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ASA 2016 Meeting Recap and Next Steps

Nearly 100 sociologists attended the Sociologists for Justice meeting on August 20, 2016 in Seattle, WA. Many thanks to all who attended and shared their reflections on the movement for Black lives and suggestions on how we can move forward together as a collective committed to ending police violence against Black and Brown people.

Despite the 9:45 pm PST start time, we had a lively and inspiring meeting that ended with several actionable ideas for the group. From the discussion, five priority areas emerged that attendees would like to see Sociologists for Justice take action to support the Black Lives Matter movement and advance racial justice.


How Sociology Can Support Black Lives Matter
A summary of recommendations from attendees of our 2016 meeting is featured in this month’s Footnotes.

The section below summarizes the five priority areas including examples of actions that can be taken under each area. Please note this is not a comprehensive list of actions. We invite your suggestions and participation on a working group to help shape the agenda and actions for each priority area. Our goal is for each working group to identify and implement at least one key action by August 2017.

getinvolvedTo sign-up to help implement the listed actions or to suggest other actions that you would like to help implement, please click on the link for the relevant priority area. If you are interested in more than one priority area, you will need to click on the link for each form to register your interest in joining the working group. So that planning can begin for each priority area, we ask that all who are interested to sign-up for a working group by Thursday, January 12, 2016.

We look forward to your continued engagement with Sociologists for Justice.

Judy Lubin, Eric Anthony Grollman, Rashawn Ray

Sign Up for Working Groups:

Working Group 1: Institutionalizing racial justice activism within the American Sociological Association
Sample Actions:

  • Advocate for an ASA task force on police violence
  • Develop a statement or resolution on how ASA can institutionalize racial justice activism and create an environment for scholar-activism (e.g., expand activities that are rewarded for tenure and promotion)


Working Group 2: Facilitating racial justice conversations on campus
Sample Actions:

  • Organize a national day of campus-based events (with Sociologists for Justice site serving as a hub of information on events)
  • Provide suggestions for speakers, events, teaching materials, etc. that instructors may use on campus


Working Group 3: Facilitating racial justice conversations on campus
Sample Activities:

  • Organize a national day of campus-based events (with Sociologists for Justice site serving as a hub of information on events)
  • Provide suggestions for speakers, events, teaching materials, etc. that instructors may use on their own campus


Working Group 4: Promoting sociological data and policy solutions
Sample Activities:

  • Develop 1-2 page fact sheets or issue briefs summarizing sociological research and/or policy solutions to address police violence
  • Develop Sociologists for Justice policy agenda to address police violence
  • Participate in advocacy efforts (e.g., calls/letters to policymakers)


Working Group 5: Engaging in dialogue and building partnerships with activists
Sample Actions:

  • Organize Sociologists for Justice dialogue (in-person or online event) with activists to identify ways that sociologists can be helpful to BLM


As always, we welcome submissions of articles and commentaries for the blog on the Sociologists for Justice website. Submissions can be submitted to Judy Lubin at drj[at]sociologistsforjustice.org


When Will It End? The Deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile Underscore Need for Sustained Action

The police killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile this month have sparked nationwide protests as the nation once again struggles to confront the reality of racialized police violence against blacks in the U.S. We continue to support the Black Lives Matter Movement and calls for police accountability, community oversight and training of police officers in line with the science on implicit bias. We understand, however, that until Americans are willing to honestly address the ways that racism is embedded in our society and institutions, disproportionate killings of blacks and other people of color by law enforcement will continue.

Although the road ahead is long, maintaining the status quo is not an option. It is not enough for us to ask, “when will it end?” It is not enough for us to be outraged when the next viral video of a police shooting emerges. Sustained and collective action is required to dismantle the policies, systems and practices that support police brutality and other forms of oppression. Sociologists for Justice aims to create a space for action and engagement among a community of scholars and advocates committed to racial justice. As we work toward building this community, you can  connect with us here and on Facebook to stay abreast of our activities and to join us in our efforts.

Please also save the date for a discussion and brainstorming session on Saturday, August 20, 2016 at the upcoming American Sociological Association meeting in Seattle, WA. The forum will be held at 9:45 pm immediately following the racial justice plenary.

It’s on all of us to stop the mini ‘civil wars’ being waged on our streets

My brother, Tom Vargas, a Chicago police officer, worked in Englewood, one of Chicago’s most violent and gang infested neighborhoods. On the morning of June 1, 2009, I woke to news of a young officer killed in Tom’s district.

I immediately called my brother, but he did not pick up. I called my father and learned Tom was safe, but became distraught when I learned his partner Alex Valadez was killed when gang members fired on both of them as they interviewed a resident.

Words can’t describe the pain and anguish endured when an officer is killed in the line of duty. The violence in recent days has inflicted such searing pain on the loved ones of Dallas’ fallen officers, as well as the loved ones of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling who were killed by police days earlier.

With shootings in San Bernadino, Newtown, Charleston, Orlando, Chicago, and now St. Paul, Baton Rouge and Dallas, we’re seeing a barrage of mini-civil wars being fought on American streets. Civil war is defined as “a war between citizens of the same country.” The Civil War of the 1800s was a large-scale economic conflict between the North and South about Black slaves as property, but what we’ve seen recently in South Carolina, Orlando and Dallas, are acts of civil war rooted in hatred on the basis of race, class, gender and sexual orientation.

Read Full Story from our colleagues Robert Vargas and Rashawn Ray at PRI.org

Growing Up in Ferguson: When Your Hometown Becomes a Symbol

I’d always told people I’m from St. Louis. Who knew of Ferguson? As the one year anniversary of Michael Brown’s death approaches, “Ferguson” is once again emerging as a symbol of a year’s worth of unjustified deaths and the rethinking of police policy and practice.

Ferguson, Missouri is my hometown. My mother’s extended family moved to Ferguson from rural Illinois in the late 1920s. My parents met and married there. Growing up in Ferguson in the 1940s and 1950s, I was surrounded by aunts, uncles, cousins and a cozy community. My first experience with the Ferguson police was that my aunt, the city clerk, would send a police car if I got sick at school while my mother was at work. My first job was counting parking meter pennies at City Hall.

I no longer have relatives in Ferguson. But I’ve returned many times over the years for reunions, funerals, and just to revisit the city and see how my street and town are doing. The media have given Ferguson extensive coverage in the wake of the Michael Brown killing. They have looked at recent changes in racial composition, but for the most part have not explored Ferguson’s earlier history. In my day Ferguson was a ”sundown town”–by city ordinance no blacks after 9 p.m.

“Ferguson” is now a symbol of racial injustice–and was for a time a battle zone. My hope is that the energy and outrage labeled “Ferguson” will be brought to bear, non-violently, on the goal of racial justice many of us hoped for as adolescents.

Ferguson is older than what one might imagine hearing the word “suburb.” My elementary school, still in use, is over 130 years old. Prior to the Civil War Ferguson was a group of large landholdings; we might call them “plantations.” Most were eventually sold and a town platted. In my childhood there was still some recollection of old plantation boundaries, and a few “Gone with the Wind” mansions remained. My high school was on the grounds of the Thomas January plantation, on the footprint of the old manor house. There were some remnants of slave cabins.

After Emancipation former slaves from Ferguson remained in the area. An all-black town, Kinloch, was eventually consolidated adjacent to Ferguson, drawing African Americans from other parts of the area. Although the two towns were back-to-back, only a few streets connected them, and entry into Ferguson was sometimes blocked by chains. There was little contact between residents of the two towns other than the employment of Kinloch residents for household work in Ferguson.

We sometimes got a look at Kinloch. When my mother drove our cleaning lady home, I rode along and saw the unpaved streets, the open sewers, the shacks. One of my childhood memories is of a police car blocking entry into Ferguson so black kids could not attend our summer carnival. The dramatic contrast between conditions in Kinloch and our all-white Ferguson was powerful enough to create strong anti-segregation values in my generation, though we had to await Brown v. Board of Education and especially the Civil Rights Movement before things changed. We had little contact with blacks who were not domestics. Many of us attended Brotherhood Week, the one venue that offered minimal contact with blacks our own age. The Brown decision came just as we were graduating from high school. Ferguson-Florissant schools integrated the following fall (by court order, but peaceably), merging with Kinloch and the white working class suburb of Berkeley. The first post-Brown high school senior class president was an African American student. But it was 1968 before an African American was able to buy a house in Ferguson, through a straw purchase. Ferguson was 99 percent white in 1970.

Fast forward to the 1990s. Kinloch was demolished so that the St. Louis airport runway could be extended. That never happened, but as a consequence most residents of Kinloch lost their homes. Many moved over to the newly annexed area off West Florissant, which became low-income, mostly African-American housing; the setting of Michael Brown’s death. “Old Ferguson,” the area where I grew up, remains virtually unchanged as a physical environment, complete with walking tours of historic homes with big lawns. The white population is concentrated here, with some mix of middle class blacks. One can still think in terms of White Ferguson and Black Ferguson.

We lived with racial tensions as children and adolescents in Ferguson, but also with fond attachment to our town. Many of my classmates return for reunions after all these years. But I found returning for my 60th reunion last September a weird experience. Ferguson is no longer my home, but a concept. Imagine what it is like to see Anderson Cooper on the streets of your home town, along with other national figures. President Obama comments at key moments. Mr. Brown’s parents speak to a UN committee in Geneva. The “hands up” gesture appears in Hong Kong protests.

“Ferguson” is now a symbol of racial injustice–and was for a time a battle zone. My hope is that the energy and outrage labeled “Ferguson” will be brought to bear, non-violently, on the goal of racial justice many of us hoped for as adolescents. Ferguson’s racial issues have been there for a long time. When I return to Ferguson for my next reunion, what will I see? A new version of the civil rights movement or a reprise of 1960s urban violence?

Mary Ann Lamanna is Professor Emerita of Sociology at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, with a Ph.D. from Notre Dame and an M.A. from University of North Carolina, where she was active in the Chapel Hill civil rights movement in the 1960s.  She is  author of Marriages, Families, and Relationships, 12th ed. and Emile Durkheim on the Family.

ASA Meeting in Chicago

Please join Sociologists for Justice for an informal meet and greet during the annual American Sociological Association meeting in Chicago. We will discuss public sociology, the findings from our 2014 survey, Ferguson one year later, and the Black Lives Matter movement.

Event Details

Date: Monday, August 24, 2015

Time: 6:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.

Location: See ASA Program Book for Event Location
(event is listed under “Other Meetings – Sociology and Racial Justice”)

Statement on Grand Jury Decision in Shooting Death of Michael Brown

We are deeply disappointed in the grand jury’s decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of unarmed teenager Michael Brown. The handling of the case by St. Louis County Prosecutor Attorney Robert McCulloch and the subsequent decision by the grand jury is another example of the all-too-common elusiveness of justice for communities of color.

Our thoughts are with Michael Brown’s family, friends, and community as they fight to be heard. We strongly support efforts to organize for systemic changes in policing across the nation. We stand in solidarity with those already engaged in efforts to ensure that Black lives matter. Further, we urge the Department of Justice to conduct a thorough investigation to determine whether federal civil rights charges should be filed against Officer Wilson and encourage the Obama administration to consider our recommendations for addressing the racialized and aggressive police practices that often lead to fatal citizen encounters.

As we plan for how Sociologists for Justice can aid in the cause of racial justice, we urge you to join local solidarity efforts in your community and look forward to you joining us in our next steps as an organization committed to using sociology to advance justice and dignity for all.

Ferguson: Nobody Should Be Surprised

In an op-ed published in the St. Louis Dispatch, Gregory Squires, a Sociologist for Justice member and George Washington University sociology and public policy professor, argues that uneven development and residential segregation contribute to racial tensions between police and black communities in Ferguson and other cities in the U.S.

Recent events in Ferguson constitute the logical outcome of forces spelled out in 1968 by the National Advisory Panel on Civil Disorders, better known as the Kerner Commission. The report warned of a “permanent division of our country into two societies: one, largely Negro and poor, located in the central cities; the other predominantly white and affluent, located in the suburbs and outlying areas.”

Cities have not become pockets of black poverty surrounded by prosperous white suburbs. But the reality of uneven development documented in the Kerner report persists in the nation’s metropolitan areas. Central features of that development are persisting racial segregation and surging economic segregation.

To understand recent events in Ferguson, and similar tension around the U.S., we need to go beyond an understanding (accurate or inaccurate) of individual or cultural characteristics (e.g., work ethic of minorities, culture of poverty among the urban poor, racial prejudice on the part of police) and examine the institutions that shape continuing uneven metropolitan development.

While nationwide most measures of segregation peaked in the 1970s, hypersegregation persists in older industrial cities where the African-American population is concentrated — what Brown University sociologist John Logan labeled the ghetto belt, including Washington, Cleveland, Chicago, St. Louis and many others.

Meanwhile, economic segregation, like economic inequality generally, is surging. As the Pew Research Center reported, between 1980 and 2010 the share of low-income census tracts (where most residents have incomes below two-thirds the national median) in the nation’s 30 largest metropolitan areas grew from 12 percent to 18 percent. The share of upper-income tracts (where the majority had incomes double the median) grew from 3 percent to 6 percent. Poor people and rich people are living increasingly apart.

These are not simply cold numbers. In poor neighborhoods schools are more likely to be failing, poverty and unemployment rates are higher, racial profiling and mass incarceration turn ordinary citizens into criminals, banks are few but payday lenders and other predatory financial services are prevalent, food deserts persist, and many other social problems are concentrated. These problems are spilling into suburbs like Ferguson where the Brookings Institution reported the poverty level doubled between 2000 and 2012, reaching 25 percent, and unemployment jumped from 5 percent to 13 percent. Context matters.

Read the full article on the St. Louis Dispatch