PLSI Department Faculty statement re: racism and protests (May/June 2020)

Friday, June 5, 2020

Dear Political Science students,

For many of us, the last week has been profoundly disturbing, intense, and shattering, but also at times inspiring and hopeful. We are a department that studies politics and how and why the world works the way it does. Many of you came to our major with this in mind and with the desire for change, and we want you to know that we hear you in our classrooms and outside.

This last week has forced those more privileged to confront a reality that many people of color, especially Black Americans, have known for far too long: the ongoing racism that pervades U.S. society, its political institutions and even its founding ideology. We have known for a long time that the United States has been much more democratic for some people than for others. The rule of law -- the idea that everyone should be treated equally in the eyes of the law, and held equally accountable -- has been one of the founding tenets of our liberal democracy.

Yet, it has not protected us all equally. The police killings of George Floyd, Sean Monterrosa, Breonna Taylor, Stephon Clark, and so many others demonstrate this. George Floyd’s killing sparked this week of protests, but it was kindled by the loss of the lives of many others before him. Official responses to these demonstrations raise questions about the continuing viability of democracy in the United States.

As political scientists and as citizens, we are deeply troubled by the militarization of the police and the intensification of its historical role in enforcing a racialized order, by presidential threats to use the professional military to suppress civil society and violate our fundamental right to organize, and by the executive use of religious sites and symbols to address the country. These are the dynamics that fuel the authoritarianism and civil conflicts many of us have studied in other parts of the world but have sometimes been unwilling to see in our own backyard.

We draw hope from extraordinary popular mobilization across racial, generational and geographic lines. We are heartened by the apparent responsiveness of some political institutions and leaders to protester demands. We are encouraged by how many citizens have taken these events as an occasion to examine deeply held assumptions and beliefs about how our society is organized and to consider alternative forms of conflict resolution.

We as faculty in the Political Science Department are educators, but also members of civil society who study and learn from you. Events on the ground and the increasingly large numbers of people caught in the web of state violence point to the urgent need for dialogue, education, and mutual support. We are committed to engaging in this with you now and into the future.


The SF State Political Science Faculty