To Protect and Serve?
9 months ago Trace Harris 3
Our society has been raised to idolize police. They are the heroes. They protect us and look out for our best interests. But do they? Arguably the biggest racial divide in the US is experience with the police. White people idolize the police while people of color growing up are victimized by them. African Americans make up 12 to 13 percent of the US population, but make up 35 percent of the prison population. There is not a higher rate of crime committed by people of color, but they are imprisoned at much higher rates than whites.
The police designate certain areas as high crime areas and most of the time seem to be overwhelmingly black or Hispanic neighborhoods. In these areas schools are inadequate and there are more fast food places than grocery stores. The quality of life is very low. This is not by accident. There is no doubt there is institutional racism.
More than one third of black men will be incarcerated. When one is incarcerated and released, their job prospects are nearly non-existent. The children will grow up poor and it will be unlikely for them to go to college. This all leads to the need to make money, but if one cannot do that legally, they will have to work around that. Thus, the cycle continues.
In the 1980’s during one of the largest spikes in crime ever, the Reagan administration sought to curb this by cracking down on crack. The penalties for possession of crack cocaine was one hundred times more extreme than regular cocaine, which is expensive and overwhelmingly used by those of white decent. The crack epidemic affected low income neighborhoods at much higher rates. This led to the first generation of incarceration and to institutional racism and slavery.
In the 90s people began seeing the real relations between police and black neighborhoods. Namely, the Rodney King beatings in LA which led to riots. The rap group NWA brought attention to how the Los Angeles Police Department treated people of color in Southcentral LA. Finally, the OJ Simpson trial put a huge divide into the black and white communities. Whites thought there was no way police would plant evidence in a murder trial, but today people know this does occur.
Relations between the police and people of color have only gotten worse in the last few years. One instance was the case of 12-year-old Tamir Rice who was killed by police. He was playing with a fake gun. Next, 43-year-old Eric Garner was placed in a choke hold and yelled out “I can’t breathe,” before being suffocated to death. No police were charged with the crime. These deaths, along with Trevon Martin’s murder led to the Black Lives Matter group being formed, protesting to raise awareness about police killings of black people.
The killings did not stop there in 2014, Michael Brown was shot multiple times by police. This murder led to the Ferguson, Missouri protests which lasted weeks. In 2015, 50-year-old Walter Scott was running away with his back turned. A police officer fired multiple shots into his back. It was caught on video, but the officer was found not guilty. This case led to police needing body cameras to keep them in check.
The infamous Baltimore murder of Freddie Gray led to six officers being charged after the 125 pound man had his neck snapped by a over 300lb police officer. He was thrown into a police truck and “discovered” after several stops. This case led to protests in Baltimore and curfews for residents. All officers were found not guilty.
The 2016 deaths of unarmed Philandro Castille and Alton Sterling led to more riots and calls for a change in police conduct. Both were caught on video, but resulted in no charges. In all of these cases white news commentators, namely on “Fox News,” participated in victim blaming, looking for ways to blame it on the deceased. For example, they did such in the past or they looked at the cop the wrong way, and so on.
There is no doubt that police and their relations with people of color are not well. People of color are routinely stopped and harassed by cops. Many refer to this as “driving while black or brown.” It is unfortunate, but this is the world today.
Many whites however have begun seeing the treatment as a big problem. Police have quotas and will take what they can get. People are still being arrested and charged for having possession of a little marijuana or other non-violent offenses. The war on drugs has led to hundreds of prisons being built and the criminal justice system becoming a huge money making entity.
In Huntsville, for example, the economy is reliant on the numerous prisons and prison workers. There is incentive to arrest and incarcerate people for low level offenses. It keeps the lights on. For a town and state which hate taxation, residents spend an astronomical amount of money on police who have so much time on their hands. The police ratio to population is gigantic. This keeps the cycle moving.
There is no easy way to improve police relations with people of color and the general population. Our society needs to stop building prisons and incentivizing incarceration. We need to break the cycle and improve schools and empower the poor in order to lead to less crime. Improvements of healthcare will lead to much less crime and a more powerful economy. This needs to stop.