The Slow Death of Sagon Penn: Police Violence in Reagan-era San Diego

Hosted by the Phelan United States Centre and the Department of International History

Online Public Event, United Kingdom


Dr Adriane Lentz-Smith

Dr Adriane Lentz-Smith


Professor Matthew Jones

Professor Matthew Jones


In 1985, Sagon Penn, a young black martial-arts expert, was acquitted of the murder of a white police officer on the grounds of self-defence, in a case which lifted a veil on police racism and violence in San Diego.  In this talk, Adriane Lentz-Smith explores this disturbing case and how contrasting martial masculinities played out in a militarized city in a militarized era. The devastating effects of state violence as it travels across communities are examined in an episode that has strong contemporary resonances with more recent examples of the policing of African American communities.


More about this event

The LSE Phelan United States Centre (@LSE_US) is a hub for global expertise, analysis and commentary on America. Our mission is to promote policy-relevant and internationally-oriented scholarship to meet the growing demand for fresh analysis and critical debate on the United States.

The Department of International History (@lsehistory) teaches and conducts research on the international history of Britain, Europe and the world from the early modern era up to the present day

Meet our speaker and chair

Adriane Lentz-Smith is Associate Professor of History and African & African American Studies at Duke University, and a 2020–2021 NEH and Rockefeller Foundation Fellow at the National Humanities Center. An historian of the twentieth-century United States and the Black freedom struggle, she is the author of Freedom Struggles: African Americans and World War I (Harvard, 2009). 

Matthew Jones is Professor of International History at the LSE. Among other topics, he has published books that look at decolonisation in Southeast Asia in the 1960s; the end of the first Indochina war; race and US foreign policy in post-war Asia; and British nuclear history. He was Head of the Department of International History, 2017-20.

Seminar Series: Race, Gender and Politics in the US

This interdisciplinary seminar series hosted by the LSE's Phelan US Centre and the Department of International History will unite historians and political scientists to share current research on the theme of "Race, Gender and Politics in the US in historical and contemporary perspective." Given the current rise in White supremacy, sexism, police brutality, and the global Black Lives Matter movement, scholars will reflect on the longer arch of these issues historically and how their complexity shapes our present moment.

The first seminar, Black Women and Political Leadership in the US, on 26 October 2021, led by Professor Nadia E. Brown (Georgetown) and Dr. Anastasia Curwood (University of Kentucky), will focus on the role of Black women and political leadership, highlighting the links between figures like Shirley Chisholm, who in 1968 became the first African American woman to enter Congress and in 1972 became the first African American woman to seek the nomination for president of the US from one of the major political party’s, and current US Vice President Kamala Harris.

The second seminar, The Slow Death of Sagon Penn: Police Violence in Reagan-era San Diego, on 9 November 2021, featuring Dr. Adriane Lentz-Smith (Duke University), will look at police racism and violence in early 1980s San Diego through the case of Sagon Penn.

The third seminar, Jim Crow 2.0: Voter Suppression in the 21st Century, given by Professor Carol Anderson (Emory University), will look at the suppression of voting rights in the 21st century and its intersection with the politics of race.

More information about the seminar series, Race, Gender and Politics in the US.

From time to time there are changes to event details so we strongly recommend that if you plan to attend this event you check back on this listing on the day of the event.


Header image: "National March Against Police Violence Washington DC USA 50309"  by Ted Eytan is licensed under CC BY SA 2.0

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