Epidemics of Race-Based Violence and Police Brutality
by Wim Laven
Have you ever spoken with a parent of black boys about the struggle and fear of keeping them safe? There are several familiar concerns, but a number that are unique. “He is 12 now and I think I need to tell him he is not allowed to wear hoodies anymore,” is such an example.
A great deal of research shows that white people and black people have different experiences with law enforcement. A friend explained: “when you get pulled over for speeding on your way to work you might call in and let them know you’ll be late. I call my wife and tell her that I love her.”
Some people think it hyperbolic, but that makes me uncomfortable. The evidence is irrefutable, racial bias in police violence is undeniable, even the prestigious international medical publication The Lancet reports: “Mounting evidence shows that deaths at the hands of the police disproportionately impact people of certain races and ethnicities, pointing to systemic racism in policing;” Black men are 2.5 times more likely to be killed by police than White men.
Focusing on numbers, while irrefutable at this point, has not created positive change. It often inspires victim-blaming, as in when the videos show police shooting an unarmed Black man and the response from some is, “but what happened before the recording started?” as though the Black person must have done something to deserve dying and the film is incomplete.
More people have been tracking the use of “copaganda” (coverage of police biased to show law enforcement in a positive light) and there is clear evidence—for better and worse—that people (on the whole) believe law enforcement is doing better job than they actually are.
Writing for The Nation, civil rights attorney Scott Hechinger reports: crime reporting is not based on “criminological facts,” reportage is marred by “alarmist headlines,” and “dehumanizing language,” with “overly simplistic stories” that “provoke fear in the public.”
Is it any wonder that dominant-culture people are not getting a good picture of the epidemic minority communities are experiencing?
Police departments have openly admitted, or some of their officers have declared, to using racial profiling as a “strategy” and continue to employ prejudicial technologies and practices. Even in liberal blue states like California, despite ongoing efforts demanded by the public and promised by politicians, the data shows the nationwide phenomena of racial profiling is resistant to improvement. From the San Francisco Chronicle just months ago:
Black people are far more likely to be stopped by police than white people, and that the disparity widened in 11 of the state’s 15 biggest law enforcement agencies from 2019 to 2020.
The problems of both profiling and subsequent violence by police are regularly referred to by police chiefs as “a few bad apples.” But it’s possible the failure to improve is related to the nature of some applicants to become police. The FBI has warned of the increasing threat of white nationalist and supremacist groups infiltrating law enforcement.
Thus the “bad apple” conversation ignores the systematic and structural realities. Policy and procedure have caused, created, and permitted the violence to occur.
For decades we have had bad apples growing on bad trees in polluted orchards. I’m tired of so much focus being on the apples at all. If we started addressing the copious amounts of cultural, institutional, and structural racism the prejudice and hate would not have a home in law enforcement.
We need to stop promoting warrior cops and violent retributive justice. We need to demilitarize our police departments and return to ideas of service. But most importantly we need to finally decide enough is enough; innocent people have been terrorized and killed by police for too long. We cannot continue to let them literally and acutely painfully get away with murder.
Wim Laven, Ph.D., syndicated by PeaceVoice, teaches courses in political science and conflict resolution.