I’ve joined the popular (and sometimes funny) weekly radio show/podcast Dogma Debate w/David Smalley. It’s a show where we explore issues from religion, race, politics, etc., to current events. Not much is off limits.
For the most part, the reception’s been positive. Mutually exploring ideas in the pursuit of growth is a win for me. Quite frankly, I am a “different” voice from what many listeners are used to (read that as Person of Color). Some of my views take listeners aback. I violate their beliefs, making them quite uncomfortable, which subjects me to some interesting migro-aggressions when I dampen their echo chambers.
My inbox usually has a gem waiting for me a few days after a show from well meaning, enthusiastic listeners that want to tell me how wrong or offensive I am, or in most instances its people sharing their appreciation for my point of view. They may not agree, but they enjoyed the exposure.
The show’s magnanimous “genuinely not racist, but sometimes misunderstood” host, David Smalley, and I do not always agree on things , which brings a certain tension to the show. We agree to disagree, widen the middle ground for both perspectives, or narrow the gap. We learn.
Listeners of the show and Graffiti Wall Readers, don’t always get to ask me questions outright; sometimes ya’ll need clarity. Although I read them, it’s impractical for me to address every single email, especially the mini-novels. I’ll try and address some issues on air, however the rest I’ll address here. So today, I want to address the big one: Its an indictment from law enforcement and their supporters, which usually emanates from the lack of understanding of the dynamic between policing and the “minority” communities (Black, Brown, and Native Americans). The complaint is often coupled with anger, disdain, and a general sentiment of personal attack. Its normal to take it personally, I would. I address the often immoral policies they protect, the code they live by, and ultimately, their livelihood. Its like talking to theists about the justification of their specific beliefs, where they can’t separate what they believe from who they are. Its frustrating.
However, even in the best conversations with officers, just as I have with theists, there is usually a missing piece of history that they gloss over or blatantly dismiss. For theists, it might be the whole killing babies thing, inability to reconcile creation thing, or the Flood that never happened thing. For many police supporters, its the the historicity of policing and its influence on the way they approach minority communities they over police.
Hyperbole aside, when I draw a parallel between today’s policing and hired slave hunters, militia, and overseers from the plantations, there’s merit. As prominent police historian Samuel Walker succinctly noted:
“…the difficulty of establishing dates marking the origins of American modern-style policing, that is, a system of law enforcement involving a permanent agency employing full-time officers who engage in continuous patrol of fixed beats to prevent crime. The traditional analyses, based on urban evidence, have suggested that such policing evolved from older systems of militias, sheriffs, constables, and night watches, and culminated in the “new police” of Boston in 1838, New York City in 1845, Chicago in 1851, New Orleans and Cincinnati in 1852, Philadelphia in 1854, St. Louis in 1855, Newark and Baltimore in 1857,and Detroit in 1865.
… these analyses neglect that: [many other cities with] elaborate police arrangements were those with large slave populations where white masters lived in dread of possible black uprisings.”
Mitigate the possibilities of the damage from the inevitability of a black insurgence. Sounds right.
If you use that as as your premise, instead of serve and protect, things start to make more sense.
Note the cities? Any striking similarities between the locations and today’s headlines? Its relevant when examining police brutality and traditional policing methods against policing efficacy. Keeping that as a constant variable, acknowledging the origin, you might begin to see how the roots of policing fundamentally influence and shape the relationship with the African American community. Let’s assume its the one constant until police reformation, where the Civil Rights Act was essentially the only substantive change that effected how minorities were treated by police:
According to the US Department of Justice:
“The existence of this pattern of police behavior and attitudes toward minority communities meant that, while important changes were occurring in policing during our Nation’s history members of minority groups benefited less than others from these changes–certainly less than it might have seemed from the vantage point of the white community and the police executives who were bringing about those changes.” – Perspectives on Policing, 1990
Notice any real contrast from the seventies:
Can we simplistically state that the police, as an institution, are prejudiced against minority groups? Bayley and Mendelsohn state unhesitantly “yes,” although they assert that the prejudices of the police officer are not significantly different from those of the population in general.1 For example, in his study of the police, Westley found evidence of police prejudice towards minorities:
Of the men interviewed 78 per cent, expressed ideas indicating that they had a prejudice in this area. Most conservatively, this prejudice can be expressed as the feeling that relationships between whites and Negroes should be kept to a minimum and that Negroes should keep to themselves. Police generally believe crimes emanate from the disadvantaged, particularly minority group members.
In fact, after studying the police in Denver, Bayley and Mendelsohn stated: “Minorities . . . especially Negroes, in the eyes of police personnel, demand the most, raise the greatest amount of anxiety about personal safety, pose the greatest criminal threat, are the most hostile, and on top of it all are as likely to be truculent in their appeals against officers as prosperous Dominants’ – Police Sensitivity and Responsiveness to Minority
No? How about the nineties:
“… we contend that the strategies of police in dealing with minorities have been different from those in dealing with others, that the changes in police strategies in minority communities have been more problematic, and that, therefore, the beneficial consequences of those changes for minorities have been less noticeable.”
“…The fact that the legal order not only countenanced but sustained slavery, segregation, and discrimination for most of our Nation’s history-and the fact that the police were bound to uphold that order-set a pattern for police behavior and attitudes toward minority communities that has persisted until the present day.”
“That pattern includes the idea that minorities have fewer civil rights, that the task of the police is to keep them under control, and that the police have little responsibility for protecting them from crime within their communities. – US Department of Justice. Perspectives on Policing, January 1990.”
So where is the result of this reform? Was there an attitude shift? Can we measure any material reform (or progress) in the way America polices minority communities at all? Or are we still effectively managing a slave plantation under the same bad premise of black inferiority and criminality, while using the same system for managing a slave population that believes its free?
It poses a problem for dialog, because so much of our discourse presupposes a change occurred, yet the evidence refutes it. Evidence-based rationalists, atheists in particular, have a moral dilemma making the claim “Not ALL COPS,” because “ALL COPS” are part of that system, which is inextricably tied to a belief system they categorically reject.
If Atheists will condemn and ridicule Blacks for continued fealty to a god that allows them to suffer, or mock them for subscribing to a system of beliefs that was used to enslave them, how can they morally demand said people to acquiesce to the enslavers system of policing? A system of policing that required the punitive hand of god and said policing for slave management.
Restated. “I’m supposed to reject a god, the Christian teaching of submission that was imposed to dissuade black uprisings, yet accept the system of policing that was used to enforce it.”
“The law is just, but maybe it’s not fair because you/they/them (insert victim blaming statement of choice)”?
Really? Theists use that line when justifying their god’s actions. I reject that authoritarian view and the data supports a reality that more closely supports my assertion.
Let’s go over some of the criminal justice facts supporting any claim of equality.
- In 2010, all black men were six times as likely as all white men to be incarcerated in federal, state and local jails, according to a 2013 Pew Research Center study.
- From 1980 to 2008, the number of people incarcerated in America quadrupled-from roughly 500,000 to 2.3 million people
- African Americans now constitute nearly 1 million of the total 2.3 million incarcerated population
- African Americans are incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of whites
- Together, African American and Hispanics comprised 58% of all prisoners in 2008, even though African Americans and Hispanics make up approximately one quarter of the US population
- According to Unlocking America, if African American and Hispanics were incarcerated at the same rates of whites, today’s prison and jail populations would decline by approximately 50%
- One in six black men had been incarcerated as of 2001. If current trends continue, one in three black males born today can expect to spend time in prison during his lifetime
- 1 in 100 African American women are in prison
- Nationwide, African-Americans represent 26% of juvenile arrests, 44% of youth who are detained, 46% of the youth who are judicially waived to criminal court, and 58% of the youth admitted to state prisons (Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice).
- And black people are four times more likely to die in custody while being arrested than whites.
- Between 1968 and 2011, black people were between two to eight times more likely to die at the hands of law enforcement than whites. Annually, over those 40 years, a black person was on average 4.2 times as likely to get shot and killed by a cop than a white person.
Results of an immoral system.
This is a the reality that shapes black and blue dynamics. We experience that evidence daily, just beyond the myopic reach of the white periphery.
According to Sam Sinyangwe of Mapping Police Violence:
Black people are three times more likely to be killed by police in the United States than white people. More unarmed black people were killed by police than unarmed white people last year. And that’s taking into account the fact that black people are only 14% of the population here.
In New York City, one of the largest police departments in the world, the Civilian Complaint Review Board, which investigates and recommends action on complaints against NYPD officers, noted:
45 percent of cases where claims of excessive force were made were corroborated by video evidence within the first six months of the year.
However, I can’t comment on policing? Let’s try this again. ALL COPS, regardless of race, color, creed, or individual bias, enable America’s chosen continued system of policing. You do not get to put that on me. Own it. Just like your flags, its yours! Not all cops!? How convenient “But look, they’re not ALL bad.” Really? Is that comforting? Instead of doing something about the problem, you allow that to satiate you? I acknowledge that there are few out there that are working on implementing new, modern reform, and I commend them. But be honest, if you want reform, YOU need to demand reform, not just the few good cops that want change. That’s why I speak to the policy. We need systematic overhaul built on a new premise.
Amnesty International reviewed US state laws – where they exist – governing the use of lethal force by law enforcement officials and found that they all fail to comply with international law and standards. Many of them do not even meet the less stringent standard set by US constitutional law. Some state laws currently allow for use of lethal force to “suppress opposition to an arrest”; to arrest someone for a “suspected felony”; to “suppress a riot or mutiny”; or for certain crimes such as burglary. A number of statutes allow officers to use lethal force to prevent an escape from a prison or jail. Others allow private citizens to use lethal force if they are carrying out law enforcement activities. Amnesty International found that:
- All 50 states and Washington DC fail to comply with international law and standards on the use of lethal force by law enforcement officers
- Nine states and Washington DC currently have no laws on use of lethal force by law enforcement officers; and
- Thirteen states have laws that do not even comply with the lower standards set by US constitutional law on use of lethal force by law enforcement officers.
Not just, not fair, and sure as hell not equal. Sometimes not even legal. Yet even with all those pesky facts, how dare I challenge your comfort. That’s not well reasoned. If anything, it is the acceptance of a belief system predicated on a mythos of infallibility and presupposition… (Jesus much?)
In addition, the police still have the natural problems of implicit, culturally inherited, and individual bias; overstress, underpayment, lack of appreciation, psychological fitness, physical endurance, emotional issues, ego, etc. “Not All Cops” dismisses their humanity. Yes ALL COPS are subject to those factors and effects of policy. Officers are asked to be peace keepers, mediators, psychologists, and good guys/girls in bad situations, which doesn’t always play out. They’re often outsiders who don’t understand the communities they police.
Whites on the force is more than 30 percentage points higher than in the communities they serve, according to an analysis of a government survey of police departments. Minorities make up a quarter of police forces, according to the 2007 survey, the most recent comprehensive data available. Experts say that diversity in the police force increases a department’s credibility with its community. “Even if police officers of whatever race enforce the law in relatively the same way, there is a huge image problem with a department that is so out of sync with the racial composition of the local population,” said Ronald Weitzer, a sociologist at George Washington University
Police are people too, they bring biases. Compound the problem when the only exposure is when they arrest and process people of color. It reinforces or reaffirms many of the stereotypes, which results in the “All Black Men” heuristic that they build. It naturally becomes a part of their self-defense mechanism. Yes All Cops. Nevertheless, for some people, that is acceptable, because it fits their faulty generalization of black criminality. However, we do not afford the same self-defense mechanism to those minorities, who have themselves seen the aforementioned unequal, and often unconstitutional, behavior of “All Cops They’ve Met”. When they flee, they are presumed guilty, yet the bad blue archetype is all they know. For them, it represents an understanding of “ALL COPS”.
If one is immoral, the other is equally immoral. You cannot grant one without the other absence of your admission to bias. Yet this is a false equivocation. One side has the social mobility and advantage of exposure, yet chooses not to. Cops don’t have to seclude. In contrast, minorities in overly policed neighborhoods do not have the ability to experience different “compassionate and just” policing, nor do they, in these pillars of institutionalized criminality, have the ability to demand change. The appearance of choice remains a deceptive carrot shaped stick, that is used to placate our disappearing moral indignations against their injustice.
Despite the costs of the Civil Rights Era, the US is still deeply segregated and the optimistic lie we tell ourselves that “Not All Cops” is dishonest as they ALL are willing participants in that system. Just as many of you will remind me it was Sandra Bland’s “choice” not to put the cigarette out, I’ll remind you that it was that officer’s choice to wear the badge.
I’ve also been recently criticized for raising “anti-police” sentiment, which some have indirectly contributed to cop killings. I reject that. If facts matter, cop killing is down, while citizen death by the hands of cops, well… is up. I’ve left a link at the bottom of the article for those interested. But you know what’s done a significantly better job at raising anti-police sentiment?
The same old policing.
We need real reform.