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Laurence Ralph, Harvard University: The Black Box of Police Torture

When: Monday, October 23, 2017
3:00 PM - 5:00 PM  

Where: 1810 Hinman Avenue, 104, Evanston, IL 60208 map it

Audience: Faculty/Staff - Student - Public - Post Docs/Docs - Graduate Students

Contact: Nancy Hickey   847.467.1507

Group: Anthropology Department

Category: Lectures & Meetings


My talk details the manhunt, arrest, and torture of a convicted cop killer named Andrew Wilson. Wilson was one of approximately 125 Black men who, between 1972 and 1991, were tortured by various means at Chicago’s Area Two police precinct. Beyond these specific dates and outside of this particular location, journalists place the total number of torture survivors at roughly 200.
Given the history of police torture in Chicago, this talk explores the twinned meanings of both the object and concept referred to as the Black Box. Doing so will reveal how the mysterious interworkings of a police torture operation somehow became accepted. Throughout this talk, the Black Box will reference the name of a torture device used to send electronic currents through a person’s body for the purpose of coercing a confession; and it will also refer to the label I give for the conventional agreement, among a group of police officers, to stop trying to understand how and why torture is taking place in their very own precinct. That is to say, during Wilson’s ordeal, the Black Box served as an implicit agreement between police officers that their activity should remain concealed. That is, in attempting to hide the grisly details of their torture operation, these officers designed for themselves a conceptual Black Box. Contained in this box were sweeping, unexamined stereotypes about good and evil, about where and how the evil people live, about the color of the skin of those evil people, and about what it is permissible to do to protect against them.

Co-sponsored by the Department of African American Studies and the Kaplan Institute for the Humanities

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