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Race and Policing in America: A CLAS Theme Year Event

Race and Policing in America:  A CLAS Theme Year Event
Friday, October 16, 2020 - 10:00am to 11:30am

CLAS Theme Year:
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Join these faculty experts for presentations and Q&A:


Simon Balto, University of Iowa

Professor Simon Balto (University of Iowa)

Assistant Professor, History and African American Studies, University of Iowa 

"History Supports Abolishing the Police."

For generations, the United States did not have formal, organized, and powerful police departments in the way that it does now. When local governments began to organize them in the 1800s, it was for purposes of racial, ethnic, and class control, not because of an interest in a generic “public safety.” This talk will use the history of policing to explore how we can make sense of the modern and many crises of policing, as well as why abolishing policing as it is currently constituted is a logical and valid political project.

Simon Balto is a scholar, writer, and teacher of History and African American Studies. He is the author of Occupied Territory: Policing Black Chicago from Red Summer to Black Power (University of North Carolina Press, 2019), and has written for multiple scholarly and popular publications, including TIME, The Washington Post, The Progressive, The Journal of African American History, Journal of Urban History, and Labor, among others. He teaches at The University of Iowa and is the recipient of numerous fellowships, including from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Council of Learned Societies, and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. 

He is currently at work on two new major projects. The first, titled Racial Framing: Blackface Criminals in Jim Crow America, explores the history of white people donning blackface when committing crimes, black condemnations of and campaigns against the practice (including by Frederick Douglass and Ida B. Wells), and what that history shows us about racial condemnation and racist conceptions of criminality in the United States. The second, titled “I am a Revolutionary”: The Political Life and Legacy of Fred Hampton, is a biography of the life and political afterlife of Fred Hampton, the brilliant organizer and leader of the Illinois Black Panther Party, who was murdered by the FBI and the Chicago Police Department in 1969 at the age of twenty-one.


Jennifer Cobbina

Professor Jennifer Cobbina (Michigan State)

Associate Professor, School of Criminal Justice, Michigan State University 

"Taking power from police and putting it into communities."

This talk will highlight takeaways from Cobbina's research in Ferguson and Baltimore following the deaths of Michael Brown and Freddie Gray to provide context to the recent police violence and present protests. Cobbina will discuss the history of policing and engage in conversation about what it means to divest in police and invest in marginalized communities.

Jennifer Cobbina is an Associate Professor in the School of Criminal Justice at Michigan State University, and is the author of Hands Up, Don’t Shoot: Why the Protests in Ferguson and Baltimore Matter, and How They Changed America. She received her PhD in criminal justice at the University of Missouri – St. Louis in 2009. Dr. Cobbina’s areas of expertise center on police-community relations, youth violence, and concentrated neighborhood disadvantage, with a special focus on the experiences of minority youth and the impact of race, class, and gender on criminal justice practices. Her research also focuses on corrections, prisoner reentry and the understanding of recidivism and desistance from crime. 

Her mixed-methods qualitative and quantitative research predicts recidivism and desistance outcomes and also explores offenders’ perceptions regarding how they manage reentry and integration back into the community. Her scholarship is centered on improving the reentry outcomes of individuals with a felony record and/or has been formerly incarcerated.  Her goal is to produce research that is theoretically informed, empirically rich, and informs criminal justice policy and crime control practices. Dr. Cobbina’s research has been published in a number of academic journals, including Criminology, Justice Quarterly, Crime and Delinquency, Criminal Justice & Behavior, British Journal of Criminology, and Journal of Crime and Justice

Cobbina has appeared on, or been cited by, CBS, CBC, CNN, NBC, NPR, the New York Times, Washington Post, Politico, USA Today, The Conversation, and a host of other print, radio, and television media outlets.


Rashawn Ray

Professor Rashawn Ray (University of Maryland)

David M. Rubenstein Fellow, Governance Studies, The Brookings Institution
Professor of Sociology – University of Maryland, College Park  
Director, Lab of Applied Social Science Research – University of Maryland, College Park

"What is 'Defund the Police' and does it have merit?"

“Defund the police” means reallocating or redirecting funding away from the police department to other government agencies funded by the local municipality. Defunding the police highlights fiscal responsibility, advocates for a market-driven approach to taxpayer money, and has some potential benefits that will reduce police violence and crime. This talk outlines some of the main arguments for defunding the police and discusses its viability.

Dr. Rashawn Ray, a David M. Rubenstein Fellow in Governance Studies at The Brookings Institution, is Professor of Sociology and Executive Director of the Lab for Applied Social Science Research (LASSR) at the University of Maryland, College Park. He is also one of the co-editors of Contexts Magazine: Sociology for the Public. Formerly, Ray was a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health Policy Research Scholar at the University of California, Berkeley. 

Ray’s research addresses the mechanisms that manufacture and maintain racial and social inequality with a particular focus on police-civilian relations and men’s treatment of women. His work also speaks to ways that inequality may be attenuated through racial uplift activism and social policy. Ray has published over 50 books, articles, and book chapters, and nearly 20 op-eds. Recently, Ray published the book How Families Matter: Simply Complicated Intersections of Race, Gender, and Work (with Pamela Braboy Jackson) and another edition of Race and Ethnic Relations in the 21st Century: History, Theory, Institutions, and Policy, which has been adopted nearly 40 times in college courses. 

Ray has written for the New York Times, Newsweek, Huffington Post, and NBC News. Selected as 40 Under 40 Prince George's County and awarded the 2016 UMD Research Communicator Award, Ray has appeared on C-SPAN, MSNBC, HLN, Al Jazeera, NPR, and Fox News. His research has been cited by the Washington Post, Associated Press, Reuters, CNN, ESPN, Vox, The Root, and The Chronicle. Previously, Ray served on the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington Planning Committee and the Commission on Racial Justice with Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.

This webinar is part of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences-sponsored Theme Year series, called "Pursuing Racial Justice at the University of Iowa." In this collaborative 2020-21 series, faculty, students, and staff are exploring—through cross-disciplinary and intersectional lenses—how the UI's history as a predominantly white institution has shaped:

  • The knowledge we produce and convey to students, the public, and the academy;
  • The ways our community members interact with one another; and
  • The relationship of the university to Iowa City and the state of Iowa.

The goal of each event is to invite members of CLAS, the UI, and the broader community to engage with the issues, reflect upon what they have learned, and consider personal and institutional actions we might take in response.

For more information about DEI work in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, visit  

Top photo—Creator: APU GOMES | Credit: AFP via Getty Images