Dear School of Social Work community,
Following a great deal of national attention, collective anxiety and apprehension, the jury in Derek Chauvin’s trial has rendered a verdict of guilty in the murder of George Floyd. I share in the collective relief that I know many in our community feel about the potential step this represents toward greater accountability for police violence against minoritized communities, and Black people in particular.
At the same time, I feel the heavy realization of how long a road we will have to travel before Black people in our country feel safe going about their daily lives without fear of being profiled, harmed and even killed. I also realize and lament that anti-Black police violence has been naturalized by many as acceptable conduct done in the name of maintaining order, protecting property and saving lives. The continuation of this societal tolerance for state-sanctioned violence was painfully illustrated when, just moments before the Chauvin verdict was announced, a 15-year old Black girl, Ma’Khia Bryant, was fatally shot by a police officer in Columbus, Ohio.
And so, let us mark the Chauvin verdict as a glimmer of hope, but let us also remember that were it not for the advocacy, outcry and protest of so many, the investigation of Derek Chauvin and his fellow police officers might well have been written off as so many previous incidents of anti-Black police violence have been dismissed as normal and acceptable practice. As a profession, we have the knowledge, perspectives and tools to help light the way toward alternatives to the type of law enforcement that prevails in our country. As a member of VCU’s Safety and Well-Being Advisory Committee, I have spent many hours in conversations with students, faculty, staff and community members to consider ways to foster and maintain safety and wellness in transformative ways. In the coming weeks, the committee’s recommendations will be shared with the VCU community.
As a school, we also can and should convene conversations about how public safety can be transformed in our society. As dean, I am extraordinarily proud that two of our students, Corey Harbison and Kayla Simpson, took on leading a virtual study group to explore and discuss the possibilities of abolitionist thought for social work across a variety of service domains (including policing) this semester. Their work has spurred the development of a new elective course on the road to abolition in our B.S.W. curriculum this fall, which will be offered by Dr. Jamie Cage.
We can and must continue to engage in the work of healing, reconciliation and advancing racial justice through our teaching, scholarship, practice and advocacy. In closing, I want to convey that I stand in solidarity with all of you, and particularly with the Black members of our community as you celebrate the progress signified by the Chauvin verdict and also as you endure the ongoing pain, as captured well this morning in an editorial by Dr. Esau McCaulley, of walking “a fine line between truth and hope.”
In community and solidarity,Beth Angell signature [View Image]
Beth Angell, Ph.D.
Dean and Professor
VCU School of Social Work