How to properly address the divide between the Black Community and Law enforcement
By: Richard Graves aka DJ Black Adam of House 17, NFP
Over the last couple of years, I have discussed these various cases regarding law enforcement and the assaults and killings of “unarmed Black men.” I have had these discussions on social media and in real time, with White people, Black people, community activists, police officers, etc. and these discussions have generally ended up going nowhere. Specifically because, no one is listening to anyone. Everyone gets caught up in their emotions and ignore looking at it from each other’s lenses or worldviews for the sake of being informed. That being said, a friend of mine linked me to an op ed piece in the May 9th, 2015 New York Times written by Orlando Patterson titled “The Real Problem With America’s Inner Cities.” The piece is well written. Patterson is a professor of sociology at Harvard, so this isn’t written lightly, it is very thought out. Following is my critique of the article and my own thoughts regarding the situations in Baltimore as well as the larger implications for the African American community in urban America.
Patterson begins with a very true predicate before going into the issue, that some have defined these current issues “solely in terms of insurgent American racism and violent police behavior.” To which he states: “that is a gross oversimplification,” a statement I agree with immensely. Patterson also states that saying their needs to be a “national conversation about race a national conversation on race is a cliché that evades the real problem we now face,” which I again agree with. I do disagree a bit with how he defines the problem. He writes:
“on one hand, a vicious tangle of concentrated poverty, disconnected youth and a culture of violence among a small but destructive minority in the inner cities; and, on the other hand, of out-of-control law-enforcement practices abetted by a police culture that prioritizes racial profiling and violent constraint.”
I agree with Patterson regarding how he characterizes the problems in the inner city, the problem with the police is a bit more intricate than “out of control law enforcement practices.” The fact is, the police are part of the criminal justice system and the criminal justice system is one of the institutions of American society and as such reflect our society. The reality is that American society is predicated on the sociological and cultural foundation of White supremacy. Now, before people just shut their eyes to this actuality, let me explain what I mean by “White supremacy.” Does this mean that all White people are burning crosses and looking for a good ole fashioned lynching? Of course not. The reason the term “White Supremacy” is utilized is because the term “racism” is general and under appreciates the specifics of the problems in American society. George Fredrickson stated that “Although commonly used, the term “racism” has become a loaded and ambiguous term.” The simple term “Racism” can and has been used to purport an equivalence between the reality of African Americans being prejudiced against White Americans, in contrast with the structured, purposed, systematic and institutionalized subjugation of African Americans by White Americans. Not only is this a false equivalence, but this false equivalence is often used to create a foundation for the intellectually fraudulent idea of “reverse racism”, or the more modern idea, that equality for groups beyond Whites (specifically White males) is somehow putting White people in the position of being “oppressed” in the United States. The concept of race, and specifically the idea of White Supremacy, has been utilized to oppress Americans who are descendants of the African Slaves. All Americans, even White Americans, have been adversely affected by this concept. Americans have adhered to this concept in varying degrees throughout American history, yet always in a subconscious foundational sociological way. This has profoundly influenced not only how we look at each other as American citizens, but how we view American history and modern American society. This is a reality, and this reality affects our modern society and is relevant in understanding the problems that we are having.
First, to lump up all these situations where police have shot unarmed Black men into one category is disingenuous. These are situations that have happened in various jurisdictions under varying circumstances. Some of these situations more than likely are justified, however; one situation of misconduct is enough for people to want meaningful change in the police departments that serve them. Dealing with this problem is very simple, and I am surprised no one has come to this conclusion. Law enforcement needs to be clear on the reality of the history of abuse of the Black community by police. The Black community needs to accept the actuality that policing has changed in a positive manner over the last thirty years at the very least because of law suits and black eyes over various departments because of misconduct. Misconduct in the form of police brutality makes genuine law enforcement harder for the majority of good police officers.
Patterson does clearly explain the other side of this equation as he puts succinctly: “First, we need a more realistic understanding of America’s inner cities. They are socially and culturally heterogeneous, and a great majority of residents are law-abiding, God-fearing and often socially conservative.” From media the impression is given that inner city communities are full of Black thugs destroying their own communities. This is simply not the reality, but this portrayal helps in the fearmongering of various groups, law enforcement being one of those groups. So it is safe to say that the Black community views law enforcement through suspicious untrusting eyes and that law enforcement views the Black community in the same way. This is the basis of the problems we see manifested between law enforcement and the Black community, the lenses we view each other through.
Patterson makes very clear that the problem of the thug mentality represents a minority, a dangerous minority that terrorizes the people in the Black community more than anyone else. The community needs dependable and honorable law enforcement to deal with this minority. Patterson outlines how the Black community initially welcomed this help to deal with this criminal minority, however:
“Soon all black youth, not just the delinquent minority, were being profiled as criminals, all ghetto residents were being viewed and treated with disrespect and, increasingly, police tactics relied on the use of violence as a first resort.”
Now we get past the hyperbole and to the actual problem. Here are some of the solutions Patterson proposes:
“On the police side of the crisis, there should be immediate implementation of the sensible recommendations of President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, including more community policing; making the use of violence a last resort; greater transparency and independent investigation of all police killings; an end to racial profiling; the use of body cameras; reduced use of the police in school disputes; and fundamental changes in officer training aimed at greater knowledge of, and respect for, inner-city neighborhoods.”
Training is important, extensive training in the use of non-lethal force to contain and control situations would be very helpful. However President Obama’s Task Force deals with the police from the top down, and what Patterson fails to understand, is that administrators generally are only concerned with liability, lawsuits and politics and make policies that basically are window dressing. If the community really wants change here is what needs to happen as it begins on a local level.
- Blacks in these communities not only need to start voting but holding politicians accountable to them by the willingness to toss them out if they do not perform.
- The community needs to meet with the Fraternal Order of Police representatives in their communities on a local level. This allows for representatives of the rank and file to interact directly with the communities they serve, and for the community to interact directly with representatives of the rank and file that serve them.
- The conversation is not a two way one between politician / administrators and the community, but should be a THREE way conversation which includes the police through their unions, that is if we want real and effective change.
These are some affective “hows” to facilitate the changes we need. Overall I found Patterson’s article informative and it did hit some very serious points in how we can deal with these problems with law enforcement and from within our Black community itself. I hope that my suggestions are taken by those in leadership within the Black community and the Fraternal Order of Police so that we can have some positive change.
 Orlando Patterson, “The Real Problem With America’s Inner Cities” New York Times, May 9, 2015, accessed May 12, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/10/opinion/sunday/the-real-problem-with-americas-inner-cities.html?ref=topics&_r=1
 Adam Budd, Fredrickson, George. The Modern Historiography Reader: Western Sources. (London: Routledge, 2009.) 455