The University of Mississippi School of Law hosted the James McClure Jr. lecture Thursday evening in Weems Auditorium, as part of its third annual Race and Sustainability Conference.
The keynote speaker was UCLA Professor Devon Carbado. Carbado is the Hon. Harry Pregerson professor of law and associate vice chancellor of BruinX for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion at the UCLA School of Law.
Carbado’s lectured on “Contemporary Problems in Race and the Law.” He spoke about race and police violence, an issue that is prevalent in today’s society.
Carbado said this is an issue people have been forced to think and talk about because of the recurrence of police violence the past two years.
“Right now, police violence has been a particular problem that I think we have been forced to think about at least for the past two years,” Corbado said. “When thinking about race and police violence, we ought to adopt a structural frame. If you are outside the zone of police contact, if you’re never in front of the police, then you cannot be harmed by the police.”
Corbado said often times, when people think about race and police violence among the African-American community, they can be quick to think of men being affected without thinking about women, as well.
“When we think about race and police violence, at least among the African-American community, we should think about men and women at the same time.”
Corbado set the lecture’s focus on Ferguson, Missouri, an area with a large African-American demographic. Eighty-five percent of police interactions in Ferguson are traffic stops, 93 percent are arrests and 96 percent are Terry stops. Corbado said repeated police interaction increases the chance of police violence.
Explicit and implicit biases, mass criminalization, predatory policing, racial segregation and the Fourth Amendment are all causes of police contact, according to Corbado.
When speaking about mass criminalization, Corbado said police officers can justify their actions with the ability to criminalize crimes that are not serious.
“Mass criminalization involves the criminalization of relatively non-serious activity,” Corbado said. “The more you criminalize relatively non-serious activity, the easier it is for police officers to have probable cause.”
Corbado said predatory policing can occur when police have an agenda to give a certain number of tickets for revenue purposes. He said this is a problem that occurs across the country.
“There is a basic idea being that police officers are incentivized to dish out tickets as a revenue stream for the police department or for the city,” Corbado said. “This is not just a problem in Ferguson; it’s a problem all over the United States.”
Racial segregation was the third topic Corbado discussed as a cause for police violence.
“Racial segregation communicates the idea that whites are over here, blacks are over there and out of place,” Corbado said. “Historically, racial segregation has concentrated police in economically pressed African-American communities but is always perceived as a need for aggressive policing.”
Corbado used a model to explain the means of police violence. The items that make up the model are repeated police contact, police culture, training and unions, justifiable force and qualified immunity and indemnification.
“If I’m a police officer and I know that at the front end, if I engage in an act of violence, that violence is going to become a justifiable force, or I get protected by a qualified immunity, or I’m not going to have to pay anything, that creates a disincentive for me to exercise care,” Corbado said. “Why should I be careful at the front end of police violence, when at the back end of police violence, I’m not going to be held accountable?”
An officer does not need any warrant to question a person at any time. An individual cannot ask if the questioning is reasonable because it is not a seizure. While people have their Fourth Amendment rights, they cannot stop police from questioning them.
“Every time the court concludes that x conduct is not a seizure, they’re saying you get a freebie,” Corbado said. “You get to engage with that person in that way with no justification because it’s not a seizure.”
Corbado said when thinking about the problem of police violence, people have to ask themselves questions about what sets the stage with that person to be in an interaction with the police to begin with and how many incidents of police violence began as an ordinary interaction.
“I’m not in law school, so this topic of race and issues in law is really interesting to me,” senior international studies student Maddie Jewess said. “It’s the first time I’m thinking about these things. I think I learned a lot about criminalization and issues with race that I wouldn’t have otherwise in my studies that don’t pertain to law.”