Coping With A Racially Disconnected America

Pew released a study a few days ago drawing on the attitudes and experiences of policemen and women around the country. Their findings revealed a disparity of perception between black and white officers on views of race relations.

More than half black officers surveyed believe fatal encounters between black civilians and the police to be indicative of a broader societal problem, whereas nearly three-quarters of white officers disagree, viewing these shootings as isolated incidents.

An even more distinct difference of perception:

69% of black officers believe more change is needed in our country to give blacks equal rights, whereas 92% of white officers believe no more change is needed.

Studies on police treatment of civilians in relation to race present contradicting evidence on inequality between blacks and whites. According to the Washington Post, “black Americans are 2.5 times as likely as white Americans to be shot and killed by police officers,” whereas the National Bureau of Economic Research cites a racial inequality in police use of non-lethal force but found “no racial differences” in shootings.

“We are not living in a post-racial America.”

Information on police shootings has proven limited in large part due to the lack of comprehensive data collected by the government. So although recent studies are not the ultimate authority, they do provide insight into the discrepancy in treatment claimed by protestors and activists.

Individuals who attempt to dispute claims of unfair treatment by police cite the fact that black individuals commit more crimes than other ethnicities, which is why they are more likely to have negative encounters with the police. But according to Jack Glaser, co-author of a report by the Center for Policing Equity

“[A]bove and beyond their [blacks’] rates of contact with the police, and above and beyond their rates of offending, they are still subject to a disproportionate level of use of force by the police.”

A poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, much like the survey by Pew, found there to be a racial divide amongst civilian perspectives of the police. Nearly 75% of black individuals surveyed believe violence against civilians by police officers to be an extremely or very serious problem compared with less than 20% of whites. “An overwhelming majority of blacks say that, generally, the police are too quick to use deadly force and that they are more likely to use it against a black person.” Most whites disagree, believing deadly force to be used only when necessary and not impacted by race.

One aspect of the study that many civilians, black and white, agreed on is that “violence against police is an extremely or very serious problem in the United States.”
Blue [Police] Lives Matter flag

Compounded by the findings of these studies that conclude a higher risk of black people suffering at the hands of police is the dominant perspective amongst black civilians and officers who view the relationship between police and the black community as problematic.

This perception does not mean police are inherently racist or acting on racist inclinations, but instead, as articulated by an article in the Harvard CRCL Law Review, should be framed as a “systemic and structural problem that cannot be solved by simply looking for and punishing ‘bad’ police officers.”

Stepping away from statistics and focusing on sentiment, it’s clear that the perception within the black community is that police treatment is unfair and unequal.

So how do we cope as a society?

Blaming an entire group, whether the black community or the police, for this tense situation will do little to address frustration or create a more harmonious relationship between these two groups.

Instead, communities must facilitate a relationship between black leaders and the police in order for them to work together to address conflict and generate a plan on coping with police, civilian clashes.

Black Lives Matter, the current leading voice of the black community, needs an active presence in every major urban population, so that their influence is established before it is necessitated by a highly tense and emotional situation.

To quote Dallas Police Chief David Brown in response to the 2016 killing of Dallas police officers:

“…[T]his must stop — this divisiveness between our police and our citizens.”

Communities need to develop strategies, coordinated by civilians and police, on how to address the loss of innocent life at the hands of the police, because unfortunately, no matter the measures taken to prevent, train, and educate, mistakes will be made and tragedy will occur — an innocent person will fall victim to a reactionary cop.

Black people are fearful of cops and cops have grown fearful as well, but fear should not dictate actions. Although protesting is an integral civic right and brings necessary attention to a previously under-addressed issue, it’s only part of the answer.

Bridging the gap between these two parties will not result from conflict — it requires coming together and addressing the issue in a manner that focuses on unity.

Wichita, Kansas displayed such solidarity between citizens and cops when they chose to host a cookout in place of a planned protest after a meeting between the police chief and local activists.

Police Chief of Richmond, California, Chris Magnus, acclaimed for lowering the rate of police violence in his area, cited the need for community policing, which requires officers to “show empathy with victims of crime, who are not afraid to smile, to get out of the police car and interact in a positive way with people, who can demonstrate emotional intelligence, who are good listeners, who have patience, who don’t feel that it takes away from their authority to demonstrate kindness.”

This movement towards positive engagement also requires a diverse police population that reflects its community, because, “[w]hen you have a department that doesn’t look anything like the community it serves, you’re asking for trouble, no matter how dedicated and professional your employees are,” such as with Ferguson, in which only 3 out of 53 officers were black despite its dominantly black demographic.

Tension will continue to rise if the only reason cops confront the black community is to enforce the law, and if the only time black community leaders grow vocal is to dictate guilt.

To quote the Department of Justice’s “Principle’s of Good Policing”:

“The police department must establish an effective partnership with the community as a whole, the foundation of which is mutual trust and understanding.”

The responsibility of this “mutual trust” falls on civilians and police officers to aid its success.

The resolution lies in coming together and having an open conversation on how to create a safer community for both black civilians and police officers, so that instead of living in fear, we can navigate conflict together and minimalize its divisive repercussions.