Race, Religion, and Law Enforcement: A Three Part Series of Social Observation Part 2: Justice by Discrimination
The Long Arm of Hate: Justice by Discrimination
The justice system has been known to pass some irrational and discriminatory rulings against non-white Americans resulting in the mistrust and disdain for the enforcers of the law, the law makers, and the judges. There have been major landmarks that have fueled these sentiments, specifically in the black American community, towards these judiciary figures. During the mid-1900’s, amidst the height of racial tension in America, law enforcement officials were used as pawns to enforce racially charged laws descending from the 1890’s Jim Crow laws in the South resulting in the inhumane treatment of countless numbers of black American citizens and white American citizens who stood against racism. The events were televised nationally so even if you weren’t directly affected you could see the horrific actions unfold. Then you have the lack of justice in crimes committed against black Americans, countless lynching’s, hangings, raping’s, and the multitude of other crimes committed; but on the other end the incomparable punishments and the false indictments for crimes committed or allegedly committed by black Americans.
Criminals By Color.
It almost seems as though black is always the general color for the criminal. As a law enforcement officer I can recall several times where I responded to a call and the victim would describe a criminal as being a black male, sounding like a black male, built like a black male etc. This would come from black and white victims so you wouldn’t necessarily call it racism, but where did this general idea of the black male being labeled as a criminal come from. Martin (2015 p.31) explains that this concept was coined “the angry black man”, depicting the black man as a rapist endemic in white society that could serve as one of the pillars of the foundation in which this mentality was built. Below is an excerpt from the book citing an article published in the newspaper, the Commercial, titled More Rapes More Lynchings.
The generation of Negroes which have grown up since the war have lost in large measure the traditional and wholesome awe of the white race which kept the Negroes in subjection . . . There is no longer a restraint upon the brute passion of the Negro . . . The facts of the crime appear to appeal more to the Negro’s lustful imagination than the facts of the punishment do to his fears. He sets aside all fear of death in any form when opportunity is found for the gratification of his bestial desires. (p. 154)
This mentality carried over into the early 1990’s resulting in the furthering of the depiction of the black man as a criminal.
The History of Police Brutality.
Tonry (2011) outlines some interesting findings from the 2001 Race, Crime, and Public Opinion Survey that can be useful in trying to understand why the larger society tolerates police misconduct when it comes to black males. The survey, which involved approximately 978 non-Hispanic whites and 1,010 blacks, revealed a divergence in attitudes between blacks and whites concerning the criminal justice system (Tonry 2011). For instance, 38 % of whites and 89 % of blacks viewed the criminal justice system as biased against blacks (Tonry 2011). Additionally, 8 % of blacks and 56 % of whites saw the criminal justice system as treating blacks fairly (Tonry 2011). The most enlightening when it comes to aiding an environment ripe for police brutality against black males, 68 % of whites and only 18 % of blacks expressed confidence in law enforcement (Tonry 2011) (Chaney & Robertson 2013 p7).
A growing body of scholarly research related to police brutality has revealed that Blacks are more likely than Whites to make complaints regarding police brutality, be accosted while operating a motorized vehicle (“Driving While Black”), and to underreport how often they are stopped due to higher social desirability factors (Chaney et al). In Punishing Race (2011), law professor Michael Tonry’s research findings point to the fact that whites tend to excuse police brutality against Blacks because of the racial animus that they hold against blacks (Tonry 2011). Thus, to whites, blacks are viewed as deserving of harsh treatment in the criminal justice system (Chaney et al). In December of 2014 President Barrack Obama set in motion an initiative to change the current style of policing in America from a biased and targeted, proactive method to that of a community oriented and trustworthy allegiance.
Following the death of teen Michael Brown and the riots in Ferguson Missouri the president saw a need for an intervention, so he assemble several law enforcement experts and top officials to compose a task force plan for immediate implementation nationwide (COPS 2015). This was a major step in the attempt to reconcile the already deteriorated relationship amongst the law enforcement community and the citizens of America. Former FBI director James B. Comey participated in an address on the state of law enforcement in America at Georgetown University in February 2015 following the publishing of the presidential task force guide. Former Director Comey confirmed the biased policing style and called for a complete restructure of our policing practices. Comey stated that in order to move forward with rebuilding the trust between the public and law enforcement it was going to require the participation in the hard conversations that address the issues head on (Comey 2015).
What’s the Solution?!?!
So what now? How can we begin to change the narrative that history has shaped of LEO’s and the people they serve? I believe that the responsibility falls on the shoulders of not only the men and women in blue, but the communities and the residents of these communities to really attempt to see each other through a different lens. It’s going to take the law enforcement community to take an interdisciplinary approach to enforcing the law, an approach that presents the enforcers not as the authoritarian or permissive figure, but that of an authoritative figure. One that is equally stern and understanding, forgiving and intolerant, culturally aware and genuine, historically accepting and devoted, but mainly a genuine love for people.
Overall there has to be an internal vetting of current officers coupled with accountability that is intolerant to conduct unbecoming of what an officer is to represent. Historically there is cause for mistrust and disdain for the badge, rightfully so. If I were Jewish would I trust a Nazi to protect and serve my family? Of course not! Though that example was a bit farfetched, essentially this is the sentiment shared with many culture in today’s society. Until officers accept this reality and intentionally begin to constantly evaluate their approaches in the line of duty then there will continue to be a stalemate pertaining to these matters.
One piece of advice I remember receiving in the Police Academy was to always nod your head and say you understand to help deescalate a situation. This piece of advice worked tremendously, but what I found was in many cases I didn’t understand and already had my mind made up on how the rest of the call was going to transpire. Maybe, just maybe this is happening with the entire law enforcement culture. Maybe we are nodding our heads as a feigned acknowledgment of understanding while already predetermining how we are going to rebuttal or proceed from that point. Truthfully, if we start to see life as non-law enforcement officer’s maybe we could start to see what everyone else sees. Maybe we will realize we are not the law, simply enforcers thereof. There are a lot of maybes flying around within these last several sentences, but maybe, just maybe that will change.
Do you think racial discrimination is a systemic problem within the justice system?
Chaney, C., Robinson, R. V. (2013). Racism and police brutality. Journal of African American Studies, 17(4), 480-516.
Comey, J. B. (2015, February 12). Hard truths: Law enforcement and race. Address presented in Georgetown University, Washington D.C.
COPS (2015). President’s task force on 21st century policing implementation guide: Moving from recommendation to action. Washington, DC: Office of Community Oriented Policing Services.
Martin, M. E. (2014). Introduction to human services: Through the eyes of practice settings (3rd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Allyn & Bacon, Inc..
Tonry, M. (2011). Punishing race: a continuing American dilemma. New York: Oxford University Press.
© 2017 JOSHUA JONES