When It Comes To Police Shootings, Racism Is Just The Tip Of The Iceberg (VIDEO)
In Order To Combat Police Shootings In The US, Issues Beyond Racism Also Need To Be Addressed
When it comes to police shootings in the United States, one of the key concerns focused on is the issue of race. The death of unarmed black Americans at the hands of police is what spawned the Black Lives Matter movement after all, and their hard work has helped to put racism front and center in the conversation of police violence.
But, when, in cases like the shooting this week of Keith Lamont Scott in Charlotte or the recent killing of Sylville K. Smith in Milwaukee, where the police officers who did the killing were African American as well as the victims, it becomes clear that no, racism is not the only issue.
Then there is the fact that more white people are actually being shot and killed by police in the US than black, although given the percentage of the population who are African-American, blacks are dying at a disproportionate rate, as the Washington Post reports.
“According to the most recent census data, there are nearly 160 million more white people in America than there are black people. White people make up roughly 62 percent of the U.S. population but only about 49 percent of those who are killed by police officers. African Americans, however, account for 24 percent of those fatally shot and killed by the police despite being just 13 percent of the U.S. population.”
However, if a still sadly large number of white people are also dying at the hands of police, again, racism is clearly not the only issue at play.
“American police officers are among the best-trained in the world, but what they’re trained to do is part of the problem.”
So, what is going on? Well, one problem is in how police in the United States are trained.
In December, 2014, Seth Stoughton, a former police officer turned scholar who studies policing, wrote an article for The Atlantic (“How Police Training Contributes to Avoidable Deaths”) that blames how officers are trained as being one of the core issues that needs to be tackled saying, “American police officers are among the best-trained in the world, but what they’re trained to do is part of the problem.”
“Police training starts in the academy, where the concept of officer safety is so heavily emphasized that it takes on almost religious significance. Rookie officers are taught what is widely known as the ‘first rule of law enforcement’: An officer’s overriding goal every day is to go home at the end of their shift. But cops live in a hostile world. They learn that every encounter, every individual is a potential threat. They always have to be on their guard because, as cops often say, ‘complacency kills.’”
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By teaching police officers to fear the public, the public becomes ‘the other’. Combine in the already problematic ‘othering’ of the racism that has existed in the US for decades, and you have a lethal situation.
“Training also needs to compensate for the unconscious racial biases that lead officers to perceive a greater threat from black men than from others. Officers are not unique in that regard; implicit racial animus is depressingly common in society. But it is of special concern in the context of policing. Because officers use more force when they perceive a greater threat, unconscious bias can lead officers to react more aggressively when confronting black men than they would when confronting others in otherwise identical situations.”
On top of this, when you add in training that focuses almost entirely around a gun as an officer’s main tool and strong arm tactics above diplomacy, it gets even worse.
“Officers must…be trained to think beyond the gun-belt. The pepper spray, baton, Taser, and gun that are so easily accessible to officers are meant to be tools of last resort, to be used when non-violent tactics fail or aren’t an option. By changing officer training, agencies could start to shift the culture of policing away from the ‘frontal assault’ mindset and toward an approach that emphasizes preserving the lives that officers are charged with protecting.”
In another Atlantic article, “How Much Can Better Training Do to Improve Policing?,” writer Juleyka Lantigua-Williams talks to retired police chief Donald Grady II who believes part of the issue is with who police departments are hiring.
“We use the same criteria for hiring police all across this country. When I got to my last police department, the relationship between the police and the community was terrible. The police hated the public, and the public hated the police … I decided I needed to find the right people, so we changed the criteria for hiring instead of doing the things that the police typically do to find what they consider to be the best qualified candidates. There’s a certain amount of aggression that they look for in a person. If you’re too docile, I’ve known people to be rejected from police departments because they weren’t aggressive enough … Why are we hiring people to do policing because of their level of aggression?”
How Can You Prosecute A Cop Who Is Just Doing What They Have Been Taught To Do?
People are often concerned that police are killing people in the streets and then being let off scott free. But, how can the justice system possibly prosecute a police officer for doing what they are trained to do? And, as the New York Times reports, when you have a prominent psychology professor like William J. Lewinski testifying at trials for police officers and he argues that cops basically need to kill to survive, it’s even harder for a judge to argue that a police officer should be put in jail for doing what they are being taught they need to do.
“When police officers shoot people under questionable circumstances, Dr. Lewinski is often there to defend their actions. Among the most influential voices on the subject, he has testified in or consulted in nearly 200 cases over the last decade or so and has helped justify countless shootings around the country.
His conclusions are consistent: The officer acted appropriately, even when shooting an unarmed person. Even when shooting someone in the back. Even when witness testimony, forensic evidence or video footage contradicts the officer’s story.”
His argument is simple and it’s the same one he is teaching to police officers all across the country – you have only second to act and if a gun or a suspected gun is present, a police officer has to consider themselves to be dead if they don’t shoot first and fast.
Then there is an issue of how much time is devoted to training. The American Prospect interviewed Maria Haberfeld, a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, who pointed out that US cops just aren’t given a long enough training period.
“Police forces in U.K., in Ireland, in other countries where police forces are not armed, they have a much more extensive, in-depth training than we have. An average training in the United States is fifteen weeks. Fifteen weeks is nothing. Police forces in other countries have twice, three times as long training as we have here.”
So, racism is an important issue that must be addressed when it comes to police shootings. But to really end the problem, it is vital to look deeper than racism and more into training, mindsets and hiring practices within police departments that is ending up with way too many people dead from police shootings.
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