Beyond the “blue wall of silence:” Journalist and Law Professor Rosa Brooks on Policing in America


With this week’s horrific shooting of Daunte Wright in Minnesota and the on-going murder trial of Derek Chauvin in the death of George Floyd, the discussion about police training is making new headlines. As part of this discussion another issue is stirring debate and leading to #badapples trending on social media: The failure of fellow officers to intervene.

“American police departments urgently need to implement high-quality active bystandership training programs to reduce this kind of deadly passivity,” journalist and law professor Rosa Brooks recently wrote in Politico. PRHSB-speaker Rosa Brooks is the author of TANGLED UP IN BLUE: POLICING THE AMERICAN CITY, a book that reckons with the institution of policing and the chronic issues of the criminal justice system.

Rosa Brooks’ story is one of the most gripping and morally complex of its kind: In her forties, with two children, a spouse, a dog, a mortgage, and a full-time job as a tenured law professor at Georgetown University, Rosa Brooks decided to become a cop. A liberal academic and journalist with an enduring interest in law’s troubled relationship with violence, Brooks wanted the kind of insider experience that would help her understand how police officers make sense of their world—and whether that world can be changed. In 2015, against the advice of everyone she knew, she applied to become a sworn, armed reserve police officer with the Washington, DC, Metropolitan Police Department.

In her lectures, Brooks recounts her unlikely story, gives a revelatory account of what it’s like inside the “blue wall of silence”, and highlights the urgent need for changes not only in current policing practices, but also in the laws and institutions that make policing what it is.

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