Yale professor discusses policing and segregation

By VICTOR SUN | November 21, 2019

Monica Bell, an associate professor of law and sociology at Yale University, gave a lecture titled “Anti-Segregation Policing?” for the Department of Sociology on Thursday, Nov. 14. 

In the lecture, Bell spoke about her new research on the role of the police in contemporary American society. 

She argued that police reformers and police leaders should adopt an anti-segregation approach to policing. She also offered legal frameworks and policy prescriptions that flow from an anti-segregation ethic in police governance.

Bell centered her project around the concept of legal estrangement, which is the notion that the law ostracizes certain marginalized communities. 

“The basic idea is that the law or the legal authority acts almost like in a circle,“ Bell said. “In that process of structuring, certain groups for various reasons are excluded.”

Bell added that she was motivated to undertake her research in order to articulate what segregation looks like today. She argued that quantitative measurements of segregation can miss out on the complete story. 

She explained that there could still be a problem of hierarchy in a neighborhood despite what the numbers of integration show.

“If you are looking from a measurement perspective, you might view it as integration. But actually, we understand that you put people in the small alley... close to you so they can be subservient,” she said. 

Bell stated that subordination and domination play an extensive role in understanding segregation today.

“When we talk about segregation, we don’t look at who benefits from it,” Bell said. “Segregation has historically been a space of economic exploitation and control.”

Bell discussed six policies which can promote residential segregation: mass criminalization; patrolling borders; coordination with other bureaucratic institutions; the construction of jurisdiction; the conception of neighborhood reputation; and the distribution of realized economic value.

She proposed suggestions for pushing back against these mechanisms. Bell explained how police departments could utilize the strategic non-response by not responding to reports that seemed to have underlying racial motivations. 

She also suggested getting rid of certain specialized units within the police force that can sometimes lead to a double-layer of policing.

Mihir Chaudhary, a graduate student at Bloomberg School of Public Health, stated that many of his patients are affected by policing, racism and violence.

“I had intuitively understood how policing contributes to racial segregation, but not the particular mechanisms,“ Chaudhary said. “Seeing those spelled out in terms of practices based on racial segregation was very interesting.”

He expressed his belief that it is important to hold this kind of event considering the University’s move to implement its own private police force. 

“Hopkins is in the midst of a phase of increasing policing,” Chaudhary said. “That I think resonates particularly with the speaker talking about boundaries: who belongs within the Homewood Campus and who are the others that are kept outside the boundaries of the Homewood Campus... A lot of the mechanisms [Bell] described could end up impacting the community around Hopkins and increasing the division between the community living beside Hopkins and the University.”

Chaudhary stated that students should be involved in shaping the implementation of the police force.

“Students are direct stakeholders in the construction of the police force. So I think there are two strategies students can get involved with. One is active social movement in terms of resisting the creation of the police force, and the second is to increase community ownership over the police force,” he said.

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