I have noticed a trend on social media of folks who responded to the murder of George Floyd, and now to the murder of Tyre Nichols, by expressing their heartbreak at each incident, but then immediately transitioning into making the incident about police and the reputation of police. Folks have been quick to say, “These are just a few bad apples. This is not all police officers and departments. Most police officers and departments are good.” And, in the case of Nichols, “but the police officers were Black…how can this be about race?”
First off, let’s not make this about protecting the reputation of law enforcement..
This is about Black lives. And, it’s about how anti-Blackness is woven into the DNA of our society and into the police profession.
This is about Tyre Nichols.
And, George Floyd.
And, Sandra Bland.
And, Breonna Taylor.
And Philando Castile.
And, Eric Garner.
And, Tamir Rice.
And, Mike Brown.
And it’s about countless other Black and Brown Americans over generations who have been killed, violently attacked, and had their lives ruined by law enforcement.
So, taking more time to share your concerns about the reputation of police than you do sharing about racism in policing and in America tells me you still aren’t there yet.
As we move forward, I would really like to see how committed we all are to eliminating racism in our society and in policing. A place to start would be acknowledging the existence of racism embedded within the culture and practices of law enforcement. This step has been a great challenge for many Americans whose limited understanding of racism would have them believe that any racism that existed in America ended at the end of the Civil Rights movement.
2020 was an opportunity for the country. I was hopeful when I saw so many people outraged at the murder of George Floyd. This led to pledges and commitments made by leaders to address racism within their organizations, communities, schools, universities, congregations, businesses, etc. all across the country..
But, as we have seen throughout American history, the backlash to these efforts in corporations, non-profits, and even some college campuses rose, and the performative nature of many of these efforts easily crumbled under the weight.
Energy for being “anti-racist” died down and organizational leaders returned to their comfort zones and the absence of tension of which Martin Luther King Jr. warned. Many leaders began calling for a much safer and more comfortable message of “unity” without demonstrating a willingness or the courage to address the systemic forces and elements within their organizations and in our society that are opposed to unity in the first place.
In the coming days and weeks, expect to see some of these same elements of society, including the media, blame “single parenting,” “not complying,” “Black culture,” and any other racist trope to diffuse responsibility and take the focus off of systemic racism and anti-Blackness in policing. Complicity in upholding and refusing to acknowledge and address these systems and cultures is precisely what makes these tragic realities possible.
Few industries in our society display a better example of such patterns of poor leadership and complicity in upholding racist systems than law enforcement.
For anyone concerned about the reputation of policing, I have some suggestions for police officers and departments on how the profession could be taken seriously about its active role in ending racism within the profession.
- Quit saying “it’s a few bad apples”
It is not enough to say “I am not racist.” You must also be actively Anti-Racist. To be anti-racist means that you are willing to stand up and call out the racism of your colleagues.
Not only does policing have a long history of racism (Slave Patrols, Jim Crow, Klan members, War on Drugs), recent evidence has shown how these racist elements show up on social media and in everyday practices.
The website (https://www.plainviewproject.org/) demonstrates that hundreds of police officers all around the country have shown their true colors and posted racist, sexist, and other bigoted views on their social media pages revealing quite a bit of their deepest inner thoughts.
And, the Tyre Nichols murder demonstrates how the culture of anti-Blackness and toxic masculinity within the profession can influence and encourage misconduct and unjustified violence from cops of any racial background.
o Many cops I speak to acknowledge that they are aware of toxic individuals like this in their profession. They also acknowledge that the culture of the profession makes it very difficult to do anything about it. (1)
If law enforcement is truly serious about eliminating racism and not being viewed as enabling racism, they will address these issues seriously. For example, the city of Philadelphia fired thirteen officers for making racist, offensive comments or posts on social media. (1)
- Train officers how to intervene in moments of police brutality
Officers must be trained on how to handle other officers who are crossing the line. Officers should not only receive training but be held to the highest levels of accountability for intervening.
In January 2016, the New Orleans police department launched a program to do this very thing. The program entitled “Ethical Policing Is Courageous” or EPIC, has been a successful effort teaching officers how to intervene to prohibit police misconduct. (2)
- Fraternal Order of Police
The Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) has a long history of anti-Blackness and has been notoriously hostile toward the Black Lives Matter movement and to any insinuation that policing needs any kind of oversight or restructuring.
This group is as political as it comes. There is a reason why there are Black organizations that have been created to support Black police officers and officers of color such as the National Black Police Association, the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, and the founding of the Afro-American Patrolman’s League in Chicago in 1968.
Why were these organizations founded? To address issues of professionalism and to root out racism in policing.
It is no surprise that on a number of social issues and political issues involving policing, these Black organizations are often on the opposite side of the FOP. It is noteworthy that when Black police officers gathered and were unified to support Colin Kaepernick and the Black Lives Matter movement, the FOP were openly opposed. (3) (4)
In order to move toward a more positive future, the Fraternal Order of Police needs a big overhaul in its political and problematic racist stances and behaviors.
- Cut loose the “Thin Blue Line.”
The policing profession is incredibly hostile toward whistleblowers who are often called “rats” and “snitches” in this toxic and destructive environment.
There are countless stories of police officers who, in the effort to try to do the right thing and to report criminal or violent behavior by their peers, have become the target of hostility, death threats, and being disowned or pushed out or the profession from the force. (5) (6) (7)
Offering significant protections and encouraging folks to report illegal, violent, and destructive behavior is crucial.
- Education on racist history of policing
Police officers, like any other citizens, are likely unaware of the racist history of policing. Remember, The first police officers were responsible for rounding up enslaved Africans who escaped their oppressors on the plantations. Anti-blackness and upholding white supremacy was literally the first responsibility of those in the profession and remains in the DNA of the culture.
Special attention to this history is important to understand the significance of how policing has impacted communities for generations of people of color. This includes acknowledging racist practices like broken windows policies, racial profiling, stop and frisk, and other practices that target communities of color. (8) (9) (10)
- Education on history of systemic racism in USA that created segregated communities
Again, substantial education on the history of American racism and racist systems (11) (12) is absolutely necessary so that police understand the weight that they carry in their profession and in their efforts to protect and serve.
- Dismantle the unholy coalition of for-profit policing, for-profit mass incarceration, and corrupt district attorneys
There needs to be a political revolution to dismantle the destructive for-profit mass incarceration and criminal justice system that has ruined so many lives in black and brown communities over generations.
For more on this, I highly recommend reading the book “The New Jim Crow” by Michelle Alexander. (13)
Additionally, watching the documentary “13th” (14) will give people a strong understanding of the history and current realities these destructive forces have on Black and Brown Lives.
- Black Lives Matter
If police are serious about convincing people that racism is not a problem in policing, I highly recommend police officers and departments openly support and get involved with their local Black Lives Matter chapters.
Black Lives Matter was created specifically to address racism in policing and society and has offered numerous suggestions on ways that policing can be improved.
Black Lives Matter is not anti-police. They are anti-BAD, VIOLENT, RACIST policing and they are anti-racism activists. If police consider themselves to be anti-racist, they should have no problem collaborating with BLM or even with the aforementioned Black police associations.
And, it would be really great to see police officers regularly and publicly share their support of BLM and publicly denounce corrupt, violent and racist behavior by fellow police officers and departments.
- Demand community oversight and accountability and end qualified immunity
Police departments are often very hesitant to demonstrate any kind of accountability to anyone outside of their department or the force. This needs to change.
Accountability through a citizen’s review board and connections with the community builds trust and strengthens the possibility for community centered policing.
This also pertains to the criminal justice system which needs to hold police officers accountable for violent and corrupt acts.
And, let’s put an end to “qualified immunity” which protects and enables the abusers and perpetrators of police violence and limits or eliminates the constitutional rights of victims, especially in Black and Brown communities. (15)
Will the law enforcement community consider any of these options on a wide scale? If past is prologue, it is unlikely that we will see much change in the profession in the near future.
However, as citizens, members of communities, neighborhoods, workplaces, etc., we must all insist on change. These are literally issues of life and death, and for a better society and more hopeful future, we must always remember what Dr. King taught us…
“True peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice.”
- 13 Philadelphia police officers who made racist, offensive Facebook posts to be fired (nbcnews.com)
- Police training program helps prevent police officer misconduct (police1.com)
- National Black Police Association Shows Support For Colin Kaepernick and Nike – Essence
- Nike’s New Ad Campaign Divides Law Enforcement : NPR
- The Plight of the Police Whistleblower – The Crime Report
- ‘Rat Cop’ Joe Crystal Shunned From Baltimore Police Department After Reporting Officer Brutality | HuffPost Latest News
- Spokane police officer says she has been shunned after accusing senior officer of sexual assault | The Spokesman-Review
- What 100 Years of History Tells Us About Racism in Policing | News & Commentary | American Civil Liberties Union (aclu.org)
- Race and the Police – National Policing Institute
- Black Lives Matters: Police departments have long history of racism (usatoday.com)
- Amazon.com: Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America (Audible Audio Edition): Ibram X. Kendi, Christopher Dontrell Piper, Novel Audio: Books
- Amazon.com: The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America (Audible Audio Edition): Richard Rothstein, Adam Grupper, Recorded Books: Books
- Amazon.com: The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, 10th Anniversary Edition (Audible Audio Edition): Michelle Alexander, Karen Chilton, Recorded Books : Audible Books & Originals
- Watch 13TH | Netflix Official Site