How do you feel about racism regarding the police?
|To write this article, I consulted several of my friends and acquaintances, Latinos, blacks, whites, males, and females. I wanted to get their overall points of view regarding this poignant issue. Do we have a problem with the police in how they handle issues with the black community as such? Do blacks have a higher chance of confrontation and death at the hands of the police? Is there a "systematic" or "Institutional" problem, or is it that there are just some "bad" cops. If we are genuinely having a problem with our police officers due to policies and procedures, then there is no question that those need changing. To reach the right answers, we have to begin with the right questions?|
What are the questions?
1. Are we dealing with issues of racism, regarding how police officers deal with the general public?
2. Are the incidents in the news actual events that prove that racism was a motive in the actions of the police officers?
3. Is it more likely that the cause was actually that the police offers involved were either "bad" because they were ill-trained or "bad" actors (making bad decisions, etc.)?
4. If the "system" is at "fault," how do we define that?
a. That the "system" means white people only, no matter what the race of the other person was?
b. That all white people in the U.S. are responsible for the actions of any sole white person.
c. That the procedures, structure, and policy-making individuals of the specific police department have problem areas that allow for police to be "bad" actors?
d. That the specific police department to which the particular police officers are solely responsible for the actions of those particular officers?
e. That all of the police departments of the entire United States are responsible for the actions of one or more officers from one specific department of one particular city in a specific state?
The death of George Floyd was, without a doubt, murder. The police officer involved knew that he was blocking Floyd's breathing with his knee. The video footage was undeniable proof that the officer could have taken several other options in the handling of Floyd. The most obvious is (at the very least) that they could have put him in the back of the squad car and left him there while they worked on other aspects of the case. Even police officers from other departments who viewed the video commented on camera to reporters that they believed the officer was clearly in the wrong. But, as I mentioned above, the first question to ask, now that we look back on that event which took a man's life, is, was this the behavior and actions of one man, or is the whole of the United States policing practice under question?
In the United States, there are over 44 million blacks. The first consideration must be this, "Are Black citizens purposely being targeted by the police as a whole, or is it individual officers who have made bad decisions when dealing with blacks? If you ask some of the protestors from the prior weeks, the answer will be that all police officers (white, black, Latino, and so forth) are out to hunt down any black person they encounter and want to try to kill them. CityLab writer Brentin Mock (himself a black man) wrote in one article online1, where he asserted that "In the U.S., African Americans are 2.5 times more likely to be killed by police than white people. For black women, the rate is 1.4 times more likely." Mock's statistics are only an example of some people of the stats used by some people who claim that it is systematic or institutional racism that that drives the actions of all police shootings or the death of black citizens at the hands of individual police officers. If all one sees and considers is that one statistic, then it does sound bad. And, I will add that any life lost is terrible, because all lives matter. But, when you look at other statistics, the picture looks a bit different. Statista.com2 Out of 44 million black citizens in the U.S., 223 were shot to death by the police in 2017, 209 in 2018, 235 in 2019, and, up to the date of this writing, 88 in 2020. Think about it, 44 million black persons in the United States and, in 4 years, 755 died at the hands of the police. Alternatively, the website indicates that during the same four-year period, 1,398 whites died at the hands of the police. Remember that all lives matter and that no life should end without just cause. Anyone who is reading this article who has any skill at all at researching statistics can find any set of data or studies that will back up your particular argument.
But, let's tackle the above questions, one at a time.
Are we dealing with issues of racism, regarding how police officers deal with the general public?
No. Well, maybe sometimes.
The recent interactions by the police, which resulted in riots and violence (specifically the death of Mr. Floyd), clearly involved a lousy cop. The officer decided to put his knee on the neck of the man all on his own, at least according to the Chief of Police of the Minneapolis Police Department. They stated to reporters that placing a knee on someone's neck was not a police procedure. Medaria Arradondo, himself a black man, assumed the position of Chief of police on 21 July 2017. Arradondo told reporters that "Mr. George Floyd's tragic death was not due to a lack of training — the training was there," he said. "This was murder — it wasn't a lack of training." So, in this particular case, we must conclude, if we are to agree with the Police Chief, that it was not institutional or systematic racism, because then that would mean that he, a black man himself, was part of that racism that played a role in Floyd's death.
While we cannot make a blanket statement that this proves that no police killings are motivated by racism, we must conclude that this one situation, if it was racism that prompted it, was not "institutional" or "systematic" in nature.
Yes, racism is alive and exists in the United States, but what is racism? And, who can be a racist?
The dictionary gives two definitions:
1. Prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against a person or people based on their membership of a particular racial or ethnic group, typically one that is a minority or marginalized.
2. The belief that different races possess distinct characteristics, abilities, or qualities, especially so as to distinguish them as inferior or superior to one another.
These two definitions give us two aspects of how racists think. First, they are prejudiced, or they discriminate, or they are antagonistic against people of particular racial groups. Secondly, they consider the other race inferior. I could write a book on just what these two points mean and how they impact how people deal with each other. For example, in some cases, such as the Ku Klux Klan, there exists clear historical evidence that they are racists according to both definitions. The Klan racist of all non-white races. That is a clear situation. But what if someone accuses you of being a racist just because they don't like you or what you have done? Who gets to decide (other than when the evidence is clear) that you are a racist? For example, if you know a black man who is a jerk (and we know that at least some blacks are jerks, just like in all other races) and you don't like him, is it that you don't like him because he is a jerk, or because he is black? What if you don't like him because he is a jerk, but he says you don't like him because you are a racist?
Some black people will tell you that blacks cannot be racists, but, according to the two definitions above, any person can be a racist if he believes and acts as described above. Notice that the first definition does not say, "When a white person is prejudiced, discriminates, and so on." And also, notice that the second definition does not say, "when a white person distinguishes others as inferior…" The truth is that any person that suddenly decides that they are superior to another race just because those people are not like him. Racism is a personal decision made by a specific person. And, of course, it can then be taught directly or indirectly at home or in the general society. Notice how some blacks in the news speak abusively and detrimentally about whites without remorse, in such a manner that if it were to be done by a white, it would be called racism. Racism is racism, no matter what skin color the racist wears.
Are the incidents in the news actual events that prove that racism was a motive in the actions of the police officers?
Of course not. "Bad" cops, yes. As I pointed out above, Police Chief Arradondo said it was murder. Did Officer Derek Chauvin kill George Floyd because he is a racist or a "bad" cop? Did he have a pattern of bad behavior toward blacks in particular? According to background data on Chauvin, he had been cited both for outstanding police performance and a couple of questionable incidents. According to the above definitions, there was no pattern of racism, at least not on his part. As far as the particular events of 2020 involving police officers and black citizens, there is no clear evidence that racism was the motivating factor.
But, for the sake of argument, let's say it was. Therefore, the question is, was it solely the actions of these specific officers that were racists or all of the police departments of the United States as a whole. And, I may add, only a fool or a liar would say that the latter was true. Though, even if it was, how do we solve the problem? How do you "fix" "systematic" or "institutional" racism within all of the police departments in the United States? You don't. On the other hand, there are some things on which specific departments through the U.S. can work.
As I mentioned, to prepare for this article, I spoke to a variety of people I know; down-to-earth persons. The question I put to them was, "What if anything, can be done to reform and improve policing in these United States? I did not get into the issue of race, as the only answer for the race problem is that we all come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ in our lives and allow Him to govern us. Besides that, the various people spoke with gave various differing suggestions.
The idea is that police departments review their policies and procedures and consider what, if any, may need to be redone. In such a manner, as to provide the officer with the type of training that will help that officer be more conscious of how he or she conducts himself or herself when dealing with the public.
The problem I see with this is that many departments are going to do as Arradondo did and argue that "it wasn't a lack of training3," it was the officer's own choices. Any department that opens itself up to the idea that it fails to train its officers adequately will solely invite accusations and contention from the minority of people who already hate the police. The problem with retraining the police is that you cannot retrain away racism. By the way, I agree that some retraining is needed. Specifically, to emphasize (if not reemphasize) what the department allows and does not when it comes to any police officer's actions toward and with members of the public.
Get Rid of the Qualified Immunity Act
Created through court rulings, this is legal doctrine shields police officers from civil lawsuits. The result would be that officers would have to be even more conscious of how they treat the public because of possible litigation. Some people believe that if police are suddenly fearful of the penalty of being sued, they will take even more care in their interactions with the public.
While I am not entirely against the idea, I fail to see how this would help eliminate racism at all. Police officers may want to avoid litigation, but that won't change how they feel about people of other races.
Along with the QIA, another protection for police is the Police Unions. I am not a supporter of unions, but I can see the value and benefit of a police officer. On the other hand, I can also see how a "bad" cop can use his or her union to get them out of jams they got themselves into because of racist (or, at least, inappropriate) behavior.
One friend of mine suggested that applicants to the police force should undergo psychological testing. As a counselor myself, I see the value of this (to a point). While the procedure could help "weed" out many persons who may have overt problems which might make them less than desirable candidates, sociopaths and other such people could easily trick many testers.
Higher Pay and better Perks
In my own opinion, this is a better answer. It has been no secret that so many police departments have had to lower their standards and qualifications to be able to get people to become officers. Why? Because there is a shortage of police officers in the U.S. Again, why? Because over the years, several factors have played a large part in reducing numbers of people who would want to serve in the capacity. An article by Tim Roufa4, entitled, "Why Police Departments Are Facing Recruitment Problems," listed several factors. In the article, Roufa included "Relatively Low Pay," "Disqualifying Behaviors," and "Lack of Physical Fitness."
I believe that the answer is to raise the pay so that we can hire competent, qualified, and motivated people. Then, I think that we should provide them with an employment package that will attract those people who want to keep their job because of the benefits and perks. This action, I believe, will directly impact any racist (or "bad" intentions) on the part of any officer, because they would lose too much.
Finally, there are no magic answers to this issue. Though one thing necessary is we must identify the real problem. There is not an issue of "systematic" or "institutional" racism in the United States as such. Yes, there is racism in the U.S., but it exists in individuals. We live in a country that elected a black (well, at least half-black) man as President. We have black politicians, black movie stars, black sports celebrities, black rich people, black doctors, and so on, and so on, and so on. Let's continue to work at this together.
I also want to give credit to the Wall Street Journal for the picture, it was taken from an online article titled, "No, Police Racism Isn’t an Epidemic," By Jason L. Riley, June 23, 2020, 6:47 pm ET