To Whom It May Concern
Due Monday May 2nd by 1159pm
Over the course of the class, you have become knowledgeable about some of the historical and structural dynamics concerning race and crime in the United States. In this assignment, you are expected to share your expertise by writing an “open letter” related to an issue or controversy (the specific issue will be your decision—as explained below). This is not a research paper but a different kind of writing project. You still have to present facts, academic literature, and offer a compelling, logical argument. That said, you also have room to write creatively and passionately, tell stories, be political, and try to move and sway an audience while expressing some form of grievance to the “powers-that-be.” On page 2, you will find important information about open letters.
First step: You are to identify a particular “case study” or issue you want to provide commentary on. In short, you are to choose to respond to one of three things: 1) a particular “incident” (i.e. a particular issue or controversy pertaining to one aspect of the criminal justice system as it relates to race and crime), or 2) a particular policy/practice (ie. stop-and-frisk, community-oriented policing, use of body cams, mandatory minimums, felon disenfranchisement, etc.) or experience/trend (ie. racial disparities in use of force).
Second step: Research and read about the specific context and/or issue you have decided to write about. Do some basic reading on the history of the issue, or the comments made by claimsmakers related to the issue at hand. Try to understand the basic historical context, what has been said or hasn’t been said, etc. That is, do your homework so you know the most basic and necessary details of the issue you have chosen.
Third step: Write your open letter. Here, we are attempting to go “beyond the moment”. By this, of course, we mean to think sociologically, historically, and politically about your issue. What this means is that your open letter must be written from this perspective. That is to say, the reason in writing the open letter is to demonstrate why we must care to understand the topic under scrutiny, and to do so by going “beyond the moment.” This means you will be expressing your grievance to a larger audience by trying to show them the importance of thinking sociologically and historically about the issue in question. Specific things to address in the letter are detailed below.
(See page 2 for further information about the open letter format)
To make your point, you need to provide:
- An overview of the event/issue being discussed (how it came to be, how prevalent it is, who it affects, how it operates, etc.
- An explanation of why it’s a problem (think about inequality, lack of effectiveness if we’re talking about policies/practices, harm caused, cost, and so on)
- A summary of some of the things currently being done in response to this issue (organizations that are fighting this issue, current reforms, calls for abolition, etc.)
In my view, the best open letters pieces cite research while others cite personal experience in creative, passionate but measured prose. Your job in this assignment is to write a research-based open letter, citing materials from at least one of the assigned course readings or lectures to argue your point. A total of 5 peer-reviewed journals or scholarly books (like Michelle Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow”) should be cited. Newspapers and media are excellent sources, so please include those, but note that you still need to provide scholarly work
- Minimum 5 peer-reviewed journals or scholarly books cited
- Inclusion of at least 3 terms presented during the course (these can also count as your minimum scholarly work cited*)
- Your paper must be at least 1,500 words (5-7 pages)
- Correct In-text citations and references
- Your paper should be double-spaced, size 12, times new roman font
- You should use 1in margins (most computers are set to 1.25in, so make sure to check)
- When you reference material from the textbook, other readings, lectures, podcasts, documentaries, etc. (and you absolutely need to do so), you should use APA or ASA citation and reference format. You must also include a reference page at the end of your paper.
Criteria for Assessment
In general, you will be graded on the degree to which you achieve the following:
- Did you address every content-related aspect of the prompt?
- Is your writing clear and accurate?
- Did you use proper sentence structure, grammar, and spelling?
- Did you meet all the necessary material citations (5 scholarly sources – this can include the textbook or class material as well).
Information on Open Letters
What is an Open-Letter? Merriam-Webster dictionary defines an open letter as follows: a published letter of protest or appeal usually addressed to an individual but intended for the general public. The example provided on their website is: “In an open letter to the company, a citizens’ group implored company executives to reconsider their decision to close the factory.” We can flip this around a bit to make it directly relevant for our class: “In an open letter to the police, a university scholar implored police officials to reconsider their decision to create a K9 unit.” Or: “In an open letter to the local press, a university scholar implored the media to take more seriously the history of police and race relations in the community.”
**An exemplar of an open letter as it relates to the topics of this course is Martin Luther King Jr’s famous and powerful “A Letter from Birmingham Jail” where he addressed his fellow clergy members who were critiquing his methods of disobedience. Although this famous piece of political commentary is not listed in the syllabus, you should most certainly read it before constructing your own letter as it promises to provide you with some inspiration and insight.
Here is the link: https://www.africa.upenn.edu/Articles_Gen/Letter_Birmingham.html.
Who writes Open Letters? It is important to know that while open letter writers can technically be anyone, the best are written by people who are experts on a particular topic, or have some sort of intimate knowledge or experience of the topic under scrutiny. You are to write your open letter as an expert scholar on issues related to the sociology, politics, and history of the links between police, law, order, and racism in the United States. Feel free to bring in your own experiences to personalize what the research says, or stories from family members or close friends so long as you don’t mention their real names. But please note that your open letter must be grounded in actual facts, solid research, and academic literature. That is to say, your open letter must be informed and seek to persuade an audience to your position by pointing them to logical and reasoned conclusions, even if you still write in a voice that is passionate, creative, moral, and political.
What Does an Open Letter Look Like? Open-letters vary in word count, but many of them are quite short at 300-600 words, although they can also be much longer. For example, MLK’s Letter from Birmingham Jail is nearly 7K words. For this assignment, your open letter must be approximately 1,500 words (give or take 50-100 words). It is difficult to cover an issue in-depth in such a short space, so you can anticipate that writing a solid piece in so few words will require a number of drafts. You will have to make editorial decisions—the hardest part of writing is cutting sentences you love but that doesn’t help further an author’s argument or intended purpose.
Below are a few websites that should help you both better understand what an open letter is and how and what this genre of writing is supposed to do. You can also find a ton more with a simple internet search like “how to write an open letter”:
- How to Write an Open Letter (by Catherine Burrows)
- (NOTE: the kind of open letter you will write is listed under her #2 example)
- An Open Letter To Anyone Thinking About Writing An Open Letter (by Cassie Patton)
- An Open Letter … About Open Letters (By Linton Weeks)
- An Open Letter To Anyone Who Has Ever Written An Open Letter Or Is Thinking Of Writing An Open Letter Or Reads An Open Letter (By Katy Pollard)