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    04.23.19 In NYU Law Review Article, Professor Bennett Capers Explores Afrofuturism, Critical Race Theory, and Policing in the Year 2044
    Bennett Capers

    What might the future look like in 2044, when the United States is projected to tip from being majority white to majority minority, or in the ensuing years, when people of color also wield the majority of political and economic power? And specifically, what might policing look like? These are the questions Bennett Capers, the Stanley A. August Professor of Law, takes up in his article “Afrofuturism, Critical Race Theory, and Policing in the Year 2044,” recently published as the lead article in the New York University Law Review.

    Capers analyzes policing issues in the context of Afrofuturism, a cultural aesthetic and philosophy of science and history that explores the intersection of African Diaspora culture with technology and critical race theory (CRT), a framework that uses critical theory to examine society and culture relating to categorizations of race, law, and power. Capers examines how significant problems now plaguing the criminal justice system, such as mass incarceration, over-criminalization, and capital punishment, may be addressed in future decades when, as Capers writes, people of color hold the keys to courthouses and prisons.

    “I hope the article will encourage people of color, progressives and others to think about and envision the future,” said Capers. “It’s easy to be pessimistic about the status quo. But smart people should start planning now for a future world in order to better map a way toward it. It’s important to have a vision.”

    Capers first conceived of the article upon the 2018 release of the movie Black Panther, the third-highest grossing domestic film of all time and a cinematic depiction of Afrofuturism. The film opens and closes on a makeshift basketball court at housing project in Oakland, Calif., which contrasts with the imaginary country of Wakanda, the high-tech, utopian setting of the film, which depicts African potential unbound from slavery and colonialism. The opening scene of the film portrays urban blight and crime. The film’s ending, which takes place on the same basketball court, suggests that the scourge of crime will be addressed by a different mindset, one that includes technology, capital, and education.

    “When Black Panther came out, I had a eureka moment to put Afrofuturism together with CRT and criminal justice issues, and everything came together perfectly,” said Capers.

    Discounting dystopian white fears about a future in which whites no longer wield control, Capers writes that in the context of Afrofuturism and CRT, the goal is not racial domination or comeuppance, but equality for all, inclusive of race, gender, sexuality, disability, and class.

    “The aspirational part of the article is, as the U.S. population shifts to minority white, people of color will have a better sense of the importance of equality,” Capers said.

    Capers anticipates that in an Afrofuturist and CRT-informed future, crime will have dropped dramatically, due, in part, to societal changes in the redistribution of wealth. Extant and emerging technology also will reduce crime. He cites, for example, race-neutral surveillance, access to Big Data, and devices such as terahertz scanners that will allow authorities to detect whether a suspect is armed, as well as vast improvements in face, voice, and gait recognition. These technologies, Capers contends, will also lead to a drastic reduction in the use of force by police.

    Moreover, in the decades ahead, the weight society places on privacy will have shifted, Capers suggests, noting, for example, the already broad and accepted use of public mass surveillance for security reasons. At a time when blue-on-black police violence seems constant, Capers writes that surveillance cameras have functioned as a tool of survival for black and brown people, serving as further proof that racism is real.

    “If there’s a tradeoff between privacy and equal protection,” said Capers, “I come out on the side of equality. Every time.”

    Capers is a prolific scholar on the relationship between race, gender, and criminal justice. At the Law School he teaches evidence, criminal procedure, and criminal law. He spent nearly 10 years as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Southern District of New York.

    Read the article here