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Excerpted from: Steven L. Nelson and Ray Orlando Williams, From Slave Codes to Educational Racism: Urban Education Policy in the United States as the Dispossession, Containment, Dehumanization, and Disenfranchisement of Black Peoples, 19 Journal of Law in Society 82 (Spring, 2019) (189 Footnotes) (Full Document)


StevenLNelson RayWilliamsIn 2016, the Santa Clara Law Review published an article titled, "Are we nearing the end of impunity for taking Black lives?". In her piece, Margalynne Armstrong considered the recent rise in highly publicized outcries about the unauthorized and extrajudicial killings of Black men. Armstrong's article considers the history of racial terrorism performed by white Americans against Black Americans. Citing the numerous ways in which Black lives were neither protected nor valued during the periods of American history that are defined by legalized chattel slavery and legislatively authorized racial subjugation, Armstrong produces a well-written and well-researched manuscript given the stated scope of her research. Ultimately, Armstrong concludes the article by insinuating that she has hope that we are nearing the end of impunity for ending Black lives. In particular, she provides the following evidence: "Particularly encouraging is the emergence of a serious movement to reform police practices".

It is here that our conclusions diverge from those of Armstrong. Despite the ostensible appearance of the comprehensiveness of Armstrong's article, we suggest that Armstrong's piece does not consider the multidimensionality of efforts to end Black lives. Specifically, we argue that police brutality is only one dimension of ending Black lives. We acknowledge that the unauthorized, extrajudicial killings of Black men and women are often the summation of efforts to terrorize Black communities and end Black lives. Still, in this article, we suggest that the work of W E. B. DuBois is appropriate to efforts evaluating whether we are nearing the end of impunity for ending Black lives. We, thereafter, consider whether the United States is nearing an end of impunity for ending Black lives by considering whether Black peoples in the United States have equal access to quality education, are assured of the right to exercise the electoral franchise, and are protected from laws that serve-- intentionally or otherwise--to terrorize Black peoples.

This article is intended to provide a more holistic assessment of Armstrong's question as to whether we are nearing the end of impunity for ending Black lives. Indeed, our holistic approach recognizes that white people in the United States have and do use a variety of approaches to assure that Black lives are ruined, if not ended, without opportunity to realize the American dream. Our response to the question begins with a historical analysis of the multiple ways in which Black peoples are and were racially subjugated in the United States. We, thereafter, discuss the various ways in which white people in the United States have foreclosed pursuits of equity and equality for Black peoples. We then discuss how urban education policy has led to the dispossession, containment, dehumanization, and disenfranchisement of Black peoples in the United States. Finally, we conclude our article by summarizing the different and multidimensional methods that Black peoples in the United States must resist and overcome to persist through racial terrorism. We reach a more sobering conclusion than Armstrong. We have far less hope that we are nearing the end of impunity for ending Black lives.

[. . .]

Having suggested the Racial-Political Economy of Education as a more robust analysis of attempts to end Black lives, we return to our primary question. We sought to build on Armstrong's question: "Are we nearing the impunity for taking Black lives?" We foreshadowed our conclusion by stating that we are less hopeful than Armstrong's conclusion. We argue that efforts to end impunity for ending Black lives is not merely a matter of police brutality. We acknowledge the salience and importance of considering police brutality as a method of ending Black lives. Still, we suggest a more comprehensive approach to this analysis. Black lives are sometimes ended before they begin. As schools have sought to miseducate Black students, we assert that the schooling system works in tandem with other systems to end Black lives. We do not forecast an end to this collaborative taking of Black lives. Moreover, we believe that contemporary policies aimed at Black peoples are reincarnations of the slave codes and Black codes. If we are correct, then we are nowhere near the end of impunity for ending Black lives. Instead, racial capitalism may be incentivizing the ending of Black lives.

Steven L. Nelson is an Assistant Professor of Education Law and Education Policy in the Department of Leadership & Policy Studies at the University of Memphis.

Ray Orlando Williams is a doctoral candidate at in the Department of Leadership & Policy Studies at the University of Memphis.

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