories from her work taking on prisons—including the Federal Bureau of Prisons—and illustrated what sorts of issues her clients face, both in the prisons and in the courts, it became clear that the “Legal Rights of the Incarcerated” are few in number. 

Ms. Golden explained to listeners that her work filing conditions lawsuits, which address the conditions in which incarcerated individuals are held, positions her as “the person one gets to after being convicted and something worse happens to them within the walls of the prison.” ‘Something worse’ meaning being denied adequate conditions or having one’s rights violated. For example, a hearing-impaired client of Ms. Golden’s was repeatedly given disciplinary infractions for missing ‘count’—a routine instruction for incarcerated individuals to return to their cells to be counted by prison guards—simply because he could not hear the announcement and, even after explaining this, was told by prison guards that a hearing disability was not an excuse. Ms. Golden shared another example in which, despite a 2019 law requiring federal prisons to provide female inmates with free menstrual products, many incarcerated women still do not have access to pads and tampons and continue to be reprimanded for bleeding on their uniforms. 

Just reaching Ms. Golden or lawyers like her to share conditions like these is a feat unto itself. The Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), which was passed by Congress in 1996 to remedy the number of prisoner lawsuits clogging the courts, makes it virtually impossible for incarcerated individuals to bring a conditions lawsuit to court because the PLRA first requires inmates to exhaust any resources the prison may have to resolve the issue at hand. More often than not, those ‘resources’ create a situation where, unless incarcerated individuals can jump through three to four levels of complaints and appeals that are riddled with arbitrary deadlines—such as filing within 48 hours that an incident occurs—without help from an attorney, their case is barred from court. 

Criminal justice reform is not limited to fighting unfair legislation like the PLRA. A key component of reform is, and will continue to be, addressing the issue of accessibility. The popularity of books like Just Mercy has helped to reveal the cruel reality of prisons and jails to the American public because, as of now, we often unknowingly “throw away too many people who have so much to contribute, and we like to pretend they’re not there.” 

The program ended with concrete actions that we, as individuals, can take to change the way this country treats people who are incarcerated. Step one is to take a look at the website of the jail in your county and ask yourself, what are its policies? What does the jail charge inmates for making phone calls? Do they provide women with menstrual products? What policies are in place around the treatment of mental health issues? If answers aren’t straightforward, let alone provided, step two is to file a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. Once you have the answers to those questions, step three is to start writing letters and making phone calls to county representatives expressing your frustration with policies denying incarcerated people mercy. 

Solidarity is a Process: a conversation about cooperation and conflict

Grace Lee, One Book Fellow

Thursday, October 1, 2020

“There’s a growing conversation about solidarity between African Americans and Latinos,” Dr. Geraldo Cadava said as he opened the “Solidarity is a Process” discussion on October 1. “It’s a longstanding conversation in American history and the history of the Americas that gained increasing urgency this summer as we all watched the events unfold from June forward,” he said.

Dr. Cadava, an author, editor and professor at Northwestern’s history department, moderated the hour-long Zoom event, which featured three panelists and drew an audience of over 20 people. The event was co-sponsored by Public Books, Northwestern’s Department of African American Studies, Latina & Latino Studies Program, and One Book program. Speakers included Dr. Kelly Hernandez, professor and Thomas E. Lifka Chair of History at UCLA; Dr. Destin Jenkins, Neubauer Family Assistant Professor of US History and the College at University of Chicago; and Dr. Josh Kun, Professor and Chair in Cross-Cultural Communication at USC.

Though from a wealth of different academic backgrounds, each panelist spoke to solidarity as a constant, complex goal to work toward. “Solidarity is not a thing—there’s no formula, no exact science,” Dr. Kun said, for example. He explained how standing alongside someone is not transactional, and in turn, how the process of solidarity is inherently “fraught with tension” between a sense “interbeing” and a sense of risk.

Panelists discussed historical examples of African American and Latinx communities navigating this tension and the challenges surrounding solidarity in the recent Black Lives Matter movement. They also connected ideas about vulnerability to Bryan Stevenson’s message about empathy and proximity in Just Mercy, once again highlighting the nature of solidarity as a continual process of working toward a challenging goal.

“You’ve got to practice it, so the muscle is ready when we live it,” Dr. Hernandez said.

Stranger Than Fiction: This is America

Jessa Shortridge, One Book Ambassador

September 25-November 15, 2020

Nobody can deny that we are living in crazy times, and this art exhibit at the Dittmar Gallery showcases artworks by Henry Sandifer and Nguyen Tran which reflect and comment on the modern world. The exhibit "Stranger Than Fiction: This is America" is up from September 25-November 15 in the Dittmar Gallery within the Norris University Center. The artworks, bursting with color, make references to and commentaries on politics, news, and pop culture. 

Nguyen Tran's artworks are created digitally, and many of the ones displayed in the Dittmar Gallery comment on the state of the world today amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. However, two of the artworks reference the Black Lives Matter movement. One, entitled "2020" is simply the number 2020, but with handcuffs standing for the two zeros. The other, entitled "Murder," is an image of four mugshots, but rather than people they are a police badge, a set of handcuffs, a gun in a holster, and a police hat. Although this image comments on the murder of George Floyd, it is also reminiscent of the mass incarceration of Black men addressed in Just Mercy. 

Henry Sandifer's paintings tackle historical and modern Black experiences and criticize structures of capitalism, white supremacy, and social media culture in the United States. One painting in particular with direct ties to the themes of this year's One Book, Just Mercy, is entitled "Perception." It portrays iconic horror movie villains and standing amongst them is the Black teenager, Trayvon Martin, who was fatally shot by police in 2012 for walking in the evening with an iced tea and Skittles. This comments on the perception and characterization of innocent Black men in our society as dangerous villains and criminals, the likes of Freddy Krueger and Michael Myers. 

"The Long Term" film screening with Prison + Neighborhood Arts Project panel discussion

Julia Friedman, One Book Ambassador
Thursday, September 24, 2020

On Thursday, September 24th, over 70 students, faculty, and Evanston community members attended a virtual live stream screening of “The Long Term” presented by the Prison + Neighborhood Arts Project (PNAP). “The Long Term” is a short, animated film created and voiced by incarcerated men in Illinois prisons who discuss long term sentencing and its issues. The short film concluded with two interviews, one with Marshan Allen, and the other with Julie Anderson. 

Attendees were able to watch and submit questions to a panel after the filmed portion of the event concluded. The panel consisted of Sarah Ross and Damon Locks, PNAP co-directors, paralegal Eric Blackmon, and members of the PNAP teaching collective Northwestern Professor Miriam Petty, Jill Petty, and Audrey Petty. 

An important part of the discussion revolved around the idea that the justice system operates under the prerogative of fairness. Despite this being a common assumption, the panelists expressed issue with it given the high number of Illinois prisoners set to die in prison and the legal policy enforcing this reality without the opportunity for parole or early release. One specific policy discussed is called Truth in Sentencing, Illinois’ response to the Three Strike Federal Crime policy. Under this policy, the state of Illinois requires the majority of violent offenders to serve between 85-100% of their sentences, even if the length of the sentences given amount to multiple lifetimes. Eric Blackmon discussed the importance of understanding policies like Truth in Sentencing on a local and state level. He advocated for focusing attention on early release programs as a way to address the number of inmates set to die in prison.

Additionally, Sarah and Damon discussed why they choose animation as the medium for the film and for communicating the experiences of Illinois inmates. They believe that drawing is a highly accessible art form to engage in, and they wanted the inmates’ engagement in art to not only stir emotions in the viewer, but also call attention to the issues discussed in the film. 

**For those interested in further engaging in the discussion surrounding long term sentencing, there is a corresponding book to “The Long Term” film “The Long Term: Resisting Life Sentences Working Toward Freedom” (LINK), edited by the PNAP team, that depicts additional stories of inmates in Illinois prisons.

A Knock at Midnight: A Story of Hope, Justice, and Freedom

Alicia Jones, One Book Fellow
Thursday, September 24, 2020

On Thursday, September 24th, at an event hosted by the Family Action Network, Brittany K. Barnett, award-winning attorney and founder of the Buried Alive Project, Girls Embracing Mothers, XVI Capital Partners, and Milena Reign LLC was interviewed by Jeanne Bishop, Assistant Public Defender, Cook County Public Defender’s Office, and adjunct professor at Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law about her newly released debut novel: A Knock at Midnight: A Story of Hope, Justice, and Freedom. In the novel, Barnett details her own personal experiences with mass incarceration, both growing up and as an attorney, to draw attention to the defective and inhumane nature of America’s criminal justice system.

One of the most memorable parts of the interview was when Barnett talked about her formerly incarcerated mother, who was imprisoned because of a drug addiction. She described what it was like to visit her mom in prison, claiming that she could feel the “heavy weight of incarceration” and the trauma that it bred as soon as she walked inside. For Barnett, the feeling of seeing her mother locked inside such a place was like that of a “primal wound”. In telling her mother’s story, Barnett revealed the inhumane tendency for America’s prison system to criminalize drug addiction rather than treat it. Instead of receiving the help she needed to get better, Barnett’s mother, like so many others, was discarded by a system that should have protected her.

As the interview progressed, and Barnett shared more about her experiences as a lawyer with clients in similar situations to her mother’s, it became evident how fundamentally broken America’s criminal justice system truly is. With this devastating reality in mind, Barnett has dedicated herself to criminal justice reform to aid the people and communities targeted by mass incarceration and the war on drugs. She heavily emphasizes the necessity to humanize this epidemic. Like Bryan Stevenson, she believes in the importance of compassion and empathy in achieving true justice.

In her final comment, Barnett talked about the Martin Luther King Jr. sermon, “A Knock at Midnight,” that inspired the title of her novel, pointing to the moment where King says, “dawn will come”. Joyously overwhelmed by the activism currently occurring in the country, Barnett encouraged the audience to continue to use their voices and to always remember their worth.

Watch Barnett's full interview here. 

Closing Youth Prisons: An Introduction to the Final 5 Campaign 

Bobby Read, One Book Ambassador
Thursday, September 17, 2020

On Thursday, September 17, 2020, the Final 5 Campaign hosted a virtual speaker series on Zoom and Facebook Live titled “Closing Youth Prisons: An Introduction to the Final 5 Campaign,” which produced an audience of roughly 130 people. During the first half of the event, we heard from many speakers, particularly young individuals who have experienced the current state of the youth incarceration system in Illinois. These speakers included Kosi Achife and Olivia Blocker, the Final 5 Campaign; Denzel Burke, the Final 5 Campaign and FreeWrite; and AnnMarie Brown, the Final 5 Campaign and Circles & Ciphers. These individuals shared stories, poems, freestyle rap, and above all, their words and emotions with the listeners. The meaning and passion that they delivered can be connected to the themes of mercy, empathy, and humanization present in Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy. The core of Stevenson’s book is the idea that everyone, no matter their background, is capable of making mistakes throughout their life and, at one point or another, will need mercy and forgiveness. Similar to Just Mercy, this panel, by sharing with the audience their own personal, raw experiences, was able to eliminate the barrier of “them” vs “us”. The words heard during the first part of this speaker panel demanded empathy and humanization in the eyes of a cruel society.

The second half of the program dove into restorative justice and what the Final Five Campaign hopes for the future. During this half, listeners heard from three panelists: Felipe Franco, former Deputy Commissioner of the Division of Youth and Family Justice in New York City; Dr. Keyria Rodgers, Director of Criminal Justice/Teen Justice Programs at Millikin University; and Bettina Johnson, Liberation Library. These three panelists presented a lot of statistics and data on the incarceration of young individuals, photo evidence of the conditions young members of society are condemned to, and many initiatives and processes that are currently underway to shut these last five youth prisons down for good. Each of these presenters illuminated a different aspect of the Final 5 Campaign and explained its importance to supporting the shutdown. The systemic power and oppression of legal structures in our society is reflected in these three panelists' words. We also see this exact theme in Just Mercy. Through historical research and political analysis, Stevenson exposes this cycle of poverty and racial inequality in the American society. This same cycle happens right here in Cook County and the greater Chicago area. This same cycle is happening at the last five youth prisons that the campaign is looking to put an end to. Even though the young people in these final five youth prisons may have made a mistake in their past, they, like everyone else, deserve a little mercy in their lives.

CHETchat Spotlight Series featuring Dorian Ortega

Ella DeBode, One Book Ambassador
Tuesday, September 15, 2020

With complete sincerity, Dorian Ortega, a licensed clinical counselor and founder of FLY Radical Therapy, reminded those who logged onto Zoom for her CHETchat Spotlight Series on September 15th to take the time to “take a nap.” Speaking on “Challenging Privilege and Systemic Oppression on Mental Wellness of Black Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC),” Ortega explained that “rest is resistance” against the systemic oppression that threatens the BIPOC community and their spiritual and mental wellbeing. Without rest, individuals are less likely to strategize and collaborate, which, unfortunately, makes social justice efforts more likely to be counterproductive.

Reflecting on the recent traumatic moments of violence and racial injustice projected in the media, participants questioned how to reconcile the importance of taking the time to rest with the inability to feel comfortable doing so amidst the copious amounts of work to be done in the social justice sphere. Ortega emphasized that one’s engagement in social justice work depends on one’s capacity, so the intersection of activism and mental health looks different for everyone. Witnessing a violent act against another person is defined as an ‘emotional trauma’ and evokes a survival response—flee, fight, or freeze—in many individuals. This is why some people, like the author of Just Mercy, Bryan Stevenson, are drawn to action when they witness racial injustice while other people are drawn inward, feeling numb or useless. Even going to therapy can be a revolutionary act of social justice for some, especially for those in the BIPOC community, because of the stigma surrounding therapy. With a broader definition of ‘social justice work,’ it may be easier to navigate the intersection of mental health and activism and to figure out what “first loving yourself” looks like for you as an individual, Ortega explained.

The series ended with a breathwork exercise, grounding students and professors alike before they embarked on the first day of an unusual Fall Quarter.

The Chicago Police Department: Historic Harms, the Current Crisis and the Possibility of Transformation

Professor Sheila Bedi
Tuesday, June 9, 2020

In response to the recent police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and untold others as well as the long history of white supremacy, police brutality, and anti-Black racism that enabled these killings, the Northwestern Prison Education Program (NPEP) recently announced “Toward Transformative Justice: A Community Roundtable Series on Race, Racism, and Policing.” The roundtable series seeks to provide members of the Evanston and Chicago community with an inclusive space that bridges Northwestern research and community activism, sharing knowledge about the intertwinement of policing practices and racism in order to communally imagine a different future.

On Tuesday, June 9th 2020, the first installment of the series, attended by more than 110 participants, featured a talk by Sheila Bedi, Clinical Professor of Law at Northwestern Law School, under the title “The Chicago Police Department: Historic Harms, the Current Crisis and the Possibility of Transformation.” Professor Bedi opened her presentation by emphasizing the “power of proximity:” those most directly impacted by policing in Chicago and beyond often know most about both the impact of policing and the possibilities for creating a more just and less oppressive future; Northwestern’s incarcerated students, some of whom Bedi has taught through NPEP, thus provide invaluable perspectives on these questions as do local organizers.

Bedi’s overview of the history of the Chicago Police Department (CPD) drew a straight line from today’s crisis back to the protests and unrest in 1919 that followed the drowning and possible stoning of a Black young man in Lake Michigan at the hands of white Chicagoans. Numerous accounts of Chicago police’s abuse of force during those protests led to the production of a report that called for police reform and equally emphasized the importance of changing deeper economic and racial injustices. Neither of these demands for change were implemented. The ensuing pattern of “police violence-reform recommendations-failure to change,” according to Bedi, has structured the history of Chicago policing ever since, leading to the killing of Black Panther leader Fred Hampton in 1969, the torture perpetrated by CPD commander Jon Burge and his associates in the 70s, 80s, and 90s, up to the police killing of Laquan McDonald in 2014, and the myriad instances of abuse of force witnessed during the 2020 protests. One reason for cautious optimism can be found in the recently established “consent decree” between the federal government and the City of Chicago that grew out of a Department of Justice investigation of CPD, the largest of its kind in the U.S., that delineates necessary changes to CPD. Bedi emphasized, however, how difficult enforcing this decree has been and detailed some efforts her own law clinic has pursued to strengthen the consent decree.

Speaking to the possibility of lasting transformation that would break the impasse of failed attempts to reform CPD over the last 100 years, Bedi proposed four demands, all centered on the notion that power needs to be shifted away from police towards the communities police are supposed to serve. First, the scope of police responsibilities must be reduced: mental health, addiction, schooling, domestic violence—police officers are poorly equipped, often by their own admission, to handle these challenges yet are supposed to intervene in all of these areas. Resources thus need to be reallocated to institutions that are better equipped to handle these challenges, shrinking the police budget in the process. Secondly, Bedi emphasized that a police officer’s main tool—arrests—is merely reactive instead of proactively protecting a community and simultaneously places a huge burden on Black and brown communities that are disproportionately affected by the enormous number of arrests for minor offenses. Arrests themselves should be understood as acts of violence and their number consequently be severely limited. Third, incentives for officers engaged in abuse of force, such as overtime pay triggered by arrests at the end of a shift, must be removed as part of a larger rethinking of the incentive structure inherent in policing. Lastly, in response to the failure of police to reform themselves and City Council to meaningfully alter police conduct, Bedi emphasized the need for robust civilian oversight, centered in those communities most affected by policing.

Professor Bedi’s talks was followed by comments by McKayla Stokes, Mariah Young, and Terah Tollner, three students from Professor Bedi’s law clinic who spoke about their experiences working with Black organizers in Chicago, especially Black women, as well as the importance of the Civilian Police Accountability Council (CPAC), a proposal currently under discussion in City Council that has the support of a broad alliance of Chicago organizers. An extensive Q & A session touched on a number of issues drawing out the implications of the talk: police unions as a major obstacle to reform; the possibilities of police and prison abolition; incarceration’s overall negative public safety impact; the public health consequences of policing; as well as the militarization of police in recent decades.

In the context of current attempts to radically alter the structure of public safety in the U.S., Bedi encouraged participants to pose the question: “What investments actually create healthy and safe communities?” That the police are not the answer to this question became increasingly clear as the roundtable event progressed.

Jonas Rosenbrück, Director of Volunteer Development, NPEP
Ph.D. Candidate, Comparative Literary Studies & German