African American Studies Professor Wins National Award for Criminology Research

December 1, 2020

UC Berkeley African American Studies professor Nikki Jones has won the 2020 Michael J. Hindelang Award. The national honor given by the American Society of Criminology (ASC), recognizes a book published within the past three years that makes the most outstanding contribution to research in criminology.

Jones recently received the award for her book The Chosen Ones: Black Men and the Politics of Redemption. Through the use of ethnographic interviews with inner-city police officers and recordings of police encounters collected by and alongside law enforcement, the book delves into the reasons why violence persists in inner cities, despite the presence of adequate funding and resources.

According to the American Journal of Sociology, “The Chosen Ones is theoretically astute, methodologically sound and empirically rich, and a model of what ethical, ethnographic research should look like in urban sociology.”

“It’s an honor to receive the award and to be recognized by a community of my peers for my scholarly contribution to the discipline,” said Jones, who is also a faculty affiliate with Berkeley’s Center for the Study of Law and Society. “The award also comes in a year when I was recognized by the Graduate Assembly and the African American Student Development Office for my mentorship and support of graduate and undergraduate students. Each award recognizes an important part of who I am as a scholar, researcher and advocate.”

Published by UC Press in 2018, the book also explores alternatives to law enforcement responses, including investing in non-criminalizing responses to gun violence, and concludes that cities across the country should focus less on crime fighting and more on community building.

Jones’ findings are timely, given current racial justice protests against police brutality and the public discourse around “defunding” police following the death of George Floyd this past spring.

Berkeley African American Studies professor and H. Michael and Jeanne Williams Department Chair Ula Taylor said The Chosen Ones is filled with breathtaking storytelling and a “deft analysis of class, urban life and the justice system.”

“Jones is deeply invested in the possibilities of Black feminist epistemologies. This book makes us grapple with, and rethink, how the criminal justice system both haunts and curtails the daily lives of African Americans,” said Taylor.

Jones said spending time with police officers, in preparation for the book, allowed her to understand how they see the world and their work. “It has led me to a deep appreciation of the continuities and discontinuities between the history of policing in the U.S. and modern-day policing, the contradictions and limitations of current efforts to reform policing and the need to imagine alternatives to community safety,” she said.

While currently on sabbatical, Jones has continued to explore what safety and justice look like for neighborhoods and individuals most frequently targeted by law enforcement.

“The research I’ve conducted over the last 15 years also provides a strong empirical foundation for my advocacy around policing on campus and the quality of campus life for Black students, more generally,” Jones said. “This work is connected to a tradition of Black sociologists and Black feminist scholars who understand these efforts as linked to a larger struggle for Black freedom.”