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Faculty Focus: Amna Akbar


By Madeleine ThomasThe Ohio State University Law School Magazine | Winter 2019

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Amna Akbar

ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF LAW

Associate Professor of Law Amna Akbar is currently spending the 2018-2019 academic year at Princeton University as a fellow with the Program in Law and Public Affairs (LAPA). She hopes to expand her research of police, violence, and inequality, including how contemporary racial justice movements like the Movement for Black Lives engage with the question of police reform.

In the years since Occupy Wall Street took hold in 2011, racial justice movements have started to center on a critique of capitalism, according to Akbar. As a fellow, she is studying the resurgence of a combined critique of race and class, racism and capitalism, the likes of which haven’t been seen since the Black Power and Chicano civil rights movements of the 1960s and 70s. She is examining Latinx organizing within current immigrant justice movements as well.

“In their commitment to racial justice and their critique of capitalism, you have a very different analysis and set of solutions about a set of social problems that have plagued the United States since its inception,” Akbar said. “I’d like to dig a little deeper into all of that.”

LAPA invites a select number of scholars, lawyers, judges, and faculty to join members of Princeton’s faculty as visiting fellows in residence each year. Fellows investigate how the law affects politics, society, the economy, and culture at large. They also participate in biweekly seminars, weekly discussion groups, and various events and conferences on campus.

Akbar’s research into the Movement for Black Lives has been published in the Journal of Legal Education and most recently the New York University Law Review in June. In her article, “Toward a Radical Imagination of Law,” she contrasts approaches to police reform as outlined in the Movement for Black Lives’ policy platform, “A Vision for Black Lives: Policy Demands for Black Power, Freedom, and Justice” and in Department of Justice (DOJ) reports documenting systemic constitutional violations in the Ferguson and Baltimore police departments.

The Movement and the DOJ offer different approaches to reform. While the DOJ recommends investing more resources into policing, including better supervision and training, “A Vision for Black Lives” frames policing as a historically violent presence throughout black communities, and argues that resources dedicated to policing would be better spent if they were funneled into social supports like jobs, education, and housing.

The study of radical social movements not only offers novel approaches to addressing social inequalities, it also has the potential to broaden legal scholarship as well, including approaches to criminal, immigration, property, and contract law, Akbar argues.

“The Vision focuses on building power in Black communities and transforming the relationship between state, market, and society,” Akbar writes. “In so doing, the movement offers transformative, affirmative visions for change designed to address the structures of inequality—something legal scholarship has lacked for far too long.”