Shielding the Shield: Cops or Criminals

I never thought I would see the day when police officers and criminals would bear the same likeness.  In the wake of two of the most controversial grand jury decisions of  late (Mike Brown and Eric Garner),  an undercurrent of distrust and outrage has begun to erode the landscape of police integrity across our nation.  It’s becoming increasingly difficult to tell the difference between a cold-blooded murderer and a corrupt cop.  The badge that police officers don (usually in the shape of a shield) is supposed to represent a creed and a vow to shield the public from dangerous criminal activity.  Lately, however, it seems to provide sanctuary for hardened racists and trigger-happy “good ole boys,” all grown up.  These are the type of people who wield guns and dish out lethal force in the name of “reasonable” suspicion and “probable” cause.  What recourse do we have when the creed to protect and serve becomes a scheme to assault and assassinate?

The problem with the recent events in Ferguson and New York is the fact that officers Daniel Pantaleo and Darren Wilson had a choice, and they chose to kill.  I understand that sometimes extenuating circumstances surrounding certain events produce reactions which are based in heightened emotions.  However, with power and authority comes great responsibility.  Cops should never be absolved of their responsibility to use all available training, tools, and judgment to ensure preservation of life in every situation if at all possible.  I can’t help but question the protocols and procedures that are in place concerning the rules of engagement for the unarmed and defenseless, and how those rules differ in the face of skin color.  It would seem that a different set of rules apply to African-American men as opposed to Whites when cops are involved.

As I peruse news headlines, I’m infuriated by how the machine known as the media manipulates our perception of actual events.  For those of us who are not there to witness these confrontations, we find ourselves at the mercy of the media.  This, combined with the decaying moral fabric of both law enforcement and prosecuting attorneys, creates the perfect trifecta (police, prosecutors, and media) which facilitates the creation and abetment of these monsters we call cops.  Of course I refuse to employ marginalization by insinuating that all cops are corrupt.  I think we can agree that is the farthest thing from the truth.  There are many police officers who uphold the law and are very good at it.  However, when it comes to the simple fact that countless men of color have been brutally murdered by law enforcement, with few to no repercussions, the question begs to be asked: How does race factor into law enforcement?

By now, it’s no secret that the police force has traditionally been the instrument of racial terrorism.  Dating back to Reconstruction, immediately after the abolition of slavery, the law has been used to target and incapacitate people of color (see Black Codes).  The genesis of the crisis at hand dates back to a series of Supreme Court decisions that set precedent for allowing racial profiling by law enforcement; the most prominent being Terry v. Ohio.  In her book, The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander sites this case as she pontificates the process by which the legal system has been systematically rigged, thus creating the proverbial albatross around the neck of young African-American men.

In the 1968, Terry v. Ohio decision, the Supreme Court decided that it is permissible to “stop and frisk” a person based on a “reasonable suspicion” that they are involved in criminal activity.   In my opinion, this has opened an enormous can of worms, and fueled a fire that has burned out of control for so many years.  The natural degradation of this process now allows a cop to stop anyone for absolutely no reason at all, and as long as that person consents to a search, “probable cause” is no longer needed.

What exactly constitutes “reasonable suspicion?”  This has been the topic of heated discussions among legal analysts across the nation.  Stopping someone based on confirmed suspicious behavior is one thing, but using lethal force on unarmed individuals is definitely “unreasonable.”

What’s even more deplorable is the convoluted set of loop holes that we call the justice system, and what happens when a police officer stands trial for criminal charges, such as in the Brown and Garner cases.  According to an article published on Slate.com, only 1 in 3 police officers charged with criminal conduct are actually convicted.  One logical explanation for this is the relationship between police and prosecutors, and the lack of motivation that exists to pursue an indictment in cases involving police killings.  This has created a plush system of apathy, steeped in political and social bias for most law enforcement officers, that has given rise to a type of shield for the shield.  The message that it sends to our communities is sickening and inflammatory to say the least.

The media has contributed to this social inflammation, by inundating our senses with information that is not always pertinent to the truth of what actually took place.  Instead of just focusing on the fact that these men of color were 1) unarmed and 2) clearly surrendering before the time of death, they bring into magnification the character flaws of each victim in an effort to dilute and justify the heinousness of the acts.

The fact is, there are alternatives to illegal choke holds and kill shots to the head that will effectively immobilize an assailant for the sake of situational assessment.  The deaths of Mike Brown and Eric Garner, coupled with the Supreme Court decisions to not indict, testify to the fact that cops are still permitted to take lives at will in the name of “reasonable suspicion.”  The inconvenient truth is these two African-American lives never posed a viable threat, when they were extinguished under the guise of the shield.

In light of these recent grand jury decisions, one clear message has been declared and proven:

The American justice system is not blind at all.  It is indeed a dubiously flawed institution, holding in one hand a protective shield, and in the other a fatal sword.

 

Works cited: The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.  Michelle Alexander.  The New Press, New York, NY, 2012.


 

As always, thank you for visiting Wisdom’s Quill.  See you soon.

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Editor: Jaime Evans

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Wisdom Wednesday: When Fear Kills

In the wake of the shooting of Missouri teen, Mike Brown, let’s talk about authority and the varieties thereof.  Before you make assumptions about how this post will play out, you should know that I’m not into police bashing.  I think it’s insensitive and totally unnecessary to cast judgment before all the facts have been uncovered.  The institution of  law enforcement has its place and purpose, and is even biblically sound (see–Romans 13:1-4). 

That being said, there is another side to this coin.  Because of our fallen nature, sin has infected each of us, and the primary symptom of this infection is fear.  Consequently, fear causes irrational responses within us.  This creates a problem when people in authority–namely police officers–are placed in life-threatening situations.  These volitile situations create a heightened awareness and sensitivity that make Skittles bags appear to be guns.  Death of the unarmed occurs at the confluence of power and fear; whether that power is clothed in a uniform with a badge or a flawed legislation (i.e. Stand Your Ground).  This is fastly becoming an epidemic  in our society based on most recent events. 

There is a proven disparity between the races when it comes to these tragic events of late.  The landscape of the African-American community is frought with families that have been affected by the loss of loved-ones due to irrational and unjustified deadly force.  The relationship between law enforcement and the community seems the be the most strained where African-Americans are predominant.  Of course, this is nothing new to the citizens of these communities, but that doesn’t seem to spark much change in this paradigm.  In fact, many of the laws that are in effect today were designed to target people of certain racial descent.     

According to a book I recently read, Between Barak and a Hard Place, by Tim wise, the current “war on drugs” instituted in the late 1990’s, was loosely intended to shift the focus of law enforcement to rest heavily upon people of color.  This resulted in a disproportionate ratio of arrests, persecutions, and random consent searches between whites and people of color.  Here are some interesting stats sited by Tim Wise in his book:

  • Blacks are 48 times more likely than whites to be incarcerated for a fisrt-time drug offense.
  • In fifteen states, the rate of black incarceration for drug offenses is anywhere from 20 to 57 times greater than for whites, despite equal or greater rates of drug law violations by whites.
  • Blacks are twice as likely to be sent to prison for cocaine use than whites, when all of the factors surrounding an arrest are the same, and serve on average 40 months more than white offenders.

These statistics are so because of one key point:

  • According to another study conducted in Oakland, CA in 2013:African-Americans stopped by police were searched 42 percent of the time, compared to 27 percent for Latinos and 17 percent for whites and Asians. Yet, those searches resulted in the recovery of contraband 27 percent of the time for African-Americans and Latinos, 28 percent of the time for whites and 25 percent of the time for Asians.

Naturally, there are things that African-American youth-especially men-need to understand when dealing with the police.  Certain things make you an easier target and a bigger threat capable of escalating a bad situation into an even worse one extremely quickly.  In no way am I saying that the culprits are always blameless when confronted by the police, but it should never warrant deadly force without proper judgment.  With authority comes the resposibility of proper judgment.  There is a cycle of hostility that exists between African-Americans and law enforcement that never favors the side of the perpetrator.  Any signs of resistance or sudden, unexpected moves tend to exacerbate the situation and creates a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts: that African-Americans are hostile, resistant, and deserve unreasonable and sometimes deadly force.

One could argue that because of these types of confirmations, people of color should fear law enforcement.  The hostility that so animates the demeanor of African-Americans when confronted by law enforcement could be result of the constant menacing scrutiny of the police.  This, in turn, leads to hostility in law enforcement when confronting African-Americans, which in the cases of Mike Brown, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, and many others…ultimately leads to death of the unarmed. 

 

Let’s talk:  Some pressing questions need to be asked:

  1. What do statistics like this really speak of?
  2. Do people of color deserve this type of treatment due to a lack of morals?
  3. Are people of color so menacing, so aggresive, so hostile that the use of deadly force becomes the norm instead of the exception?

 

What do you think?  All comments welcomed.

 

As always, thank you for visiting Wisdom’s Quill.  See you soon.

Keep LearningKeep Loving ♦ Keep Living

 

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