A Demand To End Anti-Black Racism - Honolulu Civil Beat


About the Authors

Omar Bird

Omar Bird is a Ph.D. candidate in sociology at the University of Hawaii Manoa. He studies medical sociology, social determinants of health, and racism in institutions.

Katherine Irwin

Katherine Irwin is a professor of sociology at the University of Hawaii Manoa. She studies race, gender, and class inequalities and crime.

Noreen Kohl

Noreen Kohl is a sociology Ph.D. candidate at the University of Hawaii Manoa. She studies racism, policing and the criminal legal system, and families and health.

Nathalie Rita

Nathalie Rita is a Ph.D. candidate in sociology at the University of Hawaii Manoa. She studies migration, racism, and issues related to housing.

Nandita Sharma

Nandita Sharma is a professor of sociology at the University of Hawaii Manoa. She studies racism, nationalism, and migration.


By now, you know that four police officers have been held responsible for the murder of George Floyd. What you may not know is that two of these officers graduated from the University of Minnesota with degrees in sociology, a department that focuses on the study of the criminal legal system.

UMN is not alone. Sociology departments around the country specialize in criminal justice studies and, consequently, boast that they are fruitful “training grounds” for policing careers.

The tie that binds sociology to racist police practices needs to be severed. As sociologists at the University of Hawaii Manoa, we feel that it is past time to forcefully speak out against anti-Black racism within our law enforcement institutions. In other words, we refuse to be complicit in a system that trains people to enact racism. Instead, we propose some strategies to end anti-Black racism within policing and elsewhere.

We know that racist inequalities are difficult to end. They do not go away just because the words “equality,” “democracy,” “freedom,” and “justice” are written into states’ constitutions or mission statements. Inequalities will persist until we end the institutionalization of racism in private and state institutions, including the police.

Black Lives Matter marchers arrive at the Capitol after marching from Ala Moana Beach Park.

Black Lives Matter marchers arrive at the Capitol after marching from Ala Moana Beach Park earlier this month. It’s time to listen to what protestors are saying, and to act.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Past responses to police violence have failed to produce meaningful change. The Minneapolis Police Department enacted implicit bias training, mandated that police wear body cameras, appointed police chiefs of color, enacted “duty to intervene” policies, and emphasized “community policing.” But, even after adopting such policies, four Minneapolis police officers murdered George Floyd.

We, therefore, demand real systemic change to policing and criminal justice policies and practices. It is well past time for us to listen — and act upon — what Black people have been saying for countless generations: police do not increase public safety.

Defund The Police

To make sure that Black Lives Matter, some have called for the “defunding of police.” We agree. We ask that resources be moved away from policing and toward the provision of services necessary to make sure that Black Lives Matter. Historically, the swelling of police budgets has allowed pronounced local, state, and federal underfunding of services within Black communities.

It is time to provide quality health care, education, food security, a living wage, housing, and transportation in Black communities and communities of color. These services are necessary to create safer communities for everyone, especially for Black people.

Moreover, during the past 20 years, armed police officers have been increasingly tasked with social welfare work. They have been asked to respond to drug overdoses, work with people who have mental illness, provide safety for students, and engage with houseless people.

At the same time, police have a monopoly on the legal use of violence. Every time the police are called “to help” a student, a houseless person, a mental health patient, or a person overdosing on drugs, there is a potential for violence. And, when you match this violent potential with institutionalized racism, the result is devastating.

We also call for the suspension of the use of paid administrative leave for police officers under investigation; the adoption of policies forbidding the (re)hiring of any police officer who has used excessive force; the withholding of pensions of police involved in the use of excessive force; the holding of police as liable for misconduct settlements; and the withdrawal of police participation in military training.

We demand that schools stop partnering with law enforcement institutions. UHM and the Hawaii Department of Education should follow the example of the Minneapolis Department of Education. They should not enter into any agreements or contracts with local police departments. We also call for the defunding of all grants supporting the use of police as security in Hawaii’s schools.

To say that Black Lives Matter means ending the referral of students to the police. Hawaii has the highest rate of school referrals to law enforcement in the U.S, referring nearly 10% of the student body to the police during the 2013-14 academic year. Hawaii also has the second highest rate of student arrests in the U.S. Like elsewhere, the police disproportionately respond to and arrest students of color in Hawaii’s schools.

We know that racism cannot be defeated by changing minds alone.

Sociologists have been at the forefront of scientifically proving that “race” is a social construct, meaning that rather than a biological or cultural reality, the idea that we belong to separate “races” is used to create and maintain gross inequalities. The police use of deadly force against a man accused of passing a counterfeit 20 dollar bill is one outcome of the deadly nature of racist hierarchies.

We know that racism cannot be defeated by changing minds alone. We must end the institutionalization of racist violence by changing the structure of policing, while also ensuring the provision of services and resources needed for communities to be safe.

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About the Authors

Omar Bird

Omar Bird is a Ph.D. candidate in sociology at the University of Hawaii Manoa. He studies medical sociology, social determinants of health, and racism in institutions.

Katherine Irwin

Katherine Irwin is a professor of sociology at the University of Hawaii Manoa. She studies race, gender, and class inequalities and crime.

Noreen Kohl

Noreen Kohl is a sociology Ph.D. candidate at the University of Hawaii Manoa. She studies racism, policing and the criminal legal system, and families and health.

Nathalie Rita

Nathalie Rita is a Ph.D. candidate in sociology at the University of Hawaii Manoa. She studies migration, racism, and issues related to housing.

Nandita Sharma

Nandita Sharma is a professor of sociology at the University of Hawaii Manoa. She studies racism, nationalism, and migration.


Latest Comments (0)

I concur with the suspension of the use of paid administrative leave for police officers under investigation; the adoption of policies forbidding the (re)hiring of any police officer who has used excessive force; the withholding of pensions of police involved in the use of excessive force; the holding of police as liable for misconduct settlements. Additionally,  a policeman leaving a body cam off should result in an automatic Nolo contendre conviction in any excessive force complaint and investigation. 

Skohl · 3 months ago

Quality public education is the only way to break the vicious cycle of poverty, dependence, despair and violence. Addressing the symptoms of the problem is not enough, we must address the root cause. More people of color need to contact their lawmakers and show up at Board of Education meetings and other forums dedicated to public education and demand an end to the dumbing down of public schools, a renewed focus on academic excellence, a return of vocational training, and introduction of a proper STEM curriculum, vastly expanded and in sync with the demands of the global education and labor markets.

Chiquita · 3 months ago

Police ought to welcome the chance to shed some of the social welfare work they've taken on recently.  The yawning inequalities in wealth and incomes in Hawai`i nei and the USA mean increases in the need for social welfare work and the usual police work enforcing property rights.  Police will have a better chance of responding effectively if they reduce their workload and stay focused on core police activities.Police aren't the origin of institutionalized racism, they are the exposed tip of that noxious iceberg.  We'll need to help them through the social unrest produced by the unequal distribution of wealth and incomes until we find the political will to solve that problem.

td · 3 months ago

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