Keesha Webb | Staff Writer
I am bi-racial, mixed with black and white, so growing up for me was a little different than being purely black or purely white. Despite being half and half, I was always only considered black because my skin is darker than what is accepted as white. My father taught me, as I later came to learn, that most black parents teach their children (especially males) to behave differently when encountering law enforcement, and to give law enforcement no excuse to harm you. Being black, you are usually seen as a threat just on principle alone of the pigment of your skin and that little voice that whispers to many, the assumptions that black males are violent, unpredictable, and usually have something to hide.
With all of the racial tension and upheaval going on in our country, I decided to find out why a routine traffic stop for a minority might end deadly, whereas a white individual might have a totally different experience.
Dr. Janice Milner, Professor of Sociology at Century College, states “There’s this huge thing called confirmation bias, where it’s hard to shake, rattle and roll people’s preconceived notions.” To be frank, what exactly is the preconceived notion of you average black male? Well, it’s whatever the media happens to portrays it to be that week. Thugs, gangbangers, drug dealers; Criminals. A black male walking the street after dark? Well, then then he must be about to commit a crime. When our law enforcement are unable or uneducated enough to look past stereotypes based on the very few genes in our DNA that comprise our different skin pigments, then they are setting themselves up for a long, rounding road into ignorance and racial bias. It is not my intention to preach that all minorities are good and for the betterment of society, it is simply my hope that you understand that we, minorities, all are not the same. Not all Hispanic people are illegal immigrants, nor are all Asians excellent at math. We cannot tie together all Native Americans as alcoholics that live on reservations, so then why is it so much harder to accept that not all black people are criminals or on welfare?
As articulated by Milner, “You actually don’t encounter cultures, you meet individuals. It just doesn’t work to alienate a community by pulling people over just because they’re black or Asian and to say: ‘I didn’t find anything so, go about your day,’ and assume that that doesn’t leave an impact on them.”
Milner continues, “Everyone knows what it feels like to be threatened, so why wouldn’t you want to promote a police culture that emphasizes deescalating when you can? You can’t always right? Someone’s pointing a gun at you; but your job is to serve and protect, it says that on all the police cars, but who are you serving and protecting? I’m hoping though that people will develop a sense of how situations are historically grounded and nuances and stereotypes are just stereotypes.”
So, why is it that the difference between white and black incarceration rates is so disproportionate? I doubt police officers are just letting all of the white offenders go. So, at what point on this long trek to incarceration is going terrible wrong for blacks and other minorities?
Everyone has prejudice, but not everyone acts on those feelings. Stereotypes are like an ouroboros, until someone brave and smart enough is able to break them. Society today trusts too easily on what the media reports and as Mary Vukelich, Century’s Law Enforcement Instructor, points out “The media’s main adjective is to sell.” And so they do, by over-sensationalizing and withholding certain facts to make a more controversial and eye catching story.
Vukelich states, “I think the majority of people are not on either end of the spectrum; so hugely, intentionally, prejudiced or biased. I think they could have potentially been raised in an environment where they never thought about it, became that way and may not even of been conscious about it, but if no one ever has that discussion about white privilege versus other races, until I took a class that touched on those topics, never thought about it my entire life, I would’ve probably said: Well, I’m not prejudice. After taking those classes, I can see things I took for granted that were biased towards people in other races or of other classes that I thought that that’s just the way it is.
“I think you need to look at people’s perception of how police officers are trained. In many states it requires a high school diploma to become a police officer, so when you put in perspective all of the issues that they are dealing with, race issue, class issues, having to make split second discretions, and look at it from the perspective that their education might be at a high school level, plus some skills of how to be a police officer.
“When I was trained to be a police officer, you were trained to take charge of the situation. Being mandated or compelled to think about things a little more broadly than you are often in high school, I think it helps you evaluate things more; how to deescalate, and work to a mutually acceptable solution. Now investing time, working through trying to find commonalities that you can build on is something that, I don’t know if it’s taught, but I would like to think it’s encouraged.”
Making quick decisions that involve life or death consequences are part of everyday life for law enforcement. The high anxiety of their job keeps them constantly on edge and alert for possible deadly situations. Add to the complexities of being in law enforcement with potential bias, and a stereotypical ideology, their unconscious thought process might blind them in the midst of duty.
Why it is, that such an alarming rate of black deaths go unreported and unwarranted of any media coverage? Is it because it has become such a societal norm; that blacks are violent, angry, and eventually headed only for a life of crime? Perhaps, it truly is that the media’s sole focus remains and will always remain to be to sell stories, and what is new about black people killing black people?
We need more minorities to show the world that regardless of ingrained beliefs and unfounded bias, we are more than what the media portrays us to be.
Milner believes three things must occur to create a change within our communities and law enforcement agencies.
- The command structure needs to say this has to stop. We have to stop racial profiling, we have to stop operating on the assumption that if they’re black they’re up to no good. We have to make it a policy to say that we will not racially profile.
- We need to gather data. You can’t just leave it in the realm of anecdote. We need data.
- And consequences; they don’t have to be automatically firing, they can be seriously retraining.
Is it such an impossibility to cease stereotyping and racial injustice especially within our law enforcement? I don’t believe so. Will it be difficult? Of course it will, but not impossible. Knowledge, empathy and determination are the keys to change, to truly make a different. But, as with all things that are hard to begin, change has to start with you.