Police violence and protest in America: What it means for Australia



26 May 2015

"The problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color-line" wrote political activist W.E.B. DuBois in 1903. In 2015 that same line seems inexpugnable. For all the celebrations of the Obama age and a new "post-racial” America, the fault lines of the nation continue to be most problematic and seismic when they can be drawn in black and white. For more than a year the news has been full of the deaths of young black men at the hands of white police officers: the unarmed Michael Brown in Ferguson, Eric Garner choked to death on a New York City street, 12 year old Tamir Rice shot in a Cleveland park while holding a replica pistol, Freddie Gray delivered to a Baltimore Police Station with a mostly-severed spinal cord, after being unbuckled and tossed about in the van. This series of high profile incidents has opened public discussions about the role that law enforcement plays in American society, especially in communities of colour. It has turned police unions against elected officials, such as New York Mayor Bill Blasio. It has increased the suspicion and fear that divides police forces from the communities they are organised to serve. What can be done to redress the problems? And what does it mean for Australia?

The US Studies Centre hosted a public panel on race, police violence and protest in the US and Australia.


  • Dr Thomas Adams
    Dr Thomas Adams
    Senior Lecturer in History and American Studies, University of Sydney

    Dr Thomas Jessen Adams was previously a lecturer at the United States Studies Centre. He continues to be a Lecturer in American Studies and History at the School of Philosophical and Historical Inquiry at the University of Sydney. His research and writing focuses on political economy, labour, social movements, urban history, and race, gender, and American politics.

  • Associate Professor David Smith
    Associate Professor David Smith
    Associate Professor in American Politics and Foreign Policy, United States Studies Centre (jointly appointed with the School of Social and Political Sciences, University of Sydney)

    David Smith is jointly appointed between the US Studies Centre and the School of Social and Political Sciences at the University of Sydney. His research examines political relations between states and minorities, with a focus on religion in the US. His book Religious Persecution and Political Order in the United States was published by Cambridge University Press in 2015.

  • Dr Madeleine Pill
    Lecturer in Public Policy

    Madeleine Pill’s research focuses on urban and neighbourhood governance and policy, taking a comparative perspective with a particular emphasis on the UK and US. She is interested in increased expectations of the ‘local’ and of communities and civil society organisations engaging in self-help strategies, heightened by economic pressures and the adoption of austerity measures, and the extent to which these efforts are facilitated or undermined by their governance context.

  • Dr Ethan Blue
    Senior Lecturer in History, University of Western Australia

    Dr Ethan Blue's research examines the American past across multiple scales, from the minute struggles of individuals’ lives to the global contexts geopolitical social and economic forces. His work has examined the history of crime and punishment in the United States (which boasts the highest per-capita incarceration rate on earth), but also the histories of medicine, photography, music, and the militarization of higher education. His work has appeared in numerous edited volumes and scholarly journals, including Pacific Historical Review; Journal of Social History; Radical History Review; Humanities Research; Law, Culture, and the Humanities; among others.