Sociology expert says history is repeating itself amid police brutality and protests

Published: May. 29, 2020 at 12:56 AM CDT
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As tensions rise in Minneapolis, sociology experts say the police brutality and protests show history is repeating itself.

Pictures of the past are mirroring the present.

"It looks really similar," Pamela Oliver UW-Madison Professor Emerita of Sociology said. “Racism is an issue and structural racism is still an issue, but how it works is still changing, moving and evolving.”

Oliver is working on a research project analyzing black protests against police violence dating back to the 1990s.

"Black protests around police killings come and go but have been going on for decades," Oliver said.

Oliver said stories of police brutality are old, but having the ability to capture it on camera makes it seem new.

"Racial hierarchy and racial conflict are really part of how the United States was organized. It's in our DNA so it's something we're dealing with all the time."

Oliver says institutional racism has a domino effect on the lives of communities of color.

"Part of the way racism works is the hierarchical structures and economic inequalities are the consequences of racism," she said. "Was I shocked about what happened in Minneapolis? No."

A video shot by a bystander in Minneapolis, hard to watch, shows a white officer with his knee on the neck of George Floyd. The video shows Floyd expressing he can't breathe. He later died.

"I think the video that we are seeing is horrific,” Ismael Ozanne, Dane County District Attorney said.

Wisconsin is no stranger to these issues.

Ozanne was the prosecutor in Tony Robinson's death, an unarmed biracial man shot and killed by police in 2015.

"I think people are trying to have these uncomfortable conversations that are absolutely necessary for us to move forward,” Ozanne said.

Ozanne said Dane County law enforcement is doing their best to build trust. But when police brutality incidents surface in other communities, we take 10 steps back.

"We tried to look at these instances and figure out are there things we can do differently to help ensure these instances don't happen?" he said.

He said progress is being made in our community, but a lot of work still has to be done.

"These are really trying times, and I'm hoping we can move forward together as a community,” Ozanne said.