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Policing Marginalized Communities

January 23, 2023

This past semester, Quattrone Center Fellow Anjelica Hendricks engaged students in the study of how policing intersects with race, gender, ability, and other intertwined socio-economic identities.

“We cannot understand our legal system here in America without understanding its impact on race,” said Quattrone Center for the Fair Administration of Justice Research Fellow Anjelica Hendricks.

In her trailblazing new course “Policing Marginalized Communities,” Hendricks poses questions such as: To whom do police forces answer? What is considered criminal activity? Who is involved in determining whether police activity constitutes misconduct?

Throughout the semester, students in the course address these crucial intersections by looking at policing as an institution through intentionally marginalization-conscious and historical lenses. Course discussions delve deeply into the origins of policing and connect that history to contemporary policing policies, encouraging students to develop critical understandings of how policing functions in society today.

“Policing is an institution that predates our U.S. Constitution, and because so, our laws and courts for decades have ignored policing practices,” Hendricks said. “What this seminar is really going to be able to explore is that history of policing — and how those policing practices can be reflected in modern policing practices.”

Research-Driven Analysis

Quattrone Fellow Anjelica Hendricks Quattrone Fellow Anjelica HendricksThroughout the semester, students read over 30 different texts, including Supreme Court case briefs, policy reports, scholarship, and books, to explore the law as it relates to marginalized communities and policing. In addition to a focus on how racial minorities are and have historically been policed, these texts also examine the policing of poor people, individuals who live in public housing, members of the LGBTQ+ community, and migrant and migrant-adjacent communities.

“Unfortunately, our Supreme Court opinions don’t usually address marginalization, race, and gender within their text as it relates to policing, so this seminar seeks to fill in those gaps,” Hendricks said.

To supplement Supreme Court opinions, the class reads a number of interdisciplinary texts written by legal scholars, historians, and others to garner a sense of the historical underpinnings of how and when the courts began to regulate police. Among its contents, the “Policing Marginalized Communities” syllabus includes selections from Slave Patrols Law and Violence in Virginia and the Carolinas by Sally E. Hadden, Presumed Guilty: How the Supreme Court Empowered the Police and Subverted Civil Rights by Erwin Chemerinsky, and The Color of the Third Degree: Racism, Police Torture, and Civil Rights in the American South, 1930–1955 by Silvan Niedermeier.

Throughout the course, Hendricks approaches traditional constitutional and criminal law topics in an explicitly marginalization-conscious way, thus subverting the traditional means of instruction. For example, Hendricks begins lessons pertaining to criminal confessions with a discussion centered on policing during the Jim Crow era. This choice is meant to disrupt the more traditional analysis of this area of the law, which usually is built around a discussion of Miranda v. Arizona. As is underscored by Hendricks’s course, this is just one of many interconnected areas of the law wherein a nuanced awareness of the impact of marginalization is crucial to understanding current policing practices.

“Policing is an institution that predates most of our legal system. It is an institution that predates the Constitution, the legislative, [and] the judiciary. It is one of the first institutions, alongside the institution of slavery, within this nation,” Hendricks said. “These facts matter because it emphasizes the difficulty of curtailing police authority, even today. These conversations matter because, as we are attempting to look at the Supreme Court, to look at our legislators, [and] to look at our city government to be able to ask them to curtail police authority, a lot of that deals with uncovering the roots and excavating the roots of that authority and where it comes from.”

Real-World Application

Prior to her Fellowship at the Quattrone Center, Hendricks developed the idea for this course while working as a public defender in Philadelphia. In that capacity, she built relationships with clients and found that she was unable to separate their intersectional identities with their legal cases.

“The majority of my clients were Black and brown individuals. They were unhoused individuals. They were individuals with mental and physical disabilities, as well. So there wasn’t a time in my practice where their intersecting identities were not important for the litigation, and because of that, I’m also tying that into how policing works today,” Hendricks said. “It’s important to know where these policies come from and the people who are mostly impacted by those policies. When we’re looking at the policing practices and policies, the folks who are mostly impacted are marginalized people, so we can’t discuss policing and criminal procedure without addressing marginalization.”

Hendricks also had the opportunity to deploy these strategies in practice by working for the Police Advisory Commission (PAC), Philadelphia’s civilian oversight agency for the Philadelphia Police Department. While at the PAC, she identified systemic barriers to police accountability and evaluated how policing policies and practices impacted marginalized community members.

Moreover, Hendricks also noted that Black law students’ expressed desire for curriculum on police violence constituted a major motivation for developing this course. Throughout the semester, the class specifically discussed the police killing of Walter Wallace, Jr., which occurred in West Philadelphia on October 26, 2020, and the MOVE bombing, which took place just blocks from Penn in 1985 and is regarded as the most violent police incident in American history.

Overall, Hendricks’s goal for the course is to empower students to apply a more critical lens to the analysis of contemporary policing policy, informed by a nuanced understanding of how these policies have developed over time and function to reinforce marginalization.

“What I’m hoping for students to be able to gain from this class is: If they decide to do public defense or prosecution, government, [or] legislative work, they can be equipped with the tools to understand the origins of some policies and, most importantly, how they impact marginalized people,” Hendricks said.

Learn more about the critical work of the Quattrone Center for the Fair Administration of Justice.