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Speaker Series: Laurence Ralph, Princeton University

  • When: May 15, 2019, 12 pm
  • Where: ABF Woods Conference Room, 750 N. Lake Shore Drive, 4th Floor, Lakeside, Chicago IL 60611

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The Black Box of Police Torture 

The history of police torture that I will discuss in this talk begins with 125 Black men in Chicago who were suffocated and shocked at Area Two police precinct. The story ends, however, in a much different place—with the torture of terrorism suspects abroad. Many of these torture survivors were eventually exonerated. Some received multi-million dollar payouts as recompense for their torture and confinement. But their exoneration should not reaffirm our faith in the law—quite the contrary.  In this talk I will challenge my audience not to think of the innocent person as the quintessential torture victim. Rather, think about a person who committed a heinous crime. Imagine that person being bagged and suffocated and beaten within an inch of his life. Ask yourself: Can I see enough humanity in him to understand why it is just as wrong to torture him, as it is to torture an innocent man?

Photo and bio courtesy of Princeton University

Laurence Ralph is a Professor of Anthropology at Princeton University. He earned both a PhD and also a Master of Arts degree in Anthropology from the University of Chicago, and a Bachelor of Science degree from Georgia Institute of Technology where he majored in History, Technology and Society.

Laurence has published articles on these topics in various venues. In 2014 Laurence’s first book, Renegade Dreams: Living Through Injury in Gangland Chicago, was published by the University of Chicago Press. This book grapples with the consequences of the “war on drugs” together with mass incarceration, the ramifications of heroin trafficking for HIV infected teenagers, the perils of gunshot violence and the ensuing disabilities that gang members suffer. Investigating this encompassing context allows him to detail the social forces that make black urban residents vulnerable to disease and disability. Renegade Dreams received the C. Wright Mills Award from the Society for the Study of Social Problems (SSSP) in 2015.  

Laurence’s latest book, Torture Trees: Police Violence from Chicago to the War on Terror, explores a decades long scandal in which 125 were tortured while in police custody. Torture Trees will also be published by the University of Chicago Press.  

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