Confronting the Tragedy: Law Enforcement Unionism and Communities of Color
New York, NY
April 28-29, 2016
After the death of Michael Brown, the son of a unionized grocery store worker, at the hands of Darren Wilson, a unionized police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, Richard Trumka, national AFL-CIO President, observed, “Our brother killed our sister’s son.” Trumka’s haunting statement speaks to the intersectional, and frequently unspoken, ways in which race, class, and labor are implicated in one of the greatest tragedies of our time: the suffering, fear, distrust, and anger of communities of color victimized by the criminal justice system.
The seemingly daily incidents of police-involved shootings, the murder of officers in Baton Rouge and Dallas, and the mobilization of the Fraternal Order of Police and the Black Lives Matter movement have escalated conflict and initiated calls for action and systemic change. Given the urgency of the moment, the Murphy Institute aims to bring together academics, activists, students, and practitioners to confront the complex and interlocking dynamics of race, class, and law enforcement unionism at a two-day conference.
This interdisciplinary conference will be organized around the following three themes:
The Origins and Scope of the Tragedy
- What are historical and contemporary trends in discriminatory law enforcement practices, incidents of violence and brutality within prisons, and police-involved shootings? What forms does this discrimination take with regard to both class and race? What do communities of color and poor communities think about the policing of their neighborhoods?
- What are major demographic trends in the law enforcement workforce? How do people of color working within police departments or corrections reconcile the tensions of being “Black, Brown, and Blue”?
- What activism has emerged to agitate for police and prison reform? What are the platforms of these movements? What are the impediments to reform?
The Nature and Scope of Bargaining within Police and Corrections Unions
- What are the chief bargaining and representational concerns of police and corrections officers? How do these concerns relate to the labor movement more broadly?
- How have law enforcement contracts been used to support or impede accountability and reform? Should there be limits on the scope of bargaining for officers?
- How do these concerns affect the communities law enforcement is meant to serve and protect? To what extent do protective measures exacerbate repression and violence? What other options exist?
Policing and the Nature of the Common Good
- What are the historical and contemporary sources of conflict between police unions and the broader labor movement?
- How do and how should police unions balance their responsibility to their members and to the public? Which criminal justice reforms offer the greatest potential for support among police and corrections unions?
- What role should police and corrections unions play in social justice movements, and particularly in criminal justice reform? Are police and prisons inherent threats to the common good?
We invite interested individuals to submit paper proposals. The submissions should be no more than 500 words, Times New Roman, 12-point font, single-spaced. Additionally, clearly articulate your presentation type, focus, and connection to one or more of the questions listed above (although we will consider proposals that do not directly address one of the themes or questions listed above). Include presentation title, author’s name, professional title, academic/work affiliation, postal address, and email address.
Additionally, we invite educators, community and worker organizations, and others committed to exploring these issues to submit workshops, roundtables, and additional panel proposals for consideration for inclusion on the second day of the conference. Proposals may draw from all disciplines and take many forms, including teaching demonstrations; training tools; roundtable discussions; curriculum design; video, posters, music, art, and theater. Proposals should describe the topic, presenter expertise, and presentation form (300-500 words). Conference proposals will be selected based upon:
- Relevance of proposals to the conference themes;
- Demographic inclusivity (race, gender, region, age, etc.);
- A balance between the number of proposals and the depth of presentations;
- Proposals that spark and hold people’s interest.