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Faculty Member Spotlight: Kalfani Turé, Assistant Professor of African American Studies

Rosie Bolen, Ph.D.
Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Training & Development

Professor Ture with students in PAC

Assistant Professor of African American Studies Kalfani Turé’s training as both an anthropologist and a police officer gives him a unique perspective in studying the intersection of policing, race, and place. He came to the Mount last fall from Yale University, where he served as a postdoctoral associate with the Urban Ethnography Project. He also has extensive teaching experience at Yale, Quinnipiac University, Winthrop University and LeMoyne College.

ture-k_210820-3464-1-in-text.jpgProfessor Turé has always been interested in social justice and equity. Growing up in Newark, New Jersey, he heard about the 1967 Newark riots sparked by the beating of a Black taxi driver by two White policemen. At Rutgers University, where he earned a B.S. in criminal justice and African American studies, he wanted to understand how black identity became synonymous with criminality. On the way to his goal of becoming a professor, he followed the advice of an anthropologist mentor who recommended that he become a police officer to conduct a folk ethnography of policing.

In folk ethnography, the researcher studies people within their own environment and culture. As Turé explains, “Folk ethnography finds meaning in social phenomena by being in conversation with people experiencing it. It captures the ways people grapple with the contingencies they confront daily.” An ethnographer “marries the peoples’ perspectives to theoretical frameworks and then tells that story to both an academic and lay audience.”

After he left Rutgers, Turé moved to Georgia and served as a police officer at various levels to better understand the relationship between the community and police. He worked on a state university campus, in a county sheriff’s office, and for a city police department. During his career in law enforcement, he earned his M.A. in applied anthropology from Georgia State University, where he studied the experiences of African American adolescent drug dealers in Atlanta public housing. While at Georgia State, he met his future wife and they moved to Maryland for his wife’s career in social work. He earned his Ph.D. in anthropology at American University.

Turé’s dissertation research entails an “in-depth study of structural violence, race, and place through the displacement of residents from their housing in the Barry Farm Public Dwellings community.” The Barry Farm neighborhood has a rich history; it was renowned as a significant post-Civil-War settlement of free Blacks and freed slaves established by the Freedmen's Bureau. As part of the District of Columbia’s New Communities Initiative, Barry Farm was demolished in 2019 in the urban revitalization and renewal project proffered as a solution to concentrated poverty and crime. Families were evicted and relocated to make way for the planned mixed-use, mixed-income development.

Turé moved into Barry Farm and built relationships with people in the community. He served as a surrogate dad, coach, activist, and resident council member while documenting the experience of community members through surveys, interviews and observations. As Turé explains, his research investigated “the way structural violence, as deployed through community development policies, restrict forms of individual and collective agency; increase the residents’ vulnerability; lead to new frames of post-racial citizenship; and cause illicit and illegal social practices to flourish locally.”

In his current research, Turé has returned to studying policing in communities of color. He is interested in boundary spaces patrolled by police officers. He is focusing on the Greenmount Ave/York Road corridor in Baltimore that has rich White neighborhoods on the west side and poor Black neighborhoods on the east side. He is interested in what factors inform police encounters with residents, particularly regarding use of force decisions. 

Turé’s academic training and lived experience as a police officer led him to a distinct vision of policing: he believes that police officers should function as ethnographers, building relationships in their community, conducting observations, and advocating for change based on their observations. Where should there be more green space?  Where are the broken streetlights and nuisance merchants (e.g., pawnshops, payday loan stores, etc.)? Where should social workers and social services be concentrated? Police officers as ethnographers are well-situated to inform the allocation of community-building resources.

Not surprisingly, Turé’s goal as an educator is to recruit and train people who are invested in public safety at large to be ethnographers—to find solutions and create healthy vibrant communities by being in conversation with people. He is excited to pursue that goal at the Mount, where the university's Catholic identity and commitment to Catholic Social Teaching complement his personal value system and allow him to be true to himself as he continues his journey.

Rosie Bolen, Ph.D.
Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Training & Development