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Conversation Spotlights Black Male Experiences with Police Brutality

Posted on 2/23/2021 11:40:31 AM

Researchers from Cabrini and the University of San Francisco presented a qualitative study documenting Black men’s experiences of police stereotyping and brutality during Cabrini’s virtual Common Hour on Wednesday, Feb. 10. Storytelling Brutality: The Lived Experiences of Black Men in the Face of Police Excess Use of Force and Abuse of Power, was sponsored by Cabrini’s Leadership and Organization Development Department and hosted by Anton Shufutinsky, PhD, Assistant Professor, Leadership and Organization Development and Change.

An introduction by Cabrini doctoral student Toni Johnson explained that despite a considerable amount of quantitative research indicating police bias—including a 2020 Harvard University study showing that Black men are 250 percent more likely to be killed by police than white men—there remains a “research gap.”

“Exploration of the lived experiences of these victims is underreported,” she said.

The research presented was gathered from interviews with nine Black men whose experiences with police abuse of power had occurred throughout the United States from childhood up to the age of 45. Brandy Shufutinsky, a social worker and doctoral student at University of San Francisco (and wife of Anton Shufutinsky), read excerpts from the interviews in chronological order to tell their stories anonymously.

Anton Shufutinsky said that it was important to get stories like these into peer-reviewed scholarly journals as well as more general interest magazines, “because they aren’t told widely.”

At just five years old, one man remembered police arriving on the scene of an accident in which his mother’s car had been hit by another driver. The officers attempted to cite his mother for a traffic violation, which she protested because she was not at fault. The man’s father, who was also in the vehicle, calmly attempted to help explain the situation, and was eventually removed from the car and beaten with a night stick, the man said. His father hadn’t resisted arrest.

“After that, I’ve always been nervous and anxious around police,” the man said.

Another man recalled a time when he was 10 years old in Brooklyn and had just bought candy from a corner store. An officer stopped him on the street and accused him of stealing the candy before dumping it out and stomping on it.

In an example of police intimidation, one man described getting pulled over in Los Angeles on the way home from helping his team win a high school football game. Officers claimed his car matched the description of one involved in a nearby crime, which the man said was impossible. The officer responded by pulling him from the vehicle, placing his gun against the young man’s cheek and, noting that he was an athlete, asked the young man, “Do you think you can outrun a bullet?”

From childhood through adolescence and into middle-aged life, the accounts of these men depicted stereotyping, intimidation, and physical brutality during encounters with police.

One man was a young military police officer wearing his badge and uniform when Virginia police pulled him from his car and assaulted him. Another man in his 40s living in Wisconsin, who was running across the street in medical scrubs to get to the hospital where he worked, was cuffed by officers who claimed he matched a perpetrator in a nearby robbery. He said he prayed that a bystander would film the encounter.

In a final story that underscored the cyclical nature of these encounters, a man in his 40s said he reported to police that his lawn tools had been stolen from his yard. He said the police then brought in a group of Black young men for questioning, including the man’s son.

“We’re in a diverse community, but the cops are almost all white,” the man added. “But we’re not just afraid of white cops—Black cops too. It’s the institutionalizing of racism. The system sets us up to be poor, less traveled, more likely to end up back in the same places.”

Following these accounts, Anton Shufutinsky said the group was in the process of expanding this research project to include more voices, including those of Black women.

A viewer asked, “Where do we go from here?”

Beyond the importance of publishing stories like these in peer-reviewed scholarly journals, Anton Shufutinsky said these accounts can be used to inform trainings as well as coping and recovery strategies for the victims involved.

The research presented was independent of Cabrini University and the other schools involved.