- Helen M. Jones
- Nicholas E. Shapiro
- Terence D. Keel
Research Project Description
The medical examiner/coroner system in the United States plays an integral, but often overlooked, role in determining whether law enforcement is held accountable for deaths that occur under their custody. Our project brings together medical humanities, public health, ethnic, gender, and cultural studies, and deep community engagement to explore how the practices of medical examiners obscure accountability for racialized law enforcement violence and, conversely, how community members have navigated, illuminated, and challenged these injustices and imagined new forms of community governance and responsibility.
Our primary research question is as follows: what forms of racial bias and obstruction of police accountability appear in the autopsies and medical examiner/coroner reports written during the last twenty years for cases involving non-firearm related death while under the custody of law enforcement in the streets and in carceral spaces nationally and within the City of Los Angeles?
The authority of post-mortem medical examination reports is especially salient for deaths not involving firearms as these cases present biomedical ambiguities that must be solved by the medical examiner/coroner. This authority is further situated within the context of police violence and incarceration that disproportionately impacts Black, Native, and Latinx populations. Our project will be a descriptive study examining patterns of racial bias in the medical examiner/coroner reports of individuals killed by law enforcement without a firearm. Our investigation expands previous attempts to study similar data by combining quantitative and qualitative data analysis along with historical archival research to understand the impact of in-custody death in BIPOC and poor communities.
Helen M. Jones
Helen Jones is a community organizer with Dignity and Power Now, a Los Angeles-based grassroots organization that fights for the dignity and power of all incarcerated people and their families and communities. Since the murder of her son, John Horton III, in Los Angeles Men's Central Jail, Helen has fought for justice for all deaths in police custody. Helen works to end police genocide of Black and Brown folks and find alternatives to incarceration, helping her community thrive and saving lives.
Nicholas E. Shapiro
Nick Shapiro is an Assistant Professor of Biology and Society at UCLA. He is the Director of the Carceral Ecologies Lab, which leverages multidisciplinary research to document the environmental and human health injustices of mass incarceration. He aims to foster equitable research methods and support community-initiated action research.
Terence D. Keel
Terence Keel is an Associate Professor at UCLA with a split appointment in the Department of African American Studies, and the UCLA Institute for Society and Genetics. He is also the Founding Director of the Lab for Biocritical Studies-an interdisciplinary space committed to studying how discrimination, inequality, and resilience are embodied in human and nonhuman beings. Over the last decade Keel has written widely about biomedical racism, its history and present-day impact within society.