An NYPD law enforcement officer was convicted of manslaughter in the shooting death of a 23-year-old black man in a ‘dark’ stairwell of a housing project in 2014. The details of the case were debated in terms of the level of darkness, and the officer’s intent that led to this man’s death, but…I say that the problem at the core is more complex than laid out before the courts. I am not disputing or disagreeing with the facts of what happened that day. Yet, each time we hear of a young black person dying at the hands of police officers, or discipline disparities in school, the juvenile justice system, the penal system and the courts system… it illustrates a larger, more widespread problem in the collective consciousness of the American narrative.
Laws do not get written by themselves, in order that people abide, conform and comply in practice. As humans, we write laws and establish policies and practice guidelines. So, designed and framed by perceptions, perspectives and worldviews, most policies and practices are inherently subjective despite their ‘supposed’ objectivity. , is not and never was ‘blind’….to color, economics, location, gender, and so forth. For the people, of the people, and by the people was not meant inclusive of African-Americans at that time.
Therefore, in order to make those words reflect the truths that are self-evident, it is necessary for us to deconstruct then reconstruct the very documents upon which this democracy was founded, laws were adopted and practices have been based. It is not policies, practices, curriculum designs that frame themselves independent of human prejudice, bias or cultural relevance. Rather, our country was framed by well-meaning individuals, white men, who were not consciously mindful to consider the implications of the credo that holds the belief: ALL MEN ARE CREATED EQUAL.
It did not factor women, gays, blacks, or Jews into that equation. Thus, it stands to reason that we were founded and continue to rely upon a constitution, bill of rights, and a judicial system that is largely exclusive; not comprehensively inclusive of ALL citizens. So, when we address societal ills, and the intersected disparities that exist across systems, it is logical that they influence all aspects of life.
The ‘community’ policing, by those charged to protect and serve ALL citizens in ALL communities and of ALL races and cultures, is deeply flawed. What happens is implicit bias runs rampant and has now become blatantly evident…to everyone else except the hierarchy of power where regulatory and practice guidelines are determined. The impact of police interactions and interventions, influenced by implicit biases and negative stereotypes, almost always works to the detriment of blacks. How many times must we see this and remain uncertain of the truth- their truths, reality and THE only truth that matters?
No, our eyes aren’t playing tricks with our brains, but we try to trick our brains that our vision is flawed. Rather, it’s our perception and interpretations of what we witness. Police ‘profiling’ IS grounded in evidence based and data informed behavior analysis, in reliably scientific theoretical orientation. Yet, when the ‘evidence’ before you is solely based upon skin tone, neighborhood demographics, location or clothing style, i.e.: hoodies, sagging pants, backpacks or ‘du-rags’, what we have here is ‘RACIAL’ profiling. That is not science-based, character/behavior analysis.
These types of profiles are inherently biased, prejudicial, discriminatory, and lead to human, civil and legal rights violations when acted upon. Relying upon that type of criteria alone still is insufficient cause to ‘stop and frisk’, question or interrogate, apprehend, arrest, and don’t justifiably indicate any real fear for life and safety. How many white, suburban, middle class 19-23 year old males spotted wearing baseball caps flipped to the side, below the waist or baggy pants, hooded sweatshirts and wearing backpacks are randomly approached by police officers?
Certainly, not very many, if any at all on a typical tour of duty. Let’s suppose that an officer from similar background, were to encounter one young man in a dark stairwell while looking for suspects. Would the officer be instinctively fearful, so much so that while patrolling through this darkness, his gun remains or is drawn? Would his weapon be drawn, finger on the trigger, ready to fire without hesitation? Or would he/she hear the sounds, see a human-like shadow, become so alarmed by that shadow that he would actually pull the trigger? Or would implicit bias surface because of the uncertainty of the darkness? But, aren’t officers supposed to be trained and prepared for that type of situation?
What they may not receive sufficient training in is diversity, cultural and self awareness and the intersection between culture and race. That’s the bigger concern and the missing link! Cultural incapacity and lack of cultural competence, and it is much larger than one police officer’s fatal ‘mistake’. The guilt also belongs to the “system”-at the organizational level!