An Important Admission by a Sheriff

An Important Admission by a Sheriff March 19, 2018

A study done by ProPublica found that over a five-year period, black pedestrians were ticketed by police at nearly twice the rate of their percentage of the population in Jacksonville, Florida. The sheriff of that county just admitted, reluctantly, that implicit bias may have played a factor in that.

After months of saying race had nothing to do with the disproportionate ticketing of black pedestrians, Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams accepted the possibility Thursday that implicit biases may have played some part.

The concession came only after he was pressed by several audience members at a discussion on bias in the justice system…

Asked to respond, Williams at first downplayed any role that bias may have contributed to those statistics, asking the audience what factors other than race might be influencing the numbers.

He also said that the disparities were not pronounced enough to indicate racist intent, and said they fell short of disparities seen in bicycle enforcement in Tampa.

Williams brought out a familiar refrain, saying pedestrian citations are issued in such small numbers that they could not be used to indicate biases among his officers. He also cited structural disadvantages blacks face, such as lack of access to transportation, as a potential contributor to disproportionate ticketing…

When Frazier was finished speaking, Williams said he was not defending racism. He went on to make his first statement acknowledging bias could have played a role in the pedestrian ticketing.

“Could it have anything to do with implicit bias? Of course it could,” Williams said.

Okay, so now how can you fix that? This is a crucially important discussion if we want to reduce racial bias, not only in law enforcement but in housing, employment and banking as well. Far too many people think that racism only means overt expressions of bigotry, but even the most enlightened among us have subconscious biases that are ingrained in us by a million images and stereotypes. You can even have an implicit bias against your own race, especially for a black person raised in a culture where they are bombarded with images of black people as thugs and gangbangers.

If we are going to make our justice system (and banking, and housing, and employment, and…) more fair and equal, we must recognize that we have those biases and take steps to reduce them and their influence over us. It’s much more difficult to do that than to deal with someone ranting against black people with racist slurs. But we can’t ultimately fix things if we don’t recognize that and work on it.

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