For the past year, the media has given us extensive coverage of a rash of shooting deaths of unarmed suspects, highlighting the racial implications of white police killing Black suspects that ostensibly posed no real threat by virtue of the fact that they were unarmed. The conclusion that many in the public has come to is that this violence is just symptomatic of the racism that America has been dealing with for centuries now.
These incidents have sparked protests and riots that may have deepened racial tensions as the media fans the flames with distortion of the events that may have created a public perception that inspired more violence. There is little doubt that there is a problem with racial profiling in America. In fact in 2004 Amnesty International estimated in a report that one in nine Americans have been victimized by racial profiling.
Just going by the media’s coverage of these things, it seems like white officers have it in for Black citizenry. However Black officers “account for a little more than 10 percent of all fatal police shootings. Of those they kill, though, 78 percent were Black.” Obviously there is a pathology that goes beyond simple white supremacy.
The Root of the Problem
This is by no means the first time that anyone has come to this conclusion. There have been many studies done to determine the root of the culture of racist policing in America. According to the University of Cincinnati’s Criminal Justice Department, the training officers receive itself may be at fault. That “many of the clues of criminal activity used in law enforcement training are inaccurate predictors of deception and suspiciousness. Furthermore, many of these clues are not racially neutral. Therefore, it is likely that officers who utilize these clues are more likely to inaccurately predict criminal behavior, and further, are more likely to inaccurately predict criminal behavior for Blacks and Hispanics compared to Caucasians.”
Policechiefmagazine.org posits that the problem is a human one. “Police officers are human and, as the theory contends, may be affected by implicit biases just as any other individual. In other words, well-intentioned officers who err may do so not as result of international discrimination, but because they have what has been proffered as widespread human biases.”
Then you have the odd little fact that people are convinced somehow that black people are superhuman. The findings suggest that “[b]ecause Blacks have relatively low status in U.S. society, people may assume that Black people have less privileged lives — lives with more hardships — and infer that they must be tougher.” This coupled with racist training techniques may go a long way to explain why both white and Black police are quicker on the trigger with Black suspects.
It seems then, we are missing a key part of the issue. While police forces should absolutely work to eliminate those officers that are racially biased as well as those with mental issues, there needs to be a change in training methods. Though with the many cuts that law enforcement agencies are reporting across the nation — 48% of whom are reporting cuts in training — it is doubtful that there will be a significant overhaul in training procedures. It’s actually so bad in Philadelphia, PA that officers aren’t field trained at all, but instead are simply thrown out on the street.
A Good Start
Obama pushed forward an initiative to have police wear body cameras in an effort to not only deter police from engaging in brutality but also to clear up disputed incidents such as the Michael Brown case. Since California started asking police to wear the body cameras, in February 2012, complaints against officers dropped 88% and use of force fell by 60%. There’s even evidence that suggests that they are responsible for a 55% drop in crime in Camden, New Jersey through better police relations with the community.
Ultimately, police work is highly dependent upon community cooperation, and it becomes impossible when the public feels like the people who police them don’t care or even worse, outright mean them harm. Police bias needs to be addressed if the public is ever to trust law enforcement officers. The “I’m a cop don’t challenge me” mentality isn’t working.