Op-Ed: Analyzing Institutional Racism’s Place in Our Police Departments

By Kenneth Cooper

Twitter: @Coop20jr

There is another one, another body, another hashtag. More black men’s lives have been taken by the police.

In the past week, due to police brutality, the lives of two more black men were taken. Terrence Crutcher, a black father of four, was shot dead by a police officer in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Keith Lamont Scott was a black man from Charlotte, North Carolina, who was also shot and killed while waiting for his child to get out of school.

In Crutcher’s case, there are multiple videos confirming that he posed no threat to the responding officers. He held his hands high before catching a bullet in his chest. Audio from the police helicopter even shows biased language. They called called him a “bad dude”. Cops in both of these instances cited fearing for their lives as a reason for taking the lives of these black men.

If these two black men had been white women would they have still been alive today?

My answer is a resounding yes.

These two cases illustrate a long, turbulent history between police and minorities across the country. Up until, and during the Civil Rights Movement, police departments were used as a tool to reinforce white supremacy. They hosed blacks, sicked dogs on them, and beat them into submission. After the movement, the issue moved away from the public eye, because the racist era was thought to be over in the eyes of the mainstream media.

However, communities of color were still subjected to unfair police practices. That all changed when millions of Americans got visual proof of brutality claims. Many watched in horror as Rodney King was savagely beaten by multiple police officers in March of 1991.

To many Americans, this issue was isolated, but to minorities, it was a reality they faced and continue to face on a daily basis.

The issue of police brutality is an issue as whole, but statistics show that it disproportionately affects minorities at much higher rates. According to a 2015 study conducted by the Washington Post, blacks are only 13 percent of the U.S. population, yet we make up 24 percent of the population of people shot and killed by police. They concluded from the data that blacks are 2.5 times more likely to be killed over whites. When unarmed, according to the same study, blacks are five times as likely to be killed as opposed to their white counterparts. This supports the argument that not only does America have a problem as whole with police brutality, but that this problem is a racial problem.

The shootings on its surface are caused by the poor training that police departments have regarding how they interact with minority communities. There is also a feeling of mistrust between police and the districts that they serve.

Police departments often harbor a culture of brotherhood where they stick with each other, even if they do wrong. Sometimes, they conspire with each other to cover up wrongdoings. For example, in the Laquan McDonald case an officer arrived on the scene and within a short period of time, he fired at McDonald. He proceeded to shoot him an additional 15 times. The police officers not only gave inconsistent reports, but they conspired to delete the video of the shooting that was recorded at a nearby fast-food restaurant.

One officer fired the shots, but officers stood behind him even though he had committed a crime. This culture, known as the “Blue Wall of Silence” is prevalent in police departments across the country, and people wonder why communities have such a bad relationship with law enforcement. That’s why. There are also inherent biases that reflect themselves in practices used by police.

There is a different method that officers use to police white communities as opposed to minority communities. In the same scenarios, police de-escalate situations in white communities as opposed to intensify situations in minority neighborhoods. Everyone in the minority community is not a criminal, yet there is a perception that they are treated as such. In the case of the Ferguson Police Department, they were actually targeting communities of color by giving excessive tickets for a financial benefit.

This is a multifaceted problem. We have military-style equipment used to deal with civil issues rather than military issues. Now the police will say, “We need to protect ourselves.” Honestly, when you treat every citizen in the community as a criminal and then wonder why there is a lack of respect, what would you expect?

If you start from a position of mistrust, then the police figure out a way to treat them badly. Some officers are trained to police like an authoritarian in communities that are crime-ridden. That creates tension in areas with high crime.

Black-on-back crime is often used to counter the narrative of police brutality. The fact of the matter is that black-on-black crime is simply crime. As is white-on-white crime. People of the same race tend to live near each other. Same race crime statistics are about the same. So the argument of black-on-black crime has no merit in this conversation.

We have reverted to common excuses that police departments use to justify these killings. “I fear for my life or the safety of others”, is what they say often. That is standard procedure. They used this phony, canned answer to justify shootings all the time. This was true in the case of Laquan McDonald, when police gave statements similar to give reason for the killing of the black male and altered evidence. If any other individual, gang, or group engaged in that type of activity, they would be in prison. No questions asked. Yet police officers are somehow given a license to murder with no fear of reprisal. Officers enforce the law; they should not be above it.

There is video footage with people putting their hands up when dealing with the police and they still end up shot, and the police are left unscathed from the criminal justice system. We are supposed to have rights, yet when Philando Castile warned the cop of the weapon in his car, the officer murdered him in front of his girlfriend and her 4-year-old child. Minority communities are then left with a sense of betrayal and more mistrust towards the people who are supposed to protect them.

Where are we supposed to go?

One has to ask the question. Is the standard procedure, that protects the police officer, one that we should follow? They know they can wipe away all wrongdoing if they say their life is in danger. This leads to cops often taking matters into their own hands and often violating citizens’ basic human rights and the right to live. Police officers then go on air claiming that their victims were armed, or under the influence or dangerous as if it is justification for murdering someone.

If that’s their excuse for murdering someone, then they do not need to be police officers. Have police departments lowered the standard for who should be cop?

Media plays a role as well. The way they sensationalize criminal behavior, especially in minority neighborhoods, leave the impression that we are thugs. Often times, media causes others to falsely perceive that crime is threaded into the fabric of minority communities. While many people do not believe in the false images that the media often use to portray minority communities, some consume it on a regular basis and even perpetuate it.

Institutional racism provides officers with a license to murder with no consequences. That’s where we have landed. The manufactured responses and biased investigations are perfect examples of this. The media puts the victim on trial as opposed to condemning the officers for their bad behavior. They throw sand on the names of black victims as if their family is not grieving. As if the black community is not grieving.

The issue is pretty much in the forefront of politics. However, Donald Trump is using it to advocate bias and racist policies such as “Stop & Frisk” on minority communities, even though it is illegal. We have a practice that has been deemed illegal, yet police openly use it as a way to “fight crime”. To make matters worse, police unions are throwing support in Trump’s direction. This is a candidate that regularly makes racist statements about all different types of minorities in this country. Trump is dangerous and the fact that police departments support him is telling of the culture that many police officers harbor. However, not all officers share this point of view.

It’s a sad day in America when the same system that is supposed to protect its citizens is the same system putting them in the morgue and attempting to justify it. The same system that does not view the KKK as a terrorist group, but somehow treats Black Lives Matter as one. The same system that gives minorities longer sentences for the same crimes. To those who watched the videos of these incidents, do you realize you have watched someone’s life be taken away? Their final moment was a trial in which the judge, jury, and executioner were the same cops who took an oath to protect them.

All cops are not bad, but America has to leave this state of denial that “cops can do no wrong” behind, and recognize how institutional racism still plays a part in our everyday lives. The missing piece is ownership and accountability. It’s a topic for the presidential debate, but no one has a solution. We are talking about someone’s life. This is not a video game and there are no do-overs. This is why many black parents give their children “the talk” about these issues. At a young age, we as young African-Americans are taught to comply with every police command even if they violate your rights, just to escape death. However, recent cases show that even when we do everything right, if one bad cop associates the color of my skin with danger, they may fire anyway.

Frightening isn’t it? If white people were being killed by the police at the same rate as  black people are, there would probably be a lot more urgency.

We must learn to talk with each other instead of talk at each other. The sides must have dialogue. I’d like to thank Temple’s BSU for hosting a town hall that not only addressed the issues but productively talked about possible solutions. That is the type of dialogue this country needs to combat institutional racism in law enforcement.

#Black Lives Matter

 

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