Category Archives: Crime, Law and Deviance

Police Compliance, Body Cams, and Black Lives: Racial Bias in the Criminal Justice System

by Carmen Gutierrez

Inspired to contribute to our sociological understanding of the Black Lives Matter movement and of racial angst in the U.S., Dr. Rashawn Ray, Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Maryland at College Park, began investigating police killings, the social psychological dimensions of why police kill Black males with impunity, and the collective action responses to these events.

Dr. Ray recently shared some of this work in an invited lecture sponsored by the Population Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin. Dr. Ray’s presentation provided a glimpse of his current research on a variety of timely, important social issues, summarized in the title, “Police Compliance, Body Cams, and Black Lives: Racial Bias in the Criminal Justice System.”

Dr. Ray and his work motivates us to continue working toward an equal society where all people experience fairness and justice. We believe Dr. Ray’s research makes a necessary contribution to the current social and political climate as a growing number of Black men and women suffer the harmful consequences of discriminatory policing. As we recently passed the day marking the fifth year when the world learned of the life and death of Trayvon Martin, we write this review in his honor and in celebration of the wonderful work of Dr. Ray.

Here are 10 points inspired by Dr. Ray’s recent presentation:

  1. PEOPLE OF COLOR HAVE WORSE EXPERIENCE WITH THE POLICE

Dr. Ray explained that people of color have long suffered from disproportionate surveillance and violence from the police. According to a recent study using data on the “stop-and-frisk” practices by the NYPD, Blacks and Latinos are stopped by the police 23% and 39% more often than Whites. More specifically, when police officers suspect individuals of violent crimes and weapons offenses—the most common suspected charges, representing more than two-thirds of stops by police—Blacks and Latinos are stopped by the police twice as often as Whites.[i]

  1. DISPROPORTIONATE POLICING OF MINORITIES IS NOT BASED ON UNEQUAL CRIMINAL ACTIVITY

Despite their overwhelming suspicion of people of color, stop-and-frisk procedures by the police more often lead to arrests among Whites than among Blacks and Latinos. In other words, White people are more likely to be found guilty of suspected charges, and yet they encounter significantly fewer threats of police encounters than their minority counterparts. Most individuals across all racial and ethnic groups who have been stopped-and-frisked by the police, however, have been completely innocent of suspected charges. Only about 1 in 10 stop-and-frisk events leads to an arrest.

  1. OFFICERS COMMIT RACIAL BIAS IN POLICING

In an effort to describe the etiology of such racialized policing practices, Dr. Ray worked with Maryland colleague, Dr. Kris Marsh, to collect data on implicit bias among police officers. Results from this ongoing work show that officers admit to having racist preferences that affect the way they do their jobs. For example, officers reported preferences for the association of Blacks with weapons and Whites with harmless objects.

  1. RACIAL BIAS BY LAW ENFORCEMENT FUELS NEGATIVE INTERACTIONS BETWEEN THE POLICE AND PEOPLE OF COLOR

The implications for the work of Dr. Ray and Dr. Marsh on racial bias among law enforcement officials reflect the reality of police encounters among Blacks in the United States. Because they have strong expectations that the Black individuals they encounter will be in possession of deadly weapons, police officers impose a perceived threat from Blacks during their shared interactions. In turn, these irrational views from the police are used to justify their use of force against Blacks in cases involving violence.

  1. BLACK FAMILIES ATTEMPT TO PROTECT THEIR CHILDREN FROM POLICE VIOLENCE BY TEACHING THEM COMPLIANCE

In response to protecting themselves from police violence embedded within police perceptions of their presence as threatening, Black families commonly begin teaching their children at very young ages to comply with the police. Several studies describe the socialization of Black children as it relates to their relationship with police.[ii] These studies describe the way parents “armor” their children to survive and function in a racist culture. Parents are especially concerned for the safety of their Black sons as they fear the historical, structural, and institutional relationship between Black masculinity and suspected criminality.

Dr. Ray invokes this narrative in his op-ed featured on Public Radio International responding to why Freddie Gray ran from the cops. Although some people might have asked why a person would run from the police if they are not committing a crime, Dr. Ray instead asks “why wouldn’t he run?”[iii] He goes on to explain that “People run because they are tired of being accosted and harassed by the police every time they walk out of school or leave the subway…People run simply because they realize that even if they are not committing a crime, they can end up with a broken spine, choked to death, or shot dead for simply having the wrong skin color.”

  1. BODY CAMERAS MIGHT HELP REDUCE POLICE VIOLENCE AGAINST MINORITIES

Recognizing the danger of their implicit bias, some police departments have implemented the use of body-worn cameras (BWC) to be attached to their officers during their time on duty. BWC initiatives are intended to improve the objectivity of police reporting for criminal investigations, and to capture the perspectives of citizens and multiple individuals during police encounters.

As part of a longitudinal study with the Prince George’s County Police Department in Maryland, Dr. Ray and others are working with local residents and police to compare outcomes from their encounters as they relate to the use of BWC. Preliminary results from this work show that Blacks report more mistreatment by the police than Whites, but believe that BWCs will help reduce harassment and use of force they experience.

  1. RACIST POLICING DIVIDES VIEWS OF THE POLICE

The unequal distribution of surveillance, harassment, and use of force by the police among people of color has significant implications for the ways people across racial and ethnic groups differentially view the police.

According to a recent study conducted by the Pew Research Center, only 31% of Blacks reported that the police in their community do a good job when it comes to holding officers accountable when misconduct occurs. By contrast, these positive views of the police were reported among 75% of Whites in the sample.

In the same study, the Pew Research Center showed that Blacks’ fatal encounters with police have different meanings for Blacks and Whites. Just over half (54%) of White respondents reported that they believed fatal encounters between police and Blacks are signs of a broader social problem (rather than signs of isolated incidents), whereas the same was true for 79% of Blacks.

  1. #BLACKLIVESMATTER IS CREATING COLLECTIVE ACTION TO GENERATE AWARENESS OF AND TO PUT AN END TO ANTI-BLACK RACISM IN OUR SOCIETY

Since it began in 2012, the Black Lives Matter movement has heightened awareness of many structural and institutional acts of racism, including justifiable homicide[iv] against Black victims like Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Tamir Rice, to name a few. Like in those instances, these events often involve the killing of Black males by police officers whose actions are regularly deemed justified by the state.[v]

Awareness of and attitudes toward issues related to racism in the criminal justice system is thus evolving as the Black Lives Matter movement continues to successfully mobilize support and solidarity through its organization on social media.

The use of social media for promoting the Black Lives Matter movement has been so effective, in fact, that the development and growth of the Black Lives Matter movement offline is directly linked with the conversation occurring online. Understanding the presence of the Black Lives Matter movement has thus become an important centerpiece for our knowledge on social movements and collective action more broadly.

  1. RESEARCH ON #BLACKLIVESMATTER SHOWS ITS GROWING INFLUENCE

In response to its historical and social significance, Dr. Ray and colleagues turned to Twitter data to analyze the process behind the evolution of Black Lives Matter. With over 30 million tweets, Ray and others investigated the way Black Lives Matter transformed from a hashtag to a social movement.

In their analysis, Ray and his colleagues found that tweets about Ferguson corresponded to actual protests on the ground, male activists were viewed as more credible sources compared to female activists, and the names of male victims of police brutality were used as hashtags more often than the names of female victims. These findings are inspiring work specific to female victims of police brutality (e.g., Sandra Bland).

  1. THE FUTURE OF #BLACKLIVESMATTER

On their 10-year university, Twitter published a list of the most used hashtags related to social causes. According to Twitter, #BlackLivesMatter was ranked as the 3rd most used social-issue hashtag in the 10-year history of the platform. #Ferguson was the top used hashtag.

Dr. Ray is currently working to develop a special issue and edited volume on sociological research using social media data. We look forward to this and other projects of his future work.

For more on Dr. Ray’s presentation, listen to the audio of his talk here, watch his #DailyThought video blogs here, and follow him on Twitter.

References

[i] Gelman, Andrew, Jeffrey Fagan, and Alex Kiss. 2007. “An Analysis of the New York City Department’s “Stop-and-Frisk” Policy in the Context of Claims of Racial Bias.” Journal of the American Statistical Association, 102(479): 813-823. DOI: 10.1198/016214506000001040

[ii] Fine, Michelle and Lois Weis. 1998. “Crime Stores: A Critical Look through Race, Ethnicity, and Gender.” International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 11(3): 435-459.

Meeks, Kenneth. 2000. Driving while Black, Highways, Shopping Malls, Taxicabs, Sidewalks: What to Do If You Are A Victim of Racial Profiling. New York: Broadway.

Bell, Ella, L.J. Edmonson, and Stella Nikomo. 1998. “Armoring: Learning to withstand racial oppression.” Journal of Comparative Family Studies, 29(1): 285-295.

Green, Beverly. 1992. “Racial Socialization: A Tool in Psychotherapy with African American Children.” In L. Vargas, & J. Koss-Chioino (Eds.) Working with Culture: Psychotherapeutic Intervention with Ethnic Minority Youth (pp. 63-81). San Francisco, CA, USA: Jossey Bass.

Peters, Marie. 1985. “Racial Socialization of Young Black Children.” In H. P. McAdoo, & J. L. McAdoo (Eds.) Black Children: Social Educational and Parental Environments (pp. 159-173). Newbury Park, CA, USA: Sage.

Hale-Benson, Janice. 1986. Black Children: Their Roots, Culture, and Learning Styles. Baltimore, MD: USA: Johns Hopkins University Press.

[iii] Emphasis added

[iv] Homicide is the willful killing of one human being by another. Under the law, people may be justified in the act of killing another person if doing so is a necessary matter of protection from imminent and serious danger. Justifiable homicide is defined as and limited to: The killing of a felon by a peace officer in the line of duty, or the killing of a felon, during the commission of a felony, by a private citizen. Because these killings are determined through law enforcement investigation to be justifiable, they are tabulated separately from murder and non-negligent manslaughter (https://ucr.fbi.gov/crime-in-the-u.s/2014/crime-in-the-u.s.-2014/offenses-known-to-law-enforcement/expanded-homicide).

[v] Due to legal policies protecting the use of violence by the police


Carmen Gutierrez is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Sociology and a research trainee in the Population Research Center (PRC). Her research explores topics within crime, law, and deviance through a demographic lens. She is currently conducting a comprehensive analysis of health and healthcare among individuals with prior involvement in the criminal justice system.

Travel Ban Sham

by Andrew Krebs

Alternative fact: We’ll be safer if we ban Muslim travelers and deport undocumented immigrants.

Fact: Terrorism and terroristic threats are most likely to come from radical right-wing, white nationalist groups within the United States.

 

A “Not My President’s Day” rally drew several hundred protesters to the Texas Capitol on Monday (Source: American-Statesman).

February 20th was “Not My President’s Day” for many people who continue to be dissatisfied with the current administration. Here in Austin, TX, folks gathered for an afternoon rally at the state capitol to lament the otherwise renowned holiday, and similar demonstrations occurred across the U.S. Indeed, over the course of the past month – President Donald Trump’s first in office – oppositional rallies and protests have been a large piece of an even greater resistance movement. For myriad reasons, #manypeoplearesaying they are unhappy with the new administration… from the unqualified Cabinet nominations to feuds with foreign leaders and every little concern about the security of our nation’s intelligence in-between. Perhaps most upsetting are the recent executive orders (EOs) pertaining to travel and immigration.

President Trump’s administration received huge backlash following the EO that was signed on January 27th. This specific EO, titled, “Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States”, called for 1) a 90-day temporary bar on all entrance into the US from seven countries (Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen), 2) a 120-day hold on all refugees seeking asylum in the U.S., and 3) and an indefinite hold on refugees from Syria. While the full text of the EO can be read here, it is important to note that The White House published a misleading version of the EO on its own website. Nonetheless, as the title suggests, President Trump and his aides contend that the travel measures outlined in the EO are necessary to secure public safety. Critics, in response, have challenged that assertion and successfully argued against the EO in federal court. As a result, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled in favor of the lower court’s temporary restraining order against the Trump Administration, effectively freezing the Department of Homeland Security from enforcing the travel ban. While the technical and legal justification for maintaining the temporary restraining order against the Trump Administration is in line with the “immediate and irreparable harm” caused by the travel ban, there is a separate empirical question pertaining to whether or not travelers coming from these countries actually pose a real threat to public safety. In these terms, the Trump Administration has failed 1) to provide evidence of a terroristic threat from the seven countries named, and 2) to prove that the current refugee vetting process is insufficient.

People at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport on Jan. 29, 2017 protesting President Donald Trump’s immigration plan. (Photo: Jason Puckett, KVUE)

To protest the EO, I joined a group of several hundred for a rally at the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport on January 29th. There, I heard from other people who were sharing their own frustrations, fears, anger, and resentment towards the Trump Administration. One by one, individuals in the crowd passed around a megaphone and shared why they had come to protest that day. Some folks proudly disclosed that this was their very first protest and that the recent EO had galvanized their political action.

Standing outside of the airport that day, I imagined what it looked like behind the scenes of airport security. Most ominous to me was the fact that some of our nation’s top law enforcement agencies (specifically the Department of Homeland Security, the Transportation Security Administration, and Customs and Border Patrol) proved willing and able to carry out President Trump’s likely unconstitutional agenda, and that this authority went unchecked for a not-inconsequential-period of time before the federal court’s ruling. This made me think generally about power, and specifically about the transfer of authority. It made me think about the excuse of, “I am just following orders”. And it made me think of the classic Milgram Experiment, which tested human obedience to authority. Perhaps I’ve grown cynical in these times, but it was Stanley Milgram (1963: 371) who referenced Nazi Germany as inspiration for his research: “Obedience, as a determinant of behavior, is of particular relevance to our time… Gas chambers were built, death camps were guarded… These inhumane policies may have originated in the mind of a single person, but they could only be carried out on a massive scale if a very large number of persons obeyed orders.” Yes, Donald Trump signed the EO, but he had to rely upon other agencies and officers to enforce it.

As it stands right now (with the original EO blocked by the courts), it seems the Trump Administration has resigned to drafting a new order. In the meantime, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers continue to carry out massive raids in dozens of cities across the nation (including Austin), searching for undocumented immigrants because – you guessed it – President Trump signed an EO on January 25th titled, “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States”. This is, of course, despite no real evidence to warrant such action. In fact, the research on crime and immigration in the United States is unequivocal 1, 2, 3, 4, 5: Immigrant populations are less likely to commit crime compared to the native-born population, and areas with high rates of immigration are associated with lower rates of crime. In other words, undocumented immigrants do not pose a specific or immediate threat to public safety or national security. The crime just isn’t there, but the fear of crime and public anxiety towards ‘the other’ is real and has been fostered by a culturally and historically deep sense of racism and xenophobia that has never been or yet to be truly reconciled. Until then, we have to resist the fear and misinformation. As scholars, teachers, and researchers, we are poised to let our work be our resistance.

References

Milgram, Stanley. 1963. “Behavioral Study of Obedience.” Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 67(4); 371-378.


Andrew Krebs is a 4th year doctoral student in the Department of Sociology. His research examines peer influence in crime, and the particular benefits of mental health peer support in the community re-entry process. You can follow him on Twitter at @A4Andrew.

Angela Stroud on Race, Gender, and Concealed Carry

by Katie Kaufman Rogers

Angela Stroud
Angela Stroud, UT-Austin PhD and Assistant Professor of Sociology & Social Justice at Northland College

This October, the UT Austin Department of Sociology and Fem(me) Sem welcomed sociologist Angela Stroud for a public talk and discussion with graduate students about her new book, Good Guys with Guns: The Appeal and Consequences of Concealed Carry. Dr. Stroud completed her PhD in sociology at UT Austin in 2012 and is now an Assistant Professor of Sociology and Social Justice at Northland College in Wisconsin.

Dr. Stroud opened her presentation with graphs showing rates of American gun ownership. Despite an overall decrease in gun ownership since 1970 (rates have fallen by nearly 20%), the Obama Era has seen a sudden proliferation of concealed handgun licenses. In 2007, she said, 4.5 million Americans held such licenses. But since, more than 6 million additional licenses have been administered, bringing today’s total to a staggering 11 million. But why? To better understand the explosion of firearm sales and spread of concealed carry legislation, Dr. Stroud sought to uncover what motivates Americans to attain permits and buy guns.

University of North Carolina Press
SOURCE: University of North Carolina Press

During the talk, Dr. Stroud shared insights from her fieldwork in gun licensing courses, as well as excerpts from the in-depth interviews she conducted with gun permit holders. The title of the book plays on an old maxim in pro-gun discourse (“only a good guy with a gun can stop a bad guy with a gun”), but as Dr. Stroud explained, it also highlights a key finding: the cultural relevance of the “good guy” trope. She unpacked the construction of the “good guy” identity, arguing that its conflation with whiteness and hegemonic masculinity helps explain the appeal of concealed carry as a symbolic practice for men. She drew on elements of critical whiteness theory and Raewyn Connell’s theory of hegemonic masculinity to analyze participants’ narratives about the protection they perceive guns to offer.

Ultimately, she found that cultural definitions of “good” gun owners rely on a classed and racialized dichotomy of masculinities. Respondents saw themselves as “good guys” who earned the right to own guns through training and civic service, as opposed to to “bad guys,” whose gun ownership threatened the safety of “good” families and communities. Dr. Stroud argued that this binary paints white men as responsible heroes while casting Black and Latino men as dangerous criminals. Additionally, the trope displaces deviant whiteness onto working-class men (whom her participants dismissed as uneducated “Bubbas”). She also touched on how geographical space is invoked in “good guy” discourse, pointing to respondents’ racialized conceptualizations of sites like the highway, the ghetto, and the home.

Dr. Stroud’s work has a particular resonance within the context of the University of Texas at Austin. Texas’ new campus carry legislation, which took effect this past August, gives students and faculty members the right to carry concealed handguns in university buildings such as classrooms and dormitories. The law has added fuel to an already blazing national controversy about guns. It has also galvanized the UT community, sparking petitions, protests, resignations, lawsuits, several faculty op-eds, and a slew of cancellations from scheduled visitors ranging from famous musicians to guest lecturers.

Good Guys with Guns critically intervenes in gun control debates by illuminating an understudied facet of American gun culture: How gun owners understand the necessity of guns is tied to how they see themselves and their place in the world. Dr. Stroud’s talk added an important voice to the campus conversation about concealed carry, showing how both pro- and anti-gun advocates misunderstand the deeper issues of race, class, and gender that shape how Americans understand guns.


Good Guys with Guns is available through the University of North Carolina Press. You can follow Dr. Angela Stroud on Twitter at @astroud.

Katie Kaufman Rogers is a PhD student in the Department of Sociology. Her research focuses on the areas of gender, race, and sexuality. You can follow her on Twitter at @katiearog.

Better Know a Sociologist: A Conversation with Sarah Brayne

by Ilya Slavinski

Faculty Headshots

This fall, Dr. Sarah Brayne joins the faculty here in the sociology department at the University of Texas at Austin. She comes by way of Princeton University, where she received her PhD, and the University of British Columbia, which she attended for undergrad. Sarah does innovative and interesting work in surveillance, policing, and inequality. Her current project focuses on the use of big data in law enforcement. I was recently able to sit down with her for a cup of coffee, and I can confidently say we are very lucky to have her!

What first drew you to sociology?

As an undergrad, I thought I wanted to be a lawyer. Then, one of my friends who had taken a sociology class thought it was interesting and suggested I take one with him the next year. I was immediately hooked. I loved how sociology offered a new lens of viewing the world. It made me think of everyday things in a different way; everything that was familiar became unfamiliar. After taking sociology classes on the criminal justice system, I realized that I wanted to study the law rather than practice it. So, I decided to apply to grad school.

What did you do your dissertation on?

My dissertation was on police use of big data. I studied how the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) uses predictive analytics, and what the implications of new surveillance practices are for law and social inequality.

Why did you decide to work here at the University of Texas?

I wanted to work at a large department where faculty and students were conducting cutting-edge research and had diverse interests. When I interviewed here at UT Austin, I was so impressed with everyone I met. The strength of the department, coupled with the opportunity to live in Austin, sealed the deal for me.

What’s your experience of Austin?

I love Austin so far. I’ve only lived here for about a month, but so far I love the food and the weather. I know people complain about the heat, but I spent the last year living in Boston and would take hot over cold any day. I also love how easy it is to find beautiful places to hike and swim nearby. I don’t love the traffic (who does?), but honestly it is not as bad as some other places I’ve lived, like LA.

If you could teach one sociological concept to the world, what would it be?

I’d like to teach everyone the sociological imagination—the ability to see the connections between individual circumstances and broader social forces. I think that developing this quality of mind is crucial to redressing a lot of issues we are facing today.

What’s the most rewarding part of your job?

The most rewarding part of my job is that I get to learn something new every single day. There is so much variety in this line of work. On any given day, I might be doing fieldwork, writing, teaching, going to talks, reading, or working with policymakers. Also, although it is definitely challenging at times, I am grateful to be working on a topic like police use of technology that is at the forefront of important national debates right now.

What are your current research interests? What are you looking at these days?

I’m currently writing a book about the use of big data within law enforcement. In my future research, I’m planning on broadening the scope of institutions I study to better understand how predictive algorithms and new technologies are (or are not) transforming surveillance practices in a variety of institutional fields, from healthcare to immigration.

What’s one book that you’ve read over the past year that you’ve really enjoyed and why?

Matthew Desmond’s Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City is an incredibly impressive research project and beautifully written.

What do you like to do in your free time?

I like traveling, trying new restaurants, and getting outside whenever I can. I love skiing, but now that I live in Texas, I’m going to have to travel a little farther to find snow. Also, I used to teach sociology classes in state prisons in New Jersey, and would love to do something similar here in Texas. Please get in touch with me if you’re interested!

 

Ilya Slavinski is a PhD student in the Department of Sociology. He is also a graduate trainee in the Population Research Center, Ethnography Lab Fellow, and Rapoport Center for Human Rights and Justice Affiliate. Ilya received his MS in Non-Government Organizations and Development from the London School of Economics and his BA in Philosophy from Rutgers University. He studies the field of carceral policy decisions in Texas and how these decisions lead to unequal outcomes along class and racial lines.

Reflections on the Benefits of a Graduate Workgroup

Around this time two years ago, fellow doctoral student Carmen Gutierrez and I were preparing to greet a handful of admitted students with research interests in Crime, Law, and Deviance. At the time, we were the only graduate students formally interested in CLD in the department. As we organized our introduction, we turned to each other and said, “Why don’t we have a CLD workgroup?” After all, it seemed that many of the other sections in the department – such as Race & Ethnicity, the Urban Ethnography Lab, Power, History and Society, and Gender/Fem(me) Sem – had long-established their own workgroups. Perhaps we – along with the prospective students – were missing out on something?

Following recruitment, we reached out to other individuals in the department (both graduate students and faculty) in our effort to get something together for the upcoming academic year. In developing the structure of the workgroup, we encouraged everyone with research interests related to issues of crime, law, and deviance to consider sharing their current projects with others in the department. The response was incredible!

The CLD workgroup was established in the fall of 2014, and since then we’ve met an average of three times a semester. The meetings are co-organized by the graduate student members, and the various faculty provide an invaluable presence. Each session focuses on a single project, and presentations have included a faculty member’s grant proposal, a graduate student’s fellowship application, and other research paper presentations. Now, we have examples of actual research being conducted in real time by our peers, mentors, and colleagues right here in the department. There is no better way – for graduate students especially – to learn the ropes of teaching, research, and publishing.

One of the things I appreciate the most about the CLD workgroup is our commitment to a diversity of research topics. In fact, many of our members and participants aren’t formal crime and law scholars. For instance, our workgroup benefits from demographers, gender, health, and race scholars – all of whom have projects that connect with issues related to criminal justice, criminal behavior, and the law. Over the past two years, I’ve realized the best part of the CLD workgroup is its bridge to the other areas in the department. Academic research doesn’t have to be an insular endeavor! If you are interested in education, then maybe you have a project that examines the school-to-prison pipeline? Or, if you are interested in healthcare, then maybe you explore the impact of incarceration on health outcomes for individuals and their families? There is room for all of that – and more – here at UT.

Each workgroup in the department is unique, but they all provide a positive structure to the various sections throughout the department. In these spaces, graduate students and faculty are able to come together and hold each other accountable separate from our coursework and instruction. Ultimately, these associations are beneficial because they encourage productivity and positive engagement.


Andrew Krebs is a third-year doctoral student in the Department of Sociology. His research interests include lay participation, juries, court systems and prison operations. Follow him on Twitter at @A4Andrew

Transgender people and Texas bathrooms: the ’80s and now

By Phyllis Frye and Thatcher Combs, for the Houston Chronicle

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Phyllis Frye, the nation’s first transgender judge, now presides over a Houston municipal courts. Before that, she was a transgender activist, and as a lawyer, represented many people in the LGBT community. In the wake of voters’ rejection of Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance, and as a 13-year-old Dallas ordinance protecting transgender rights came under fire, she writes:

In 1980 I was a law student at the University of Houston, doing an internship at the Harris County District Attorney’s office. Even though my office was on the tenth floor of the DA building, the only restroom the DA’s staff allowed me to use was on the second floor. Each time nature called, I had to get by a guard, since the second floor was secure, then walk past a long row of secretaries.

So I did not use it. The results were many “accidents” and, by the end of that semester’s internship, blood in my urine from a bladder infection.

As to the current hate campaign of Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, I remain puzzled why few pro-HERO commentators mentioned the then and now, still applicable, city restroom ordinance which reads as follows:

City of Houston Ordinance Sec. 28-20
Entering Restrooms of the Opposite Sex:
It shall be unlawful for any person to knowingly and intentionally enter any public restroom designated for the exclusive use of the sex opposite to such person’s sex without the permission of the owner, tenant, manager, lessee or other person in charge of the premises in a manner calculated to cause a disturbance.

Clearly each offender depicted in the recent bathroom TV ads did “knowingly and intentionally enter any public restroom designated for the exclusive use of the sex opposite to such person’s sex” “in a manner calculated to cause a disturbance” and was in violation of the existing city ordinance.

In the early 1990s, the Houston police were arresting many transwomen for using the women’s restroom. I advised any who contacted me to “set it for a jury trial” and to testify to the jury that they were only entering to urinate in a locked stall and not to cause a disturbance. Each was found not guilty, and the police quit the arresting of transwomen for that offense.

I also remain puzzled why few mention the state criminal statues that made each offender depicted in the recent bathroom TV ads a criminal. The crimes of indecent exposure and public lewdness, and unlawful restraint (especially of a child) range in punishment from 180 days in county jail to two years in a state jail facility.

There is too much hate in the air over a person’s need to lawfully empty their bladders or bowels in a private and locked bathroom stall.

Thatcher Combs, a transgender graduate student in sociology at the University of Texas at Austin, writes:

The bathroom issue might strike many as a trivial matter, but for many trans people, myself included, choosing which bathroom to use is not trivial at all. This decision usually comes down to whether we “pass.” Every day, those of us who meet or exceed society’s expectations about gendered appearance norms enter public bathrooms without notice. Would anyone bat an eye if Laverne Cox entered the women’s room or Chaz Bono used the men’s room? Of course not.

But for many of us, the choice of which bathroom to use can be a life-or-death decision. Those of us who cannot, or do not, fit into the categories of “male” or “female” are the ones who bear the brunt of the strange looks, outrage and violence. The perpetrators of these acts toward us are not the “perverts” declaimed by the opponents of LGBT rights. They are the people who refuse to accept gender variance and insist that everyone conform to rigid notions of how men and women ought to look and behave.

It is true that violence against women and girls is a real problem in our society. But instead of discriminating against trans people in a misguided effort to protect women, our collective efforts ought to focus instead on why our current social norms for gender, especially for masculinity, victimize women.

The fear of the man in women’s restrooms, misunderstanding of trans people, and the violence women experience in society are all linked. Gender and sex are still understood to be biologically based and naturally given. Thus we say “boys will be boys” and “girls are feminine,” yet these childhood tropes also morph into the right for men to be violent and for women to be ever vigilant about their bodies.

Unfortunately, the defeat of HERO may be a signal that any form of national equality legislation that includes trans people cannot be won by popular vote. More importantly, the “no” vote from Houston should act as a wake-up call for the LGBT movement.
In the past, gays and lesbians fought under the slogan of “Just like you,” emphasizing their conformity to society’s mainstream values and beliefs. If the LGBT movement is to work toward bettering trans lives, it might be time to change tactics and fight for loosening gender norms that restrict all people.

UT’s Carmen Gutierrez and David Kirk research profiled by London School of Economics

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Agents from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement train with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection in Arizona

 

Over at the London School of Economics blog, 5th-year doctoral student, Carmen Gutierrez, and former-UT professor David Kirk write on the relationship between  immigration and likelihood of reporting violent crimes. Their research challenges the notion that increased immigration leads to increases in crime, instead suggesting that anti-immigration rhetoric may, in fact, be undermining public safety. Gutierrez and Kirk argue that restrictive immigration policies “create potential mistrust of legal authorities who have the power to exercise immigration enforcement, such as deportation. As a result, immigrants may avoid the police—even to report crime and victimization—due to their fears of arrest and expulsion.”

Read more about their work here and in their co-authored paper, ‘Silence Speaks: The Relationship Between Immigration and the Underreporting of Crime’, in Crime & Delinquency!

A Brief Reflection on the Possibilities of Public Law

by Andrew Krebs

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The second annual University of Texas Graduate Conference in Public Law was held this past week at the UT School of Law, bringing graduate scholars to Austin from departments across the United States. Reflecting the growing prominence of public law in the broader discipline of political science, the conference intended to provide a forum for engagement with common questions in the field.  Focused on topics such as Security and International Law, Human Rights, and Jurisprudence and Judicial Behavior, the two-day conference was sponsored by a variety of faculty, departments and centers across UT’s campus: the Department of Government, College of Liberal Arts, School of Law, Rapoport Center for Human Rights and Justice, Clements Center for National Security, and the Robert S. Strauss Center for International Security and Law.

This recent convergence highlighted the diversity of research in the field of public law. In particular, I was struck by the graduate students’ international and multidisciplinary approaches to their work. The multidisciplinary character of the field was further articulated by the keynote speaker, Dr. Kim Lane Scheppele (Laurance S. Rockefeller Professor of Sociology and International Affairs at Princeton University), whose talk, “Constitutional Possibilities,” argued that in addition to studying constitutional doctrine and institutions, we should study the potentially constitutional ideas available in any particular time and place.

I think it is safe to say that many public law scholars have never considered ethnography as a methodological possibility. Questions pertaining to the areas of public law lend themselves more to a historical or comparative approach. However, Dr. Scheppele championed the use of ethnography in her own current research and, in doing so, emphasized the benefit of a nontraditional approach to the field at large.

As sociologists, I think it is important to embrace Dr. Kim Lane Scheppele’s message of not overlooking certain methods in our study of longstanding sociological inquiries. If we limit ourselves to a particular method or approach, we constrain our ability to conduct the best possible research.

As a graduate student, I often stress about whether I am more qualitative, quantitative, or even brave enough to be an experimentalist! The UT Graduate Public Law Conference was a solid reminder that my questions should guide my research, and that my time as a graduate student is best served developing an appreciation for multiple methodologies.

——

Andrew Krebs is a Ph.D student in the Department of Sociology at The University of Texas at Austin. His broad research interests include lay participation, juries, court systems, and prison operations. You can follow him on Twitter @A4Andrew.

Marc Musick: Rape prevention requires campuses to control what they can

Mandatory 11 p.m. classes, a requirement that students had to live on campus for orientation, and repeated messaging that if you see something, do something. Those were some of the changes my colleagues and I at the University of Texas at Austin implemented last summer in an effort to keep students safe during our summer orientation, well before the recent call by the White House for greater attention to sexual assault on college campuses.

As professors, administrators and, perhaps most importantly, parents, we knew it was essential to run an orientation that put safety first for our newest and most vulnerable students. But the unfortunate reality is that universities have limited means for policing conduct that sometimes occurs away from campus. Even with a clear- eyed recognition of the problem, change sometimes requires creative solutions that seek to identify the places where a university does have control. So changing what we could control is exactly what we did.

As noted in the report released by the White House Council on Women and Girls, many rapes occur at parties that are fueled by alcohol. At UT, these parties frequently happen in off-campus locations, thus limiting our possible responses. Criminologists have long understood that crime is not a simple function of the behaviors and intentions of perpetrators, nor is it simply about choices that victims make. Instead, situations create opportunities for crime, and we had to find a way to cut down on these opportunities. Simply telling 18-year-olds not to go to parties or to be careful when they did was not enough.

In the summer of 2012, we undertook a careful examination of how off-campus activities affect students who attend our summer orientation. We instituted several major changes that we hoped would cut down on opportunities that might endanger our students. We required that students live on campus for orientation. We required students to attend an 11 p.m. meeting each night of orientation, a period that conflicts with the timing of most off-campus parties. What was the motivation for students to attend these late-night classes? Only regular attendance at these night meetings preserved the students’ access to priority registration slots, which was a major reason students attended orientation in the first place.

Orientation had always included a mandatory session on campus safety, but last session we also included repeated messages about the importance of bystander intervention. Using the tag line, “I saw something, I did something,” we created a video with UT students that emphasized the need for all of us to look out for one another. By repeating our bystander intervention message through videos, small-group discussions, speeches and other programs, we hoped to shift the culture, so that students would come to believe that it is their job to look out for one another.

The results were dramatic: more than 99 percent of our orientation students attended those late night meetings, attendance at our other evening events increased significantly, and, most importantly, we cut down on opportunities for risk. Although we do not have hard data on the full effect of these changes, we heard nothing but positive stories from this past summer’s program.

I know that we, as a higher education community, have a long way to go. But with Vice President Joe Biden’s recent remarks on these issues and the guidelines put forth by the White House task force, I have hope that we will see progress.

As the students featured in our bystander intervention video proclaim, “At UT, we take care of each other.” I firmly believe that if all students across the country heard and practiced that message, and other universities adopted the same kinds of changes that we did at UT, we would be on a firm path to eliminating campus rape across the country.

Musick formerly directed summer orientation for all incoming freshmen students at the University of Texas at Austin. He is an associate dean in the College of Liberal Arts and a professor of sociology.

My neighborhood is haunted.

That life is complicated may seem a banal expression of the obvious, but it is nonetheless a profound theoretical statement – perhaps the most important theoretical statement of our time.

-Avery Gordon, Ghostly Matters.

Photo Essay

by Eric Enrique Borja

For Dr. Sharmila Rudrappa’s Feminist Theory course the class was asked to bring in a photo or two for an essay we had to write. I immediately thought of two photos, only one of which I will show, which I took about a month ago for a photography workshop.

For the workshop we were asked to take seven to ten different photos of anything. The idea was to create a photo essay out of these seven to ten different photos and then present them at the workshop. When I originally took the photos I knew I wanted to capture “something” about my neighborhood, but that “something” was unclear. That is until I read Gordon’s book Ghostly Matters for Dr. Rudrappa’s course.

Gordon writes, “Ghostly Matters is about haunting, a paradigmatic way in which life is more complicated than those of us who study it have usually granted. Haunting is a constituent element of modern social life… To study social life one must confront the ghostly aspects of it” (Gordon 2008, 7). I realize now that what my photos were trying to capture were the ghosts that haunt me in my neighborhood.

Bus Stop

This photo is of the Camino la Costa UT shuttle bus stop. It may look like any other bus stop, but for me this bus stop is haunted. Gordon writes, “The ghost is not simply a dead or a missing person, but a social figure, and investigating it can lead to that dense site where history and subjectivity make social life” (Gordon 2008, 8). For me, it is the ghost of the Austin Police Department that haunts this bus stop.

This bus stop is located across the street from where I live, so every morning I catch the CLC UT shuttle there. The funny thing about the CLC shuttle is that it was formerly the Cameron Road shuttle, but last semester Cap Metro decided to stop servicing my area – because a lot of brown people live in my neighborhood, so why help them get to UT, right?

The neighborhood I live in (Census tract 1812) is located just off of Cameron Road, east of I-35, and south of Highway 183. Compared to the demographics of Austin, my neighborhood is overwhelmingly brown. The racial makeup of Austin is: Whites 48.7%; Blacks 8.1%; Hispanics 35.1%; Asians 6.3%; and Other groups 1%. My neighborhood is: Whites 14%; Blacks 15%; Hispanics 69%; Asians 1%; and Other groups 1%. A day does not go by where I haven’t seen and heard the police in my neighborhood.

Around this time last year, I was stopped, questioned and frisked by APD on my way to school. It was a cold rainy morning and I wasn’t feeling too well. So when I woke up I was debating between staying in and sleeping more or going to class. I decided to go to class about ten minutes before I had to catch the bus. I quickly threw on a hoodie, a pair of jeans, and shoes, and bolted out the door. As I came out of my house, I saw a cop across the street in his car.

I couldn’t really see his eyes, but my body knew he was staring at me. I ignored it because, why would the cops stop me? I was just going to school. I crossed the street and waited for the bus.

Directly behind the bus stop is a large parking lot for ITT Tech. The cop must have driven past me three times that morning, each time staring at me. Finally, he stopped and parked about ten feet away from me.

At this point I was really confused and nervous.

The bus came.

As I began to board the bus, the cop stopped me.

“Come here,” he said.

“Ok.”

As I approached him, I put down my hoodie and I began to recollect all of the things my father taught me when I got my driver’s license – be respectful, keep your hands where the cops can see them, and never give them an excuse.

I walked up to the cop, and he began questioning me

“What are you doing around here?

“I live here.”

“Where you going?”

“I’m going to UT. That’s the bus I catch.”

“What’s in the backpack?”

“My laptop and some books.”

By now there are three other cops around me. I showed the cop my ID, which has my home address – which, if you don’t remember, is across the street – but he is not convinced.

“Can you show me what’s in the bag?”

“Sure.”

I open my backpack and show him my laptop and books. Still not convinced I open my laptop, and unlock it to demonstrate to him that it is indeed my laptop. He’s finally convinced. He takes down my information and lets me go. As I walked away, one of the other cops said while laughing, “We’ll call you if you turn out to be the bad guy.”

At some point between me waiting for the bus and the cop questioning me, I almost ran back home to get my headphones. Imagine what the cop would have done if I ran back home that morning.

So, really it is two ghosts that haunt my bus stop: the Austin Police Department and me.

Life is complicated indeed.