My local newspaper, The News-Press, and several major news outlets reported on a Justice Department study that concluded, “blacks and Hispanics are more likely to be searched and arrested” and police were “much more likely to threaten or use force against blacks and Hispanics than against whites in any encounter, whether at a traffic stop or elsewhere…” After reading the article, I couldn’t help but think that while some things have changed, as far race issues are concerned, much remains the same. The results, from 2005 data, were consistent with results of a similar study published in 2002.
The above-mentioned article reported that Hispanics and people of African descent (Blacks) were more than twice as likely to be searched than people of European descent (Whites). Blacks were more likely to be arrested than Hispanics, and more than twice as likely to be arrested than Whites. Police also used force or the threat of force almost four times as much in cases involving people of African descent when compared to cases involving people of European descent.
The report supports the contention of many who claim that police actions are often racially motivated. In April, the Sikh Sangat News reported that Kuldeep Singh Nag, an former member of the US Navy and Bronze star recipient, was viciously assaulted by a police officer who also hurled racial slurs at the victim. Nag’s crime? He had the audacity to suggest to the officer that his van with expired tags parked in his driveway had every right to be there because it was on private property.
The infamous Sean Bell incident in New York and the multitude of others that come under public scrutiny suggest, despite law enforcement claims to the contrary, that race is a significant factor in how people are treated by officers of the law, and those who happen to be non-White are subject to less than equal treatment under the law. Police brutality protests are not uncommon, but despite citizens’ outcries, law-enforcement incidents with racial overtones persist. It isn’t much of a stretch to conclude that such incidents negatively influence attitudes toward police held by people of color.
Recently CBS’s 60 Minutes ran a segment critiquing the “Stop snitchin'” doctrine promoted by various rappers, and highlighted the rapper Cam’ron. The doctrine supports the notion that one should not speak to police when they are investigating crimes, even if you have valuable information that can help solve the crime. Although most who responded to the 60 Minutes segment at the cbsnews.com readers’ forum spoke out against the “no snitchin'” perspective, others suggested that the “stop snitchin'” mentality was justified because police were not to be trusted and discriminated against people of African descent.
Advocating a perspective that allows criminals free reign in any community, particularly in communities where criminal activity is already rampant, seems self-defeating. Yet, one can at least understand why many might be reluctant to interact with police when statistics and media reports support the notion of racist police forces across the country.
Until police departments uniformly commit to wiping out incidents that are, or appear to be, racially motivated misconduct by police officers, hostile relationships will prevail amongst police departments and the communities they are mandated to protect. Instituting community relations panels and oversight committees in all police departments where there is potential for such animosity between police and the communities they serve may be one initial step in addressing this lingering problem.