TSU center assembles group of Black researchers to inform police reform efforts


Howard Henderson, Ph.D., poses for a portrait Monday, July 6, 2020, at Texas Southern University in Houston. Henderson is the Founding director of the Center for Justice Research in the Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs.

A Texas Southern University-based center has put together a group of experts to inform conversations and help with the development of police reforms following George Floyd’s death and the protests nationwide about the treatment of Black people by law enforcement.

In addition to having deep resumes and decades of research experience, all eight members of the  National Police Reform Advisory Group have one crucial expertise — the lived experience of being Black in America, according to Howard Henderson, founder of the Center for Justice Research.

According to a 2019 survey by the Pew Research Center, 84 percent of Black adults and 63 percent of white adults believe African Americans are generally treated less fairly by police than whites. Large majorities of both groups also believe Black people are treated less fairly by the criminal justice system as a whole.

“We have the experts. … We share the experience of people who voice their discontent with the system, but we also have practical experience,” Henderson said. “We represent all sides.”

The announcement follows the killing of Floyd, a longtime Third Ward resident, on May 25 in the custody of Minneapolis police. An officer knelt on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes despite his pleas that he couldn’t breathe. The officer was charged with murder, and three other officers at the scene also face charges in connection with Floyd’s death. The killing, captured on video, spawned protests nationwide and calls for police reform.

“When it comes to improving police-community experiences, there’s no way they’re going to be able to do that without having African Americans at the table,” said Henderson, who is also a professor of administration of justice at TSU.


Howard Henderson, Ph.D., poses for a portrait Monday, July 6, 2020, at the Barbara Jordan Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs at Texas Southern University in Houston. Henderson is the Founding director of the Center for Justice Research in the Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs.Photo: Jon Shapley, Houston Chronicle / Staff photographer


Interest in reform

In June, the Center for Justice Research announced the launch of the advisory group, which is composed of eight Black experts and researchers who are available to assist policymakers improve police-community relations, law enforcement training, public safety and understanding the disenfranchised.

The group’s work, which helps TSU’s justice research center “remain laser-focused on identifying the best research and translating it into effective policy and program implementation,” generally comes at no cost unless specific agencies or organizations are looking for technical or specific assistance, Henderson said.

Group members include Paul Elam, chief strategy officer with Michigan Public Health Institute; Lorenzo M. Boyd, director of the Center for Advanced Policing at the University of New Haven; Ronald Craig, assistant professor of criminal justice and criminology at Tennessee State University; David Baker, interim chair of TSU’s administration of justice department; K.B. Turner, chair of the criminology and criminal justice department at the University of Memphis; and Bahiyyah M. Muhammad, assistant professor of sociology and criminology at Howard University.

Since its launch, the group has reviewed the Congressional Black Caucus’ recommendations, President Donald Trump’s executive order on police reform, and the Justice in Policing Act of 2020, which House Democrats passed in June but remains stalled in the Senate. The measure would ban no-knock warrants in drug-related cases and the use of chokeholds, make it easier to pursue legal action regarding police misconduct, and authorize the U.S. Department of Justice to create a registry of police misconduct incidents and issue subpoenas in investigations of such cases.

Connecting with lawmakers

TSU’s police reform  group is now working on its own corresponding recommendations.

Its first report — to be released later this year — will provide research on choke-holds. The group is also connecting with policymakers, lawmakers, district attorneys and other government officials to provide evidence-based and data-driven research to assist in police- and justice-reform efforts. It plans to host meetings twice a year to review additional policies, issue reports and strategize on how TSU’s Center for Justice Research will move forward.

Launched in 2018 the center has worked to reduce mass incarceration and make the criminal justice system more equitable by training minority researchers, hiring seasoned experts and working with a network of academics to help create culturally sensitive and responsive approaches to police reform, Henderson said.

Author: Bashir Kalyesubula