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Academic panel on Breonna Taylor grand jury verdict

Experts discuss gender, race and political movements in panel and Q&A

Earlier this month, a grand jury in Kentucky charged one of three former police detectives involved in the killing of Breonna Taylor. He was charged with three counts of wanton endangerment in the first degree, a decision that has led to continued protests across the country and amplified calls for justice and reform of the U.S. criminal justice system.

On Thursday, Oct. 1, a panel of experts from Northwestern discussed the ramifications of the grand jury decision on Breonna Taylor. The panel, moderated by TiShaunda McPherson, associate vice president for equity and a former civil rights attorney, covered the themes of gender, race, law, political movements and policing.

We followed up with three of the panelists — Professors Sheila Bedi, Sekile Nzinga and Alvin Tillery, Jr — to hear more about the topics that were raised during the discussion “Where Do We Go From Here After the Breonna Taylor Verdict: Gender, Race, and the Future of Social Movements.”

Q: To what extent was Breonna Taylor a victim of police and systemic racism? How do we start to combat racism that is deeply institutionalized in some of our political and social systems?

Sheila Bedi: Policing in the United States is inherently racialized — and racism is woven into policing operations at each stage. The decisions made about policing tactics, policing resources, oversight and accountability are all influenced by the fact that police most frequently target and, therefore, harm Black and Brown people. So, it’s accurate to say that Breonna Taylor died as a result of anti-Black racism inherent in the U.S. policing function. The tactics that led to Breonna Taylor’s death are common in U.S. policing and demonstrate that policing cannot be reformed. Police killings will end only when policing as we know it no longer exists and when communities have the investments needed to thrive. This will require an exercise of political courage that will fundamentally shift the power between the police and the Black and Brown communities that are most often targeted by abusive policing.

Q: How has the violence that has emerged alongside legitimate protests changed the perception of justice and injustice in the U.S.?

Alvin Tillery: Thus far, I don’t think that the violent acts that have occurred in places like Portland and Kenosha have significantly altered the emerging consensus that America has a fundamental problem with state violence against Black people. At the same time, it is pretty clear that the very limited instances of violence have been blown up by the media and the Trump campaign in such a way that it will likely provide those who never really wanted changes with an easy justification for their viewpoint.

Q: To what extent can intersectionality help us imagine the future of social movements?

Sekile Nzinga: Intersectionality or intersectional feminism is an approach for social action that invites us to consider how multiple forms of oppression and exploitation produce compounded forms of social disadvantage and injustice. It exposes the limits of singular or narrow approaches to social action and offers an opportunity to build broad bases of power across social movements.

More on the panelists:

Sheila Bedi, clinical professor of law at the Northwestern Pritzker School of Law and director of the Community Justice and Civil Rights Clinic, is an expert in civil rights, as well as the legal and policy strategies that support social justice movements aimed at dismantling the carceral state.

Sekile Nzinga, lecturer in Gender and Sexuality Studies in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences and director of the Northwestern Women’s Center, is an expert in Black feminism theory and intersectional feminist praxis. She also serves as interim chief diversity officer and associate provost for diversity and inclusion.

Robin Walker Sterling, the associate dean for clinical education and the director of the Law School’s Bluhm Legal Clinic, is an expert in clinical advocacy, critical race theory, criminal law and procedure and juvenile justice.

Alvin Tillery, Jr., associate professor of political science and African American studies in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences and director of the Center for the Study of Diversity and Democracy, is an expert in politics and race relations.

The panel was co-sponsored by the Women’s Center, the Center for the Study of Diversity and Democracy, Community Justice and Civil Rights Clinic, Northwestern Pritzker School of Law, the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, the Office of Equity, the Office of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion (OIDI) and the Office of the Provost.

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