by CARMEN SIERING
Professor Jeannine Bell, a nationally recognized scholar in the area of policing and hate crimes, has written extensively on criminal justice issues. When demonstrators took to the streets this summer demanding changes to policing in America, she was a step ahead of them.
“I write about this,” she says. “I write about change police officers can get on board with, changes they can be convinced are in their interest. There are so few reforms that are going to be of use to citizens and also to police.”
The way people talk about change is also important. “Defunding police is something the police quickly allied against because no one wants to have less money,” Bell points out. “If the conversation is about taking—and this is how I, as a police scholar, would have described the same intervention—then let’s take away from the police the services they don’t want to provide: social work–type services. That’s how you need to have the conversation.”
Born in Detroit, Bell, 51, says she had lived in every geographic area of the country before she was 20. She received her undergraduate degree from Harvard University and multiple degrees (M.A., J.D., and Ph.D.) from the University of Michigan before moving to Bloomington in 1999 to join the Indiana University Maurer School of Law faculty.
She has a 9-year-old daughter, Ella, so she speaks with authority when she addresses the significance of Kamala Harris’ election: “Little Black girls now have someone who looks like them who is vice president of the United States.”
Equally important, Bell says, is the language Harris uses to address issues of inequity. “As someone who is South Asian and Black, she has chosen to engage with issues of racial justice,” Bell says. “And she uses those words. This matters. To have someone in that position naming white supremacy, racial extremism, and other issues that some may have been reluctant to name, matters.”
Two of Bell’s books directly address current conflicts: Hate Thy Neighbor (NYU Press, 2013) and Policing Hatred (NYU Press, 2002). She’s now working on a book about police reform based on interviews she’s conducted with people in Bloomington.
“But they talk about experiences from all over the country,” Bell says, “because Bloomington people are from everywhere.”