Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

Social Justice and Qualitative Praxis

Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

Social Justice and Qualitative Praxis

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

On March 3rd, 1991, Rodney King was pulled from his car by Los Angeles police after a high-speed chase and horribly beaten by officers. The incident sparked outrage and ultimately riots throughout the city when the officers involved were acquitted of the charges related to the beating. In the King case, and many other instances of excessive force perpetrated by police, the involved agencies and courts have used compliance with their own policies to justify actions that have resulted in civilian injuries and deaths. In these cases, law enforcement agencies and even juries have found, despite the deaths of unarmed civilians, that neither law nor policy has been violated. In thirteen of the most high-profile cases between 2014 and 2016, two-thirds of the officers involved stayed on the job and fewer than half were indicted or charged with a crime. In the Freddie Gray case alone, of the six officers directly involved in the case, three had the charges dropped and a jury acquitted three others (Park & Lee, 2017).

Such instances reveal an ethical conundrum in which harm can be done, and in cases of deaths of unarmed civilians the worst possible harm, but administratively and legally, no wrong has been committed. This paradoxical and apparently increasingly common phenomenon occurs when the very laws, policies, procedures and practices that have been developed and implemented expressly to ensure appropriate behavior by officers, or other administrators, have either absolved officers from responsibility, or worse, may have even caused the violence to occur in the first place (McSwite, 2001). Here, the notion of "moral injury" as "involving an act of transgression that creates dissonance and conflict because it violates assumptions and beliefs about right and wrong and personal goodness" (Litz, et al., 2009) is also helpful in making sense of the perceived injustice.

When harm is done without a formal institutional accounting, and that harm is suppressed within the social and institutional setting of said harm, injustice and moral injury are the result. Though the acts of violence occur between individuals, the injustice and moral harm spills beyond the involved individuals into the community. Minority communities increasingly policed with military tactics and gear (Steinmetz, Schaefer, & Henderson, 2017; Paul & Birzer, 2004), militarized borders and immigration and law enforcement (Massey, et al., 2016), and hyperbolic initiatives, such as War on Drugs, that obscure biases including racism (Cooper, 2015) all contribute to police encounters closer in form to enemy engagement than 'serving and protecting.'

Despite extensive efforts to develop and implement ethical systems, the very structure of contemporary administrative ethics and corresponding systems that aim to preclude injustices not only fail to prevent then, the logic and operation of those systems can paradoxically exacerbate the potential for both harm and injustice. Critiques of administrative ethics developed by Harmon (2005), Anderson (2006), McSwain and White (1987), Farmer (2002), and others, reveal how ethical theory and practice presumes an instrumental rationality where "good knowledge" is the basis for and cause of ethical action (King, 2000). A consequence of this instrumental reasoning renders ethics a matter of control, specifically control of knowledge that in turn marginalizes harm simply as instances where control was not possible or was elusive. Additionally, "good" public administration relies of standardization of procedures to render complexity manageable (Waldo, 1980). So although public administration ethics places responsibility on individual actors, systematic change is sought through the development and refinement of procedures that act as an organization's epistemic framework measuring individual interactions and behavior to procedures and not harm. Once we have outlined this pervasive structure, logic and operation in contemporary administrative ethics, we explore an emerging line of thinking about ethics, integrated with a conceptual orientation we describe as qualitative praxis. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.