Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

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October 4, 2022

Sociology professors discuss violence of policing during panel

Chidozie Abuachi
From left, Assistant Professors of Sociology Tony Cheng of Duke University, Samantha Simon of the University of Arizona, and Michael Sierra-Arévalo of the University of Texas at Austin spoke at a policing discussion panel held at UT’s William C. Powers, Jr. Student Activity Center on April 15, 2024.

Three professors discussed the relationship between sociology, violence and police organizations at an April 15 panel. 

Michael Sierra-Arévalo, an assistant professor of sociology at UT and the author of “The Danger Imperative,” spent over a thousand hours on patrol as an observer. He coined the book’s titular phrase to explain the preconceived notions of danger in policing that prioritize officer safety. He said the system as a whole leads to problems in policing.

“Even if you were to create a perfectly egalitarian set of police officers (and) have a perfect filter for all the ‘racist’ bad apples, the system of policing is set up in such a way that will continue to be funneled into the same communities,” Sierra-Arévalo said. “The consequences of a worldview centered on violence and death will continue. The story is only worse because we know racism.”

Sierra-Arévalo said he recognized the difficulty of implementing change within an organization  built upon such a history of systemic violence. While he said he recognizes how long these changes will take, reflection on these institutions still has value. 

“I set out to do work that would affect policy in some way, but the process of writing and researching this book was never going to plant the seeds of trees that I’ll be able to sit under,” Sierra-Arévalo said. 

Tony Cheng, assistant professor of sociology at Duke University and author of  “The Policing Machine,” tried to gain insight into the training practices of the New York Police Department. He referred to police as “political mobilizers,” because officers engage in politics at the community level. He said he wasn’t given full access to the Department’s training programs, and instead was required to analyze the relationship between police and marginalized communities externally. 

Samantha Simon, author of  “Before the Badge,” spent a year observing and participating in training at police academies, allowing her to directly witness how training influences a culture of violence amongst trainees. She shared her unique experiences as a woman in a male-dominated field and said she felt unsafe at times in her in-field work. 

“What could I possibly suggest that hasn’t already been suggested? That would, in some way, intervene in what I’m seeing as this unstoppable cycle or system or machine?” said Simon, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Arizona. “I could not come up with anything practical in terms of actual policy that I can envision getting tested or implemented in any way.”

Sierra-Arévalo said the audience should accept how violent policing as an institution is and to lower their expectations for reform. 

“Stop trying to make policing something that it’s not,” Sierra-Arévalo said. “Stop trying to make it gentler, stop trying to make policing an organization or an institution that does everything. Because what it’s designed to do is to be violent. That’s what it’s for.”

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