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CSUF Experts Examine Racism, Social Justice and Police Reform Amid COVID-19

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Protesters worldwide are in the streets demanding racial equity, social justice and police reform — all while wearing face coverings to slow the spread of a virus infecting millions of people.

The current racial tensions, coupled with the COVID-19 global health crisis, are magnifying social inequities that have compounded for generations.

Cal State Fullerton faculty experts explore not only how the pandemic has exposed systemic racism, but the impact of the protests, and the call to defund and reform law enforcement.

Chapter 1 A Pandemic Sets the Stage

From the bubonic plague to the Spanish flu, public health expert Mojgan Sami explains that pandemics throughout history have closely aligned with social transformation and upheaval. It’s not surprising, she says, that national unrest following the death of George Floyd would coincide with the COVID-19 crisis.

“The Spanish influenza of 1918 was around the same time of the women’s suffrage movement,” says Sami, who has worked with such organizations as the United Nations, World Health Organization and the World Bank. “Women were protesting constantly in the streets — during the pandemic with their masks and their signs — for women’s rights.

“Today, we’re noticing the same thing.”

The Racial Inequity of Coronavirus

Coronavirus cases per 10,000 people1

  • 0White
  • 0Asian
  • 0Black
  • 0Latino

Confirmed Cases by Country2

0 worldwide
Brazil: 2,242,394Chile: 336,408India: 1,238,635Iran: 284,034Mexico: 362,274Peru: 366,550Russia: 1,238,635Spain: 270,166U.K.: 294,146U.S.: 4,038,967South Africa: 408,052World globe

1 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and U.S. Census Bureau, New York Times. Data: Through May 28

2 Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 dashboard as of July 23

Chapter 2 The Root of Racism

Racism in the United States is deep-rooted and alive today, according to Gwendolyn Alexis and Edward Robinson, lecturers in African American studies.

“The legacy of not seeing people as human beings and telling people that you own another person — when you have that legacy, you come out thinking Black folks don’t matter,” says Alexis. “The legacy of racism is still very much prevalent today.”

“Police killings are kindling a fire that’s been burning since the 17th century,” says Robinson. “Black people have been articulating this argument about the disparity, and it’s now a conversation that has moved out of our community … and that is hopeful.

Activists clash with police during protests of the George Floyd killing.

Chapter 3 Who Watches the Watchers?

Access to video from cell phones, surveillance cameras and police body cameras is a game changer in terms of transparency and accountability of police interactions with citizens, says Jason Shepard, professor of communications and expert in digital media law.

People are now armed with cell phones and video cameras in ways that they never were before,” he says.

“The bystander video really highlighted what happened in George Floyd’s case,” says Christine Gardiner, professor of criminal justice and senior research fellow for the National Police Foundation who studies such topics as the impact of body-worn cameras. “You can literally watch the life come out of George Floyd.”

WARNING: Disturbing images in video

Number of Law Enforcement Agencies With Body Cameras Over Time

  • 2013: 0
  • 2015: 0
  • 2016: 0
  • 2017: 0
  • 2018: 0

A little more than half of the 18,000 law enforcement agencies in the U.S. use body-worn cameras in some capacity.

Source: Center for Digital Government

0.00 billionsocial media users around the world

0.00 billionmobile phone users around the world

Chapter 4 A Voice for Protest

As images of George Floyd’s life being extinguished play out on social media, national broadcasts and cable news, millions of people worldwide are calling for police reform and an end to systemic racism.

Gwendolyn Alexis, lecturer in African American studies, explains the power of protest and the Black Lives Matter movement.

“Protest is extremely important for the Black human being,” she says. “Protest is our voice. Protest is our anger. Protest tells people, ‘you cannot do that to me.’”

George Floyd World Protest Map

Since May, there have been hundreds of protests related to the killing of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement. The following map shows those with more than 100 participants.

Map markerMap markerMap markerMap markerMap markerMap markerMap markerMap markerMap markerMap of the world
A map of the world with markers identifying the hundreds of protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd.

Demonstrators gather in front of Los Angeles City Hall to decry the killing of George Floyd.

Chapter 5 What Can Police Reform Look Like?

With widespread calls to “defund the police,” faculty members Christine Gardiner, Gwendolyn Alexis, Mojgan Sami and Nancy Panza discuss strategies for divesting funds from police departments and reallocating them to non-policing forms of public safety and community support.

“Police officers will agree,” says Gardiner. “They don’t want to be your solution to every social problem we have.”

“What if (divesting funds) took some of the load off of our officers?” adds Panza, a professor who specializes in police psychology. “I’m pretty sure our officers would not only be OK with it, they would be like ‘thank you’ and ‘please take that part away.’ That’s not what they’re meant to be doing in the first place.”

We Can Do Better

Cal State Fullerton is committed to diversity, inclusion and creating a more equitable campus. We invite you to learn more about the social and public health issues presented in this package and have assembled a list of resources to help continue this conversation.



Featured Faculty

The Team

  • Matt Gush Assistant Director, Digital Media And University Photographer
  • Chris Min Videographer
  • Lynn Juliano Writer And Communications Specialist
  • Robert Rodriguez Digital Communications Designer
  • Mishu Vu Art Director And Senior Director, Online Communications
  • Jillian Boyd Social Media Specialist
  • Michael Mahi Senior Director, Digital Media