Police violence against blacks won’t end until the U.S. Supreme Court adopts a substantially different approach to the issue, says a Virginia Tech expert on race and social.

“The bottom line is that better or different police training will not end this violence because it does nothing to limit the police's power to do violence,” said Wornie Reed. “Police have a license to kill anyone, and they use it disproportionately on black people.”

Reed says law enforcement received this “license” in the Graham v. Conner Supreme Court decision in 1989, written by Chief Justice William Rehnquist. The Graham decision in 1989 interpreted the Fourth Amendment to protect police officers, not black people, Reed said.

“It in effect changed the view of the police use of force from that of an individual encountering a state action that could potentially be a violation of the person’s constitutional rights under the Fourth Amendment to that of the police officer’s right, the right to act—and use force--if they feel it is reasonable,” says Reed.

“If the intended situation is to place the police officer’s life equal to that of the civilian, we need to make these rules clear and have police practices conform. If the intent is to value the police officer's life as more significant, we need to debate this issue in public and the courts. A large proportion of the citizenry might object to that orientation as a cultural practice.”       

Professor Wornie Reed, Blacksburg Police Chief Anthony Wilson and other local leaders and officials will talk about these issues at a news conference at noon on Tuesday, June 2, at the Montgomery County Sheriff's Office in Christiansburg, Virginia.

About Wornie Reed

Wornie Reed is the director of the Race and Social Policy Research Center and a professor of Africana Studies and sociology in Virginia Tech’s College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences. His areas of expertise includes race, ethnic health disparities, social policy and criminal justice.

Reed also has several connections to the civil rights movement: he marched alongside Martin Luther King Jr. and saw over 30 of his speeches; he attended King’s funeral in Atlanta and marched in Memphis; he participated in the Poor People's’ Campaign, the 1963 March on Washington and the Montgomery Bus Boycott; He also participated with the Olympic Committee for Human Rights which sponsored the Black Power salute boycott.

Reed’s expertise has been featured in TIME,  HuffPost, WSLS (Virginia CBS affiliate), WVTF (Virginia NPR affiliate), Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder, and the Philadelphia Tribune, to name a few.   

Schedule an interview:  Contact Michael Stowe at mstowe@vt.edu or 540-392-4218.