Corrective Action as Collective Action

On UVA’s Lifetime Learning podcast, Batten professor Brian Williams argues that we should let diverse groups drive police reform.

williams
Williams teaches in Garrett Hall's Great Hall.

Since George Floyd’s killing this spring, the way many Americans see policing has shifted. A recent poll showed that 74% of people in the U.S. believe Floyd’s death reflects a larger problem. Only 43% expressed that view after Trayvon Martin’s killing in 2014, Batten professor Brian Williams noted on UVA’s Lifetime Learning podcast last week.

Williams, who studies relations between police officers and the communities they serve, spoke about the fraught history of policing in America—including ties between the present system and the slave patrols of the past—and how we might work together to build a more equitable police force. He indicated that the recent shift in public opinion suggests Americans are moving toward an important first step: recognizing that there’s a problem. But he also argued that we still have a long way to go.

“It’s a reconciliation process,” Williams said. “It will go from awareness of these issues, understanding these issues, and acknowledging that these issues are real, into what I describe as corrective action as collective action.”

That looks like assembling groups of people with a range of life experiences, Williams explained. In his own classes, he has invited many different guests to share their views on policing, from attorneys and advocates to people re-entering society after more than 20 years in prison. The University of Virginia and other academic institutions can do their part by fostering conversations that welcome those varied perspectives, Williams noted, in addition to supporting relevant research and serving local nonprofits that have insight into the viewpoints of both community members and police officers.

 “We all have different lived experiences,” Williams said. “Our truths happen to be our truths, but we have to begin the process of appreciating the truths of others.”