The events of the past week, since the murder of George Floyd at the hands (more specifically, a knee) of the police in Minneapolis, has brought back to me the Baltimore uprising of 2015, and the shared outrage at the killing of Freddie Gray at the hands of the police. Other names and other recent shameful killings are on my mind too: Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, David McAtee.
Five years ago, I leaned for understanding on the words of one-time Baltimore resident, Frederick Douglass, who observed a century and a half ago: “The world is full of violence and fraud, and it would be strange if the [oppressed], the constant victim of both fraud and violence, should escape the contagion. He, too, may learn to fight the devil with fire.”
Yet Douglass was an optimistic man and believed that decency would ultimately prevail in America. These days I confess my optimism is shaken. And while in the midst of a pandemic good people across the country are coming together to denounce the racism, diffuse and often hidden, that still exists, an immediate problem staring us in the face is police violence. This we can do something about immediately, even—especially—those of us in arts and the humanities.
Three of our departments, American Multicultural Studies, Chicano and Latino Studies, and Native American Studies, are dedicated to educating our students about the race violence, political violence, and genocide that are facts of our nation’s history, as well as the remarkable survival of cultures and peoples in the face of such violence.
In my very first Dean’s Message two years ago I remarked, after meeting an SSU alumnus who was an English major turned police officer, that
in a perfect world, every police officer would major in the humanities or the arts in college. All would have a solid grounding in the human condition—in our strivings and our frailty, our zealousness and capacity for mercy, our limitations and our infinite variety, how we represent ourselves to ourselves in image, language, movement, melody, mimicking and metaphor.
I am committed to leading efforts within the School of Arts & Humanities to support work that ends police violence and military-style policing in our service region. How can we do such work as musicians, dancers, filmmakers, philosophers, artists, and humanists? How can we not.