HBCU Cities, Police Shootings and Running Man Challenges

The search for community-police connections in cities where black lives are supported by historically black colleges.

The search for community-police connections in cities where black lives are supported by historically black colleges.

The Durham Police Department has released its version of the police Running Man Challenge, and in the scope of videos produced by departments all over the world, the Bull City’s Finest make the case for being one of the best.

Durham follows a number of HBCU cities to have produced Running Man Challenge videos, following Atlanta and Miami in the last two years.

But Durham’s challenge separates itself from others with subtle HBCU elements embedded in its humor. Several members of the force are happy to set out a hop to represent Omega Psi Phi Fraternity Inc., and the North Carolina Central University Marching Sound Machine makes a cameo appearance.

Those elements make the video because its director, Andre Payne, is a student at Howard University and principal of Novapane Productions. That the Durham PD was willing to 1. Make fools of themselves in the name of building trust with black communities and 2. Willing to pay an HBCU student to package their heartfelt foolishness says a lot about the leadership and its intentions in minority communities.

But do the numbers on police violence in HBCU communities say the same thing?

The website Mapping Police Violence showcases sortable data points on violence against citizens committed by police, with specific notations for African Americans and Hispanic Americans killed in police engagement scenarios.

National Police Violence Map
Mapping Police Violence collects comprehensive data on police killings nationwide to make the case for change.mappingpoliceviolence.org

It doesn’t show a case-by-case breakdown of how and why these incidents occur, but does break down those incidents in which victims were unarmed.

When you look at the HBCU cities analyzed in the report, specifically for shootings of unarmed victims of color in 2014 (the latest available year of data), a unique picture emerges.

Unarmed Police Shootings in HBCU Cities — 2014


Birmingham — 1


Jacksonville — 1
Miami — 1
Orlando — 1


Baltimore — 3

North Carolina

Charlotte — 1
Greensboro — 1
Winston-Salem — 1


Memphis — 1


Houston — 4
Dallas — 2

District of Columbia — 1

Out of the 100 murders of unarmed black men and women in 2014, 18 were in HBCU cities. This doesn’t offer any special qualifier or analysis of why they were killed, the protocols followed or violated during their interaction with police officers, or follow up on punishment for the officers. It is just a raw number of too many people killed, without weapons in hand, in cities where police, in theory, should be used to living around and policing black communities.

HBCUs are a part of the question on why this happens, because they have long been a part of the solution. Black college students drive social justice conversations in these communities, and dozens of others throughout the U.S. They are the voices behind movements for voter equity, economic empowerment, criminal justice reform and advocacy for improved schools.

HBCU public health faculty and graduates conduct the research that examines the effects of environmental toxins on black brains, black lungs and black hearts.

They file the briefs for over-sentenced black men to receive presidential clemency for non-violent offenses.

These are the factors, small and large, which lead to police violence in black communities. Police shootings aren’t a snap judgment by sworn officers; they are the culminating, fatal errors which cap months, or even years, of fatigue for officers dealing with impoverished communities which consider policing to be a primary stressor in a life filled with daily anxiety.

HBCUs, for all of the research and advocacy they bring in trying to solve these issues, can’t move fast enough to save our citizens, or our officers from these tragic mistakes. Our faculty know that police officers are frequently policing communities where residents live with ungodly levels of toxins and allergens coursing through their bodies and minds, poisoned by their own aging homes with chipping toxic paint, insulation or piping.

They know what its like for children to try and walk to school, to shop for groceries in a store that smells like rotting meat and vegetables, to witness arguments on front stoops, fights in the streets, and drug use in alleys and backyards.

That’s why Freddie Gray ran from the police, and why the police were compelled to chase him — not because of anything he did, or anything they were trained to do, but two reactions spurred by a community defined by poverty. From the Washington Post:

Why you should know what happened in Freddie Gray's life - long before his death
The general statistical profile of the West Baltimore community where Freddie Gray grew up is something most people…www.washingtonpost.com

In the area where Gray lived, data-finding efforts often group a trio of communities as one — Sandtown-Winchester/Harlem Park. Here, the unemployment rate averaged a stunning 51.8 percent between 2008 and 2012, according to a Justice Policy Institute report published in February. More than 30 percent of those who are fortunate enough to have jobs must travel 45 minutes or more to get to them. The median household income hovers just over $24,000 a year, and in 2012, there were roughly 19 deaths for every 1,000 people between the ages of 15 and 24.

A full 25 percent of children ages 10 to 17 have spent time in a juvenile facility. That’s a quarter of Sandtown-Winchester/Harlem Park children. That figure is also roughly equal to the share of kids in these communities who are likely to graduate from high school. And more than 7 percent of these same children have levels of lead in their blood — impulse-control and academic-ability-damaging lead — that meet or exceed the state standard for poisoning. Average life expectancy is 68.8 years. And the immediate area where Gray lived does not have a single grocery store or even a fast food restaurant.

Not all, but some police officers think the poor are a lazy bunch which subsists by all avoidance of merit and responsibility, without conscious awareness of the generational constructs, social and political, designed to create caste systems which are now universally crumbling under the weight of economic depression and bursts in technological advancement.

And no, police officers shouldn’t be critical race theorists with guns and handcuffs, but they should be smart enough to ask for help from the communities they serve. And if the people can’t offer the help themselves, then why not go to the institutions where the best and brightest are working towards solutions for these communities?

Because police departments, like most people regardless of race, have been conditioned to ignore HBCUs outside of contexts like football games and homecoming.

And obviously, doing the running man.