By Aidan Casey
Recently, police and the criminal justice system have been under fire as many accuse them of being racist. Statements made by the particular officers involved in recent incidents, specifically the cases of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, indicate that there was no racism involved and that they were simply trying as hard as possible to do their jobs and do them effectively. Darren Wilson states “Brown then replied `Fuck what you have to say`. And when he said that, it drew my attention totally to Brown.” Their argument is that when in stressful situations, they act on impulse, which is an inherently human trait that cannot be avoided and has nothing to do with race. Dorian Johnson, a witness, states “When Brown turned around to face Wilson, Brown’s hands were up, one higher than the other. His hands were nowhere near his waist. Brown appeared to try and tell Wilson that he didn’t have a gun, starting to take a step forward. Before Brown could complete his sentence, Wilson shot him several more times.” He also states that Brown “looked like a demon” and that he (Wilson) was “terrified”. They use this argument to declare that the call for police reform is unnecessary. Opposers of this logic claim that is proven false due to the disparity between white people killed by police officers and black people killed by police officers.
In his statement regarding the non-indictment of Darren Wilson, Obama states that “Our police officers put their lives on the line for us every day. They’ve got a tough job to do. To maintain public safety and hold accountable those who break the law.” He then goes into the fact that there needs to be a better relationship between law enforcement and poor communities of color. He states that some of the cause of the negative relationship is due to lasting effects of racial discrimination, but does not elaborate beyond that.
Peter King, a republican Congressman claims the death of Eric Garner was Garner’s own fault. He claims that it was the police officers’ job to bring him down as fast as possible and that he was resisting arrest. He claims that since the police did not know he had a asthma and a heart condition they had the right to choke and tackle him.
Some police officers, especially around the Ferguson area, are trying to build the narrative that they are the ones with “hard jobs”. They do this by highlighting how in heated moments its impossible to always make the right decision. However, they rarely address the possibility of inherent or conditioned racism inside them when dealing with these situations. Rudy Guiliani, a strong supporter of police officers states that “This (Ferguson) is the kind of case, had it not had the racial overtones and the national publicity, in which the prosecutor would have come to the conclusion that there was not enough evidence to bring to the grand jury.”
Closely intertwined with the opposition to police reform is the opposition to rioting or violent protesting. The government is in strong disagreement with violent protesting. People who disagree with the idea of rioting often claim that it is unfair to the business and people who are affected by it and that it gives peaceful protesters and advocators for the cause being rioted for a bad image. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-30190224 There have been many reports and documents of police abusing their power during these protests and the same people who defend the police officers who killed Michael Brown and Eric Garner often defend the police who were documented abusing their power during the protests. Their argument remains consistently stagnant that police are people too. They don’t always do the right thing under pressure but neither would any of us if we were in their situation.
I have an inherent bias against the people who do not think we need to re-think our policing system and that our policing system does not reflect a racist society, which has only grown the more I research this line of logic. From the facts I have found, it seems highly unlikely that race either has nothing to do with the situation, or plays a minor role. From 2006-2012 a white police officer killed a black person at least twice a week. Obama claims that it is the lasting effects of racism that cause these situations. It is clear that we are not living in the post racial America that many claim has existed since the civil rights movement, and that -whether we like it or not- white people may harbor more subconscious racism than they think.
The mayor of Ferguson, James Knowles states “We’ve never seen this kind of violence, we’ve never seen this kind of frustration or tensions between the races.” In 2013, it surfaced that a St. Louis County police lieutenant was giving orders to arrest more African Americans. He was quoted as saying things like “Lets make the jails more colorful.” In some cases, intentional racism is a more accurate term than subconscious racism. However, organizations like the National Police Wives Association would argue that these incidents are in the minority. They support police officers on the front lines of the Fergason riots by giving them meals. They sympathize with the difficult lives and jobs of police officers, and make a point not to make statements on the political or racial issue surrounding the Fergason riots.
I have said before that the many killings of unarmed African Americans should be grounds for police reform. This is my bias when writing this narrative. I believe there are many powerful motives for police officers and politicians to deny that racism exists in their hearts. To accept that racism is still deeply woven into the fabric of our society would mean a huge governmental upheaval. The criminal justice system, the policing system, and many other systems that have been operating the way they do for centuries would need to be intensely revised. Addressing the issue of racism as the main problem in America would mean putting many other important, and often immediate issues on the back burner. If Obama were to admit that the criminal justice system were a racist institution, he would be stabbing many of his friends and acquaintances in that department, and -more importantly- the government for which he stands, in the back.
If police officers collectively admitted that they, like the rest of white society, contain inherent racism, there would be grounds for re-addressing the way we as a nation are policed. A police officer who admits his racism would lose his dignity and career, and unfairly so, as he is most likely just as inherently racist as the rest of the police officers who still have their jobs. There is no easy way to address inherent racism. It is hard to say whether the police officers who have killed unarmed African Americans are more racist than the average white American, or equally racist, but with a gun and forced to make a snap decision. Police reform would involve officers who shoot unarmed African Americans being charged with hate crimes, more prominent evaluations of police departments by civil rights organizations and a police school with more emphasis on civil rights and the history of racism in our country.