WE, the faculty and staff of Princeton’s Department of African American Studies, write to express unequivocal support for our beloved colleague Professor Imani Perry. We were outraged to hear of her treatment at the hands of the Princeton police: that a male officer subjected her to a pat-down in the presence of a female officer and that she was handcuffed to a table after her arrest for an unpaid parking ticket.
As scholars of African American Studies, we were outraged but not surprised. People might dwell on the details of the incident and even scrutinize Professor Perry’s life. But we believe that attending to such particulars distracts from the true problem. Sadly what happened to her happens all too often throughout this country.
Professor Perry’s treatment by Princeton police affords us an opportunity in this small, affluent University town to think about the politics of policing and its effect on the quality of living in this community, as well as throughout the United States. Professor Perry has written powerfully about the “cultural practice of inequality” — how our choices in our daily lives, and the discretion they evidence, reinforce structures of inequality. How we see this at work in housing, in the workplace, in schools, and in whom the police stop, arrest, and how they are treated once in custody. We know, in part because of her scholarship, that members of marginalized groups– Black people, immigrants, transgendered people, and those who live in the intersections of inequality — are disproportionately and systematically disadvantaged compared to others within the criminal justice system and beyond.
We support Professor Perry and those who aren’t as well known who are subject to this kind of policing. She stated the stakes best:
“[My arrest] was humiliating and frightening, but I am not Sandra Bland, Rekia Boyd, or Tanisha Anderson. I was not murdered. I was not screamed at, roughed up, or held over the weekend, or for weeks, or years. I was not forced into a plea deal that will take me away from my children, or prevent me from working or maintaining my home. I am here. My life has not been ruined or destroyed. And I must admit I am somewhat ashamed that my story will get more attention than those of others who have experienced things far worse that merit our response. But I hope against hope that the attention my story has received, and the fact that many people will give me the benefit of the doubt because of my profession, my small build, my attachment to elite universities, and because prominent people will vouch for my integrity and responsibility, can be converted into something more important. I hope that this circle of attention will be part of a deeper reckoning with how and why police officers behave the way they do, especially towards those of us whose flesh is dark.”
The Faculty of the Department of African American Studies
Staff of the Department of African American Studies