Message from the Dean about Breonna Taylor and racial injustice

Monday, Sep 28, 2020 Dean Scott Ryan

Unfortunately, yet again, we see the criminal justice system and law enforcement receive another pass with the innocent killing of an unarmed African American. 

Breonna TaylorBreonna Taylor, 26, was killed 198 days ago when police burst into her home using a “no knock search warrant” reportedly looking for an ex-boyfriend who no longer lived there.  Her current boyfriend, thinking they were being burglarized, fired at what he thought were intruders. Police officers fired more than 30 rounds with six hitting Breonna.


Earlier this week a grand jury brought no indictments against the Louisville, Kentucky white police officers for the death of Breonna. Shockingly, prosecutors said two officers who fired their weapons at Breonna were justified in using force to protect themselves after they faced gunfire from her boyfriend. The only charges were three counts of wanton endangerment against fired Officer Brett Hankison for shooting into a home next to were Breonna lived.


Over-policing of communities of color and the trampling of civil rights and due process must end. We see these practices played out nationally and even locally by law enforcement and other institutions.


Breonna was murdered in her apartment and it was the result of officers firing their weapons. Yet, there continues to be no real accountability for these injustices. Systemic racism must end, and law enforcement and other government institutions must be held accountable for these repeated civil rights violations.


Social Workers are obligated to speak out against all forms of racism (systemic and structural) within our communities and institutions. As I stated in my message back in June, we know there are systemic issues in our criminal justice system, within law enforcement and in our political and educational institutions. We have a right to demand reform of policing and fundamentally change how law enforcement, the criminal justice system and other institutions are structured.


The dehumanization of African Americans in our federal, state and local institutions must end. We are at our best when we come together to engage respectfully across the political spectrum, and support those who are marginalized, disadvantaged or threatened. 


We teach our students to fight injustices and encourage advocacy. We also teach our more than 2,100 students to be respectful to one another and the communities they will serve. The signature concept of social justice is the dignity and worth of all persons.


Our faculty are working to ensure racial justice and cultural sensitivity is embedded in our curriculum and taught and discussed in all of our courses. Many of our faculty, through their research and analysis of policy practices, are seeking solutions to dismantling oppressive and discriminating systems. This is a core practice in academia for social work professors.


Part of being human is to reflect, acknowledge mistakes, correct them and incorporate processes and procedure so they never happen again. We must all be social justice warriors in practice and deed. As we move forward, our responsibility is to practice compassionate Social Work and to remain committed to academic scholarship, discovery, research and education. 


In solidarity,


Scott D. Ryan
Dean and Professor
School of Social Work
The University of Texas at Arlington