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Class Highlight – Policing in the Era of Black Lives Matter

Class Highlight – Policing in the Era of Black Lives Matter

Decades of documentation prove that people of color are proportionally overrepresented in arrests. With the arrival of cell phone video technology, a large body of evidence has been accumulated which suggests that non-white populations are policed differently and more aggressively than their white counterparts.

In the wake of a number of often disturbing incidents of police interactions with minority populations, Black Lives Matter was formed in 2013 to speak out against police killing unarmed black people during arrests, racial profiling, police brutality and racial inequality in the U.S. criminal justice system.

The juxtaposition of law enforcement agencies and groups like Black Lives Matter inspired Paul Ketchum, Ph.D., and Mitch Peck, Ph.D., professors in our School of Criminal Justice, to develop Policing in the Era of Black Lives Matter, a class that gives students the opportunity to objectively analyze available evidence and then propose policy designed to positively impact minority overrepresentation in arrests.

“Racial differences in the criminal justice system exist due to a complex set of social forces,” Ketchum said. “Black Lives Matter and other groups representing racial, ethnic and religious minorities have a story to tell, as do police. This course takes an objective look at the issues by talking with the different groups, each for hours at a time, and looking at how major criminological theories may help us understand the existing data and information.”

Students have the chance to review official crime rates to determine if they accurately reflect actual rates of crime or if they give a biased impression, as well as determining if the data supports the claims of Black Lives Matter. They also review how law enforcement has reacted to the Black Lives Matter movement, how Black Lives Matter has changed policing and consider if some or all of the concerns of Black Lives Matter need to be addressed to improve policing.

“As part of the course, our students must draw conclusions based upon the evidence available as to the major causes of minority overrepresentation in the justice system,” Ketchum said. “They were able to use existing data, including yet unpublished relevant datasets, in the course of their examinations. We asked them to develop a solid understanding of the issue and make policy recommendations that logically may positively impact the issue they have identified.

“This is a long way of stating that the issue is complex and much more difficult to unpack than one might think.”

"The issue is complex and much more difficult to unpack than one might think."

In order to give room for an in-depth examination of such a complex subject, Ketchum and Peck designed Policing in the Era of Black Lives Matter as a hybrid course, with students participating in classroom sessions for eight hours a day, five days in a row. The most recent session of the course featured a unique mix of students, including online students from the OU Extended Campus College of Professional and Continuing Studies, as well as traditional students from OU.

“Because students came from varied majors from the college and across campus, the strength of using an interdisciplinary examination of the data made the class all the stronger,” Ketchum said. “On the academic side, this class really pushed them, and they thrived in it.”

“This was the best course I have taken at this university,” said Native American Studies and Letters sophomore Mahak Merchant. “The rigor, content, and style of teaching made the class enjoyable, informative, and eye-opening. I’m having difficulty finding the words to properly explain how fundamental this class was to my learning. Dr. Peck and Dr. Ketchum did a wonderful job with what time they had and made the experience worth not being able to come home a week earlier. I hope this course continues to be offered, so that it may enlighten other students as it did me.”

Participants not only had the opportunity to exchange ideas with each other, but also with prominent individuals from the community, including a pair of police officers from the Oklahoma City Police Department who spoke to the class and answered questions for more than four hours, as well as the president and legal counsel from the OKC chapter of the NAACP, who presented and answered questions for five hours, and the executive director of the Oklahoma Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), who spoke to students for two hours.

“I know that ‘fun’ and ‘hard’ aren't supposed to go together, but the short, intense classroom time really focused everyone,” Ketchum said. “They learned quite a bit about critically examining data from an academic and objective perspective. Outside of their academic lives, they learned applied civics and critically evaluating information as it applies to their government and society.”

To learn more about this and other courses offered by the School of Criminal Justice, or for more information about other OU Extended Campus degree programs, visit pacs.ou.edu.

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Myk Mahaffey

Michael Mahaffey holds degrees in journalism and psychology. He is a writer and editor with more than a decade of experience writing for print and digital publications, including award-winning coverage of the rodeo industry. In his spare time, he writes fiction, in addition to tinkering with graphic design and photography.