My Answer to the riots, grand juries and policing methods
Protesters and police
Right now with protests joining on in major cities across the country, there is a lot of talk about the right to assemble, about free speech, about police brutality and misconduct. There are a lot of raw emotions on display and a lot of people are finding themselves in engaged. This is a good thing, being a part of the country, taking a vested interest in the way people are treated and the way in which people are dealt with is part of living in a democracy. Having your voice heard either through votes or protests is fundamental to this form of government. To peacefully assemble is a good and vibrant way to express your feelings.
Having had grand jury verdicts in several cases, where it was decided not to bring charges against officers who had killed unarmed citizens, the country is showing a distrust of our police forces. Part of this is that the police are a citizens force, made up of the countries citizens and paid wages by the city for the execution of those duties. That's why it pains us so much when we think they've shown discrimination in the execution of their duties. They are supposed to be just like us, if they view one segment of the population as wrong or criminal, then what does that say about us? Do we also carry these types of prejudices? Are we partially to blame for these actions?
Hands up Protests
Do you feel the police show discrimination in the execution of their duties?
It has been proven by science that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Unfortunately sometimes the initial action is so long ago, we don't know if we are dealing with an action or a reaction. For example, do police tactics like stop and frisk have a place? Are they effective given the crime in some of these neighborhoods?
These are valid questions and of course are difficult to answer. On the one hand, sure, the police should be present where crime is the highest. However, when you treat people like they are criminals, how much of their behavior is actually observed and how much of it is inferred? And the other end of the equation, when you focus so much of your attention on the right hand, what is the left hand doing?
There have been studies done that show that black and white communities smoke marijuana, for example, at an equal level. However if the police search 1 in 2 black citizens and only 1 in 20 white citizens, then they will find drugs on about 10 times as many black people, even with equal usage. This creates an image of increased drug usage in the black community and is part of what is referred to as "white privilege." The fact, that if you are white, you will avoid certain suspicion that a person of color will attract through no fault of their own. This goes beyond drug usage, as tales of black people being stalked in stores by employee's, being harassed and interrogated when they attempt to report a crime as a victim, when they go to court and are given a harsher sentence, or when they are attempting to gain housing or are held to different levels of accountability on the job. In all of society our preconceived notions come into play, so I do ask, why should the police be any different?
So how much accountability do we share as a society?
While I concede that slavery, segregation and the legal constraints to minority advancement were labeled illegal long ago, I also question how much of the old power structure still remains in effect and what role does it play in disenfranchisement? Do we as a society bear some responsibility towards helping to raise those who live in the direst of situations out of those situations?
It has been said a chain is only as strong as it's weakest link. If that is true, how strong is a society where in some areas of a city there is unemployment at near two or three times as great as other parts of the country, there is homelessness that is rampant and there is no hope in the community? Do communities like these make our cities, and by default our country a weaker place?
I think that, even though very few of us had anything to do with slavery or segregation, we should show empathy towards those of our society where there is no viable way of supporting a family. When you live in a city where there are literally thousands of people living in a few block radius, and there are a few stores in that area, where are the residents supposed to find gainful employment? What are you supposed to do when you can't find work in your area, have no means to move to a new area, and have a family to support? It's been said that crime doesn't pay, but that's not necessarily true. There is a billion dollar drug trade that exists and unfortunately this is a viable way to make money when there is no real economic development in your area. You go where you can eat, and if you need to eat then you will try to find food, it's a basic human need.
I don't wish to discount what has been done as well. There has been a very bright light shined in some of these areas as a result of these high profile cases, with many individuals with large platforms taking the time to speak out about these issues and make it known that they stand with many of those who are downtrodden and who are hurting. I contend that we should do more to change attitudes on a large scale.
Back to the Police
So now we go back to the police. One thing I've always said, the police work with the consent of the policed. If they don't have support from a community or the masses of the people, they can't perform their duties, indeed they are not a legitimate police force, but can become an occupying force. Even in a big city like New York City, the largest police force in the country, police are a small percentage of the people. If everyone in New York decided not to obey police officers then there is very little they could do except step aside. Indeed if they decided that they wanted to apprehend the police forces and do harm to them, it'd be very hard for the police to keep themselves safe.
This is why it's so disturbing to me to hear the police union representative in New York say they are on "wartime" status. What does this mean? Are they now going to go to war against the citizens they are supposed to be protecting? I have a sneaking suspicion that they mean they will become more aggressive towards those they consider the "criminal element," which translates in many cases to black and Latino communities.
Although perhaps not, since after the mayor and commissioner of police went to the hospital to console the families of the two officers, the police turned their backs on those two men. Perhaps their wartime rhetoric is directed against the citizens of New York as a whole. Can a smaller armed force win out against everyone in a city the size of New York?
So while there are those who claim police tactics are the problem and that profiling has done more harm than good, the consent still needs to exist. If they don't have the consent of the minority communities, they still have to have consent of the majority. So where has the majority gained this image that the police are doing a good thing, that profiling is effective police work?
Crime statics and "safer streets," play some part. The entire ideology that police and governmental administrations are "tough on crime," certainly is a way of selling your policing tactics to a community at large. The entire stop and frisk supposedly cut crime down by a large percentage. If you look at it, in 1990 New York had 2,262 murders while in 2011 there were only 504. That is a tremendous decrease.
However, the way in which this was accomplished leaves much to be desired. From 2004 - 2012, there were 2.3 million stops of black people yielding 16,000 seizures, and in the same period there were only 435,000 stops of white people yielding 16,000 seizures. So for black people there were 143 stops per seizure, while on the other side, there were 27 stops per seizure. So it looks, on the surface of it, that the police are allowing crimes to be committed. They are executing at least 5 times more stops to get the same results. On the surface, it seems that if they did their job in a non-discriminatory way, they would have been able to get 5 times as many illegal substances and weapons off the streets.
Sometimes the ends don't justify the means.
One last thought
In the last section I beat up on police a bit, or at least on the tactics employed to get their results. This is not my intent. The police have a tough job and are under tremendous pressure to get results.
In this section though, I will try to explain why some of their decisions make sense. Let's take a look at the murder rates in these demographics. According to the US Department of Justice, in 2011 there were 14,610 homicides in the United States. Of that number, 7,380 were black victims and 6,830 were white victims. At a rate per 100,000 citizens, that amounts to 17.3 and 2.8 accordingly. This may seem like a stark contrast, however I also will contend that policing tactics have a lot to do with those numbers.
If someone is killed in your family, and you report this crime to the police, how the police treat you will determine how cooperative you are with the police. If the come in and treat you and your family like you are somehow to blame for the crime, then it means you are less likely to work with the police to solve the crime. Consider that and couple it with neither justice nor vengeance will bring back your lost loved one, you may very well consider opting for vengeance when those officers leave, doubting very much they care enough to investigate the crime or to seek out the perpetrator. So in many instances, many of these killings are going to be linked, or related to one another in that many are retaliatory in nature.
So while it may seem that there is a greater percentage of murders occurring in the black community, at the end of the day it is that distrust of law enforcement and the policing tactics that may be driving this number up.