A Way Forward After Minneapolis
“I can’t breathe.”
“He is human, bro.”
A police officer keeping his knee on a black man’s neck long after the latter was subdued.
A body, limp and unconscious, dragged onto a hospital stretcher.
Police arguing with bystanders who are videotaping the events.
This isn’t fiction-some dystopian novel or TV show.
These chilling lines and visuals are come from the aftermath of George Floyd’s arrest in Minneapolis, Minnesota on Memorial Day. Ex police officer Derek Chauvin restrained Mr. Floyd by kneeling on the latter’s neck for several minutes. Mr. Floyd was taken to the hospital, where he later passed.
Mr. Chauvin has been arrested and charged thanks to the heart-wrenching video.
Mr. Floyd’s death is an awful chapter in race relations in the United States. His last moments were a miscarriage of justice and churn the stomachs of anyone watching them.
While there is a multitude of ways one could comment, it is most constructive to focus on how to build trust and improve the relationship between the police and minority communities.
After seeing what happened to Mr. Floyd, how would you perceive the police, as a minority?
These officers who were supposed to protect and serve caused a man to die in a completely unnecessary altercation.
You can divorce an abusive spouse.
You can cut abusive friends and family out of your life.
You can quit an abusive job.
But you cannot replace the police force.
It’s not possible to create a new one.
So, we have to improve the relationship between the police and minorities.
It’s time for Truth and Reconciliation Commissions (TRCs) across the country.
1. Focus on the past, rather than ongoing, events.
2. Investigate a pattern of events that took place over a period of time.
3. Engage directly and broadly with the affected population, gathering information on their experiences.
4. Are temporary, with the aim of concluding a final report.
5. Are officially authorized/empowered by the state under review.
With respect to minority communities and the police, #1 should be altered to focusing how the past and present intersect.
South Africa created one of the best known TRCs in 1995, once apartheid was dismantled and the black population assumed political power.
In September 2014, the Obama Justice Department began a program entitled “The National Initiative for Building Community Trust and Justice.” (NI) which are TRCs to a large extent. Minneapolis was among six test sites chosen for the program, along with Birmingham, Alabama, Ft. Worth, Texas, Gary, Indiana, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Stockton, California.
It has three pillars:
1. Enhance procedural justice: “The way police interact with the public, and how those interactions shape the public’s view of the police, their willingness to obey the law, and their engagement in co-producing public safety in their neighborhoods.”
2. Reduce implicit bias: “The automatic associations individuals make between groups of people and stereotypes about those groups, and the influence it has on policing.”
3. Foster reconciliation: “Frank engagements between between minority communities and law enforcement to address historical tensions, grievances and misconceptions that contribute to mutual mistrust and misunderstanding and prevent police and communities from working together.”
In cities with histories of institutional discrimination, especially in the justice department and law enforcement, there needs to be unpleasant conversations. The ugly sides of past and present need to be laid bare.
If the interactions between the public and the police lead to a lack of confidence in law enforcement and criminal justice, then already existing problems will become worse.
Implicit bias is commonly invoked when thinking about policing for understandable reasons. According to the Perception Institute:
“We have a bias when, rather than being neutral, we have a preference for (or aversion to) a person or a group of people. Thus, we use the term implicit bias to describe when we have attitudes towards people or associate stereotypes with them without our conscious knowledge. A fairly commonplace example of this is seen in studies that show white people will frequently associate criminality with black people without even realizing they’re doing it.”
If you are a police officer and implicit bias is clouding your judgement, it’s easy to see how situations like Mr. Floyd’s death arise.
However, implicit bias seeps into the minds of the community after tragedies such as Mr. Floyd’s death, making people think most or all cops would act like Mr. Chauvin did. More extreme statements include “all cops are pigs” or something similar. Yes, it’s an explicit statement condemning cops, but those saying it are unaware how biased they sound and how many decent cops they throw under the bus. Implicit bias has lead to their current mindset.
According to the Urban Institute Justice Policy Center’s 2017 study “How Do People in High-Crime, Low-Income Communities View the Police?”, based upon residents from the six pilot cities of the NI, there’s a long way to go for a functioning relationship between communities of color and the police force. Much reconciliation to be had.
For instance, 34% of residents believe that the police “try to do what is best for the people they are dealing with.” 2/3 of residents think the opposite- that the police do not try to do what is best. Only 26% believe that the police “make fair and impartial decisions in the cases they deal with.”
3/4 contend that the police are not fair and impartial.
The depressing results go on and on. Two more to illustrate the broader point: 27.8% of residents believe that “when police deal with people, they almost always behave according to the law” and 55% of residents “either agree or strongly agree that police officers will treat you definitely because of your race/ethnicity” and 24% of residents believe that “the police are honest.”
3/4 contend that the police are dishonest.
Despite the negative perception these residents have of the police, 74.3% stated that “all laws should be strictly obeyed” and 70.8% would “call the police to report a crime.”
When it’s all said and done, the police serve a valuable function everywhere. High-crime, low income and minority-majority communities need these initiatives more than ever.
In July 2016, Stockton Police Chief Eric Jones addressed a local church congregation in the wake of the deaths of Philando Castile, Alton Sterling and attacks on police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge. Mr. Jones had a powerful message: “This needs to be said. There was a time when police used to be dispatched to keep lynchings ‘civil,’ that’s a fact of our history that we need to acknowledge. Now, I didn’t do that. But the badge we wear still does carry the burden, and we need to understand why those issues are deep-rooted in a lot of our communities.”
What Mr. Jones was able to bring up baggage that surrounds his profession without punishing himself for things he didn’t do. He acknowledged the past and cast blame where appropriate.
In a 2017 op-ed written with Stockton City Manager Kurt Wilson, Mr. Jones added that “We can tie our community violence reduction strategies directly to public’s trust of their police departments.”
As Mr. Floyd’s death attests, some atrocities continue in the present. When one happens, they start a domino effect which further erodes the police-community relationship. Discouraged and enraged, they won’t report crimes, leading to more crime, distrust and instability in already struggling neighborhoods.
Mr. Jones sets the standard for how the fractured relationship between minority communities and the police can be improved and tragedies like Mr. Floyd’s death can be reduced and ultimately avoided.
It’s understandable to be pulled down into anger and despair after witnessing Mr. Floyd’s awful death.
As you grieve, think about how we can do better and improve the relationship between the police and minority communities.
TRCs, the NI and officers like Mr. Jones show there’s a way.
It will be difficult, uncomfortable and non-linear.
It must be done.
“In the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard.”
America didn’t hear 50 years ago.
Let’s make sure we do now.