Certain occupations bequeath a lot of power and commonalities, physicians, surgeons, judges, police officers. They can all save a life, end a life, or re-route someone’s destiny. Speaking off the record, judges have expressed to me being in a tough spot when having to choose between sentencing a repeat offender for ten years, while weighing the impact of that sentence on the lives of those left behind, like children and spouses, the loss of jobs, the impact on businessesand employees. These are situations that wield the power to change the course of someone’s life.
Now, let’s get personal. Have you ever been before a judge? Have you ever been stopped by the police and prayed they would be kind and fair? So many personal stories end badly for the accused. In my mind, by being a responsible citizen and respectful of the police, one could avoid an adverse experience with law enforcement. Then it was me. I saw flashing lights – I was being pulled over by the police. In that moment it occurred to me I could be on my best behavior and, because I am black, still have no inherent rights as a citizen or even as a human being. Police officers have tremendous power, and while racism is a powerful motivator in police brutality, it is not the only motivating factor. It is not just a black thing; it is more like a blue thing. Police officers are trained to use force. They are not trained in de-escalation tactics. With the bad combination of government sanctioned power, and a low moral compass, there is always the possibly of situation ending badly or in death.
The FBI and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, FBI.gov and CDC.gov, log fatal
shootings by police, but researchers acknowledge that their data is incomplete. In 2015, The
Washington Post begun documenting fatal police shootings. The data shows that Black
Americans are killed at a much higher rate than white Americans, and three times more likely to be victims of police use of force.
Sadly, the rate of Blacks being fatally shot by police in the United State has not declined. June 2020 saw the tragic deaths of George Floyd and Rayshard Brooks, both African American men murdered by white police officers. Mr. Floyd died of suffocation after a white Minnesota police officer pressed his knee into Mr. Floyd’s neck for eight minutes and forty-nine seconds. Mr. Floyd who had cooperated with police was being arrested for a suspected counterfeit bill at the time of his death. Weeks later Rayshard Brooks was shot twice in the back by a white Atlanta police officer as he fled during his arrested for suspected intoxication at a Wendy’s restaurant. Prior to being shot in the back, Mr. Brooks had had a pleasant and corporative exchange with police. He was armed when he was shot.
The crime or alleged crime is not always the factor for the use of force, but instead, it is being
black. Adrenaline also plays a part and many officer’s failure to manage their emotions and
behaviors expose stress related mental health issues prevalent in the profession. Sometimes it is a “black thing” and other times it is a “blue thing”.
There has been no real research or funding for studies that look at the systemic disparities and biases, why they exist and how we fix a broken system that is grounded in outdated and racist ideology.
What will it take to change the culture of police brutality in our communities? Here are five
programs I believe police departments, on a national scale, must implement.
1. Better recruitment and thorough screening of applicants and candidates for employment
in law enforcement. Policies that support inclusion of African Americans and other
minorities in law enforcement.
2. Improved testing to identify candidates who might possess serious mental defects,
including maladaptive personality traits, problems with anger management or simply
3. Improved access to mental health care and on-going monitoring.
4. Improved community relations and community outreach in communities of color that
foster a “we” as opposed to a “them” mentality.
5. Mandatory training in de-escalation, cultural diversity, ethical thinking, and decision
6. Denying employment to officers fired or terminated or who have resigned for overuse of
force and discriminatory practices.
Currently, we have a broken system that has left lasting physical and mental wounds that cannot and will not be healed until there is accountability for police actions, and implementation of real and sustainable policies and procedures.
And key to those changes, must be an immediate focus on promoting and ensuring the mental stability of police officers and improved access to mental healthcare resources. There is no doubt that there are enormous stresses and danger that come with being a law enforcement officer. But if we are to truly have fair and effective policing, programs that educate, promote awareness, prevention and provide treatment for job related emotional fatigue and mental stress are imperative and must be an integral part of the dialog and culture of policing.