A Revolution Is Needed in the Urban Planning Industry, Much like the One Occurring in the Criminal Justice Industry
On May 25, 2020, George Floyd, a 46 year old Black man, was handcuffed over a suspected counterfeit $20 bill, roughed up, and murdered by a Minneapolis police officer. His neck was knelt on for eight minutes and forty-six seconds, constricting his ability to breath until he became motionless and then pulseless. As Floyd died, other officers helped restrain the rest of his body, while another stood by watching. The moment further sparked a revolution that has been building for our entire lives and highlighting the problems of an industry in deep need of a restart and reimagining process, as many call to defund police departments across the nation.
As the world looks at the criminal justice industry, it has become clear to most that inequity is alive and well. Since 2013, Black people represent 28% of those killed by police in the United States, despite being only 13% of the population (Sinyangwe and McKesson, DeRay). While data confirms this inequity, debate between polarized opinions serves as a distraction to progress. The real complexity lies beyond the recognition of inequity and is actually between the proposals of solutions that could change these dynamics.
To continue the revolution, we must understand that racial justice, according to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s notion that justice is “power correcting everything that stands against love.” Racial justice is inspired by love of all humanity at its base and should be fueled by compassion to seek out and alleviate all suffering caused by racism (Magee). As we look at a man’s life extinguished in eight minutes and forty-six seconds from a knee to the back of the neck for a suspected counterfeit $20 bill, we easily see the absence of love of all humanity in the police officer that murdered George Floyd. What is connected to that is the industry of criminal justice presenting the repetition of this event and the data that shows that, as a result, it is statistically more dangerous to be Black in this country.
Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic.
Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.”Martin Luther King Jr.
However, this is just the tip of the iceberg regarding racial injustice. The criminal justice industry is an industry where the action of inequity, racism, and the hate that fuels it can result in harassment, brutality, imprisonment (another industry that is a topic of its own) and at its worst, death. These overt representations of inequity often overshadow the systemic oppression of other industries, like urban planning, which has had its allegorical knee on the back of the neck of communities of color since its institutional inception.
The revolution of the criminal justice industry will need to produce policing that embodies the love of humanity, where no police officer would unjustly murder a man with intentionally rough tactics, no fellow police officers would aid and abet the murder, and no police officer would allow their complacency or fear to overcome their discomfort with injustice occurring in front of them. They must take responsibility for the sins of the industry with conviction and love of humanity through their job as first responders, accepting that it is the only way out of the systemic pit that we have dug our country into. This will require a deeper understanding of the communities that they have sworn themselves to and a shift out of thinking of Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) communities as ‘the other,’ which has promoted patrolling over ‘serving and protecting.’
Similarly, the urban planning industry must produce planners that embody love of humanity, putting people first, rather than the built environment. While the issues are more nuanced and concealed, increasingly through time, we must take responsibility for the sins of the past that were put in place to oppress and contain BIPOC. Most planners of today are much like the officers standing aside and watching inequity wreck havoc. These are the ones that must stand up for the revolution and prevent further damage from occurring.
- Magee, Rhonda V. The Inner Work of Racial Justice: Healing Ourselves and Transforming Our Communities through Mindfulness. TarcherPerigee, 2019.
- Sinyangwe, Samuel, and McKesson, DeRay. “Mapping Police Violence.” Mapping Police Violence, 30 June 2020, https://mappingpoliceviolence.org/.
© 2020 James Roy II. All rights reserved.
The following is part of a working draft to a thesis being written towards a Master in Urban & Regional Planning at the University of Colorado Denver. No part of the following work may be reproduced or used in any manner without written permission of the copyright owner (James Roy II).