Presidential Statement on Police Killings of Black People
Presidential Statement on Police Killings of Black People

Presidential Statement on Police Killings of Black People

May 31, 2020

Dear AERA Members:

I value Black people and our lives. I also value evidence. 

Evidence from multiple data sources across numerous academic disciplines and fields consistently highlights systems that cyclically disadvantage Black people. Schooling is one of those systems most of us studies. Policing is another that warrants more of our attention.

The evidence that AERA members furnish normally emerges from rigorous interpretation. Scholars could independently analyze the same evidence, yet reach vastly different conclusions. I appreciate this. Notwithstanding, I hope each of us concludes that the video-recorded murder of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man in Minneapolis, is horrifying and inexcusable. I care more about our collective interpretation, though, than I do about the unanimity of our conclusion.

I urge us to resist misinterpreting the outcome of this one Black person’s interaction with four Minneapolis police officers as an isolated incident. Too much evidence confirms it is not. Furthermore, it would be intellectually irresponsible of us to misinterpret protests in cities across the country as unreasonable overreactions to this single incident. Trustworthy archival evidence and oral histories help us understand how murders of Black people without consequence has occurred for centuries. Quantitative evidence of officer-involved shootings of Black people over the past decade is easy to find. Also, those of us who value qualitative forms of evidence, as well as colleagues who actually take time to listen to Black people’s interpretations of our own realities, understand that this week’s uprisings are in response to longstanding systems of racism and state-sanctioned violence against Black bodies. 

Although education is our field, we have a responsibility as citizen-scholars to call for the use of evidence in the orientation, professional learning, leadership development, and accountability of law enforcement officers. It is also our responsibility to use data to inform the creation and implementation of policies that protect Black communities from racial profiling and the use of excessive force in police interactions. We cannot place this responsibility entirely on our academic colleagues in the field of criminal justice, as police killings of unarmed Black people have enormous educational consequences. One is the trauma that ensues for Black students. We have plenty of evidence to confirm that learners who are exposed to violence and trauma perform less well in school. Another consequence is the psychological toll these killings have on our Black friends, neighbors, and colleagues, including those who are AERA members. I choose to treat as evidence the dozens of emails, phone calls, and text messages I have received, as well as the countless social media posts I have read by Black AERA members these past few days. Many in our association are devastated, outraged, and exhausted. I am among them.

Saying “Black Lives Matter” simply is not enough. As a community of researchers, we must unite to take bold, evidence-based action that exposes and ultimately ends the catastrophic police killings of unarmed Black people. AERA has issued calls like these before, sadly far too often. Our Executive Director Felice Levine and I welcome your suggestions for ways AERA members across divisions, SIGs, and committees can unite to have a collective impact on this issue. We intend to use the influence of AERA to move ahead. Please contact me at and Felice at

Take good care of yourselves.

Shaun R. Harper, Ph.D.
American Educational Research Association