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Locked Jaws: A Historical and Contemporary Look at Police Dogs and Violence Against the African-American Community in the United States

Kendall Shanks, Dr. Natasha Gordon-Chipembere, Global Studies, Long Island University, 1 University Plaza, Brooklyn, NY 11201, United States

The historical and contemporary uses of canines as instruments of violence against African-American1 peoples in the United States, from those who tracked enslaved peoples to the modern-day police, have caused intergenerational trauma and sparked calls for abolition. The imagery of police dogs released on Civil Rights protesters in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963 shifted the way police dogs are viewed by the American public, and this imagery has been recreated in photographs from the uprisings in response to the murder of George Floyd in 2020. This study was conducted during a three month course in the Fall of 2020 and aims to make historical connections with modern examples of police brutality through the use of police dogs, and to contextualize the use of police dogs with ideas of justice held by African-American communities in the US. Information was drawn primarily from historical document and art analysis, interviews, and analysis of social media and music. Calls for abolition of police and other systems of oppression in the United States have existed since colonial contact, but there is little discussion about the role of police dogs within larger conversations of abolition. Some members of African-American communities believe police dogs should be abolished, but there are little to no organizations or movements that are specific to this issue at the time this research was conducted.

Key Words: dogs, canines, police, violence, racism, enslaved peoples, Afro-descendent peoples, United States, justice, Black peoples, African-American peoples, Critical Race Theory, abolition

1 The use of the term African-American is intentional. Rather than use Black peoples, African-American is more specific to peoples in the Americas due to the trading of enslaved Africans, with focus on the United States. The specific communities included in this research are peoples who have been impacted by the intergenerational trauma of enslavement.




Additional Abstract Information

Presenter: Kendall Shanks

Institution: Long Island University

Type: Oral

Subject: Interdisciplinary Studies

Status: Approved


Time and Location

Session: Oral 8
Date/Time: Tue 5:00pm-6:00pm
Session Number: 833
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