Fordham Law’s Bennett Capers Discusses Issues of Race, Gender, and Sexuality

By TAP Staff Blogger

Posted on March 2, 2021


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“… even in my more traditional scholarship, my interest in literature is there in the voice. For me, the “what to say” is obviously important. But beyond that, I’m constantly searching for “the words to say it,” to repurpose a line from the French poet and critic Nicolas Boileau, but which I first encountered in Toni Morrison’s work of literary criticism Playing in the Dark. My literature background is inextricable from “who I am,” and informs me as much as my background as a federal prosecutor.”
- Bennett Capers, from “The Big Idea: Race, Policing, and Afrofuturism,” Fordham Law News

Photo: Bennett Capers
Bennett Capers is Professor of Law at Fordham Law School, and he is also the school’s Director of the Center on Race, Law, and Justice. His academic interests include the relationship between race, gender, technology, and criminal justice.
 

In a recent interview with Fordham Law News, Professor Capers discusses how his interests in literature, experience as a prosecutor, and his personal identity influence his scholarship. He also discusses his article, “Afrofuturism, Critical Race Theory, and Policing in the Year 2044.” Below are a few excerpts from “The Big Idea: Race, Policing, and Afrofuturism,” a Fordham Law interview with Professor Capers and Professor Youngjae Lee.

 

Incorporating Personal Identity into Your Scholarship

 

It’s obvious to me that my views on the law are inseparable from my experiences of the law. I can’t imagine bracketing my experiences as a Black man; similarly, I can’t imagine bracketing my experiences as a federal prosecutor. Both are integral to my take on criminal justice issues. It’s also important to me to make my background explicit in my work. To me, speaking about my identities is liberating, a way to write myself into an academy that too often feels like a “white space,” and into a conversation where people like me have long been the object of discussion, but rarely the subjects doing the discussing.

 

“Afrofuturism, Critical Race Theory, and Policing in the Year 2044,” A Hopeful Perspective

 

As I make clearer when I present the piece, this is really my vision of a possible Afrofuturist and critical race theory future. The point is that a better world is possible, especially if demographic shifts happen as predicted and are accompanied (eventually) by shifts in economic, political, and social capital power. And if a better world is possible, then now is the time to a) envision what we want that world to look like, and b) map a route there. Especially now, when the present leaves a lot to be desired—I can imagine 2020 easily winning the title for the worst year of our lifetime—imagining a better future can give all of us both hope and something to work for.

 

Yes, it’s a better world, though not utopian. There is still crime, and there is still the need for the police. There is surveillance, though it is “soft” surveillance—unobtrusive, barely noticeable—and is distributed equally, unlike the race-based surveillance that currently exists. There has been decriminalization, but also criminalization of behavior that is not now criminalized. For these and other reasons, I would not categorize it as utopian. I do, however, view this particular future as consistent with a utopian horizon where prisons do not exist because they have become unnecessary, and where surveillance has become unnecessary.

 

Read the full interview: “The Big Idea: Race, Policing, and Afrofuturism” (Fordham Law News, February 18, 2021).

 

Below are a few of Professor Capers’ articles that explore the intersection of technology and policing.

 

Afrofuturism, Critical Race Theory, and Policing in the Year 2044
New York University Law Review, Vol. 94, pp. 1-60, 2019

In the future, more than half of the population of the United States will be people of color. Afrofuturists foresee a world in which egalitarian policies and technology reduce crime and bias in criminal justice. Professor Capers proposes that surveillance technology can be used for good.

 

 

Race, Policing, and Technology
North Carolina Law Review, Vol. 95, pp. 1241-1292, 2017

The Supreme Court has failed to address problems such as police violence, racial profiling, and underenforcement. Use of surveillance technology, facial recognition, and big data can deracialize criminal justice. Professor Capers discusses how the use of technology in policing can create a society where all are equal before the law.

 

 

Techno-Policing
Ohio St. J. Crim. L., Vol. 15, pp. 495-500, 2017-2018

Technology could help make the criminal justice system more egalitarian. Technologies could reduce racially motivated police violence, racial profiling, and under-enforcement of crime in communities of color. Specifically, surveillance technologies could be used to reduce racial bias.

 

 

About Bennett Capers

 

Professor Capers is a prolific writer. His articles and essays have been published or are forthcoming in the California Law Review (twice), Columbia Law Review, Cornell Law Review, Fordham Law Review, Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review (twice), New York University Law Review, North Carolina Law Review, Notre Dame Law Review, Michigan Law Review, and UCLA Law Review, among others. In addition to co-editing the forthcoming Critical Race Judgments: Rewritten U.S. Court Opinions on Race and Law (Cambridge University Press) and Feminist Judgments: Rewritten Criminal Law Opinions (Cambridge University Press), he also has a forthcoming book about prosecutors, The Prosecutor’s Turn (Metropolitan Books). In 2009, Professor Capers received the Lawrence A. Stessin Prize for Outstanding Scholarly Publication.

 

He has thrice been voted Teacher of the Year. He is an elected member of the American Law Institute, a Director of Research for the Uniform Laws Commission, a Senior Technology Fellow at the NYU Policing Project, and has served as Chair of the AALS Criminal Justice Section and Chair of the AALS Law and Humanities Section. Governor Cuomo has twice appointed him to serve on judicial screening committees, first the New York State Judicial Screening Committee for the New York Court of Claims, and then the New York Judicial Screening Committee for the Second Department. In 2013, he served as Chairperson of the AALS 2013 Conference on Criminal Justice. That same year, Judge Scheindlin appointed him to Chair the Academic Advisory Council to assist in implementing the remedial order in the stop-and-frisk class action Floyd v. City of New York.

 

Prior to teaching, Professor Capers spent nearly ten years as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Southern District of New York. His work trying several federal racketeering cases earned him a nomination for the Department of Justice’s Director’s Award in 2004. He also practiced with the firms of Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton and Willkie Farr & Gallagher. He clerked for the Hon. John S. Martin, Jr. of the Southern District of New York.
 


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