There’s something heavily unfortunate about the mutual psychology of suspicion between law enforcement and men of color. The air of uncertainty and lack of trust that these two entities direct at one another is a life-threatening powder keg that has been amplified in mass media in recent years, but it has ultimately existed for decades. It is a fundamental and deeply ingrained sense of mistrust and feeling of persecution that has been seemingly infused into the psyche of the suspect. I realize it’s hard to recognize 12 year old Tamir Rice as a suspect; but let’s be clear in recognizing that he, just like Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin and countless others, was approached by an enforcer as such. True or imagined, before they were victims, they were suspects in the mind of their enforcer.
From the mind of the suspect, there is a feeling of being targeted unfairly, presumed guilty, and bullied by a man of authority (often of opposing color), who has the license to interrogate, arrest, detain, and assault him – with a badge on his chest, a gun/taser in his hand, and the benefit of doubt in his back pocket to protect him. The suspect is not afforded these tools. He is often ill-equipped, defensive, and without a doubt suspicious of the enforcer, regardless of whether he himself is law-abiding or not.
The dangerous situations faced by law enforcement on a regular basis should not be taken lightly. At the end of the day, he wants to return home to his family; but he is often walking into contentious situations, neighborhoods, and communities that have a mixed reaction to his presence. By nature of his work, he is forced to be suspicious, guarded, and perhaps authoritative in order to take control of the situation. Control. My opinion is that some officers are using the weapons, authority, and benefit of the doubt as leverage to control the suspect, protect themselves first, and enforce the law later, which unwittingly turns a suspect into a victim. In a Washington Post article, Reddit Hudson, a former St. Louis police officer turned civil rights advocate, shares his first hand observations and experience with police brutality and racial injustice. He believes the only solution is legitimate accountability of police misconduct by independent investigators and special prosecutors, not those from within the same tainted system of camaraderie.
What role do we play? Although some of us would like to believe that these are heavily isolated incidents, the availability of smart phones and social media has allowed the masses to watch the eruption from a near front row seat. We are now able to see with our own eyes how these unfortunate events have unfolded to create a unification of outrage across cultures, classes, and races. It brings a new dynamic to the practice of law and order, and allows us, as the general public, to observe, evaluate, and scrutinize the enforcement process. We have been fuming at the sight of Michael Brown lying in the street for hours without any recognizable hallmarks of a crime scene investigation. The nation erupted in confusion and frustration after anticipating an indictment for the homicide-ruled death of Eric Garner. Are we as a public, desensitized to the reality of law and order because of what we see in our favorite weekly television dramas? Is it logical for us to expect that a homicide will result in an indictment, particularly when it occurs at the hands of law enforcement? Is it our job as the watchful public, to keep our smartphones readily available to record signs of injustice, in order to police the police? The State of Illinois says no – recently passing a bill through both the State House and the Senate that lists the recording of conversations with police and other law enforcing positions as a class 3 felony. This carries a sentence of 2-4 years in prison. How many other states will follow suit in disarming the concerned citizen?
What is the outraged public to do when we witness and experience a diversion of authority?
- Recognize your power. Please vote for your local officials – sheriffs, prosecutors, state’s attorneys, etc. Your voice starts at the local level and matriculates to impact the larger picture.
- Protest peacefully and be an advocate for justice to hold officials accountable in their enforcement of the law.
- Be mindful that social media is the new news. It’s easily used to spread messages of negativity and meaninglessness. But you are in charge of your news feed and the content of it. Use it to empower those you’re associated with. Dedicate yourself to using it for social awareness, and to fight stigma, stereotypes, and injustice.
- We all need to take a good self assessment of our biases. Our personal biases affect the way we perceive the world and form opinions, which ultimately drives our actions and reactions. We all have them. I am biased in my perception and opinion of these recent social-legal situations because I’ve been emotionally affected by seeing men that look like my father, brothers, and nephews killed at the hands of law enforcement. My heart is heavy for men of color. I am worried with them and for them. I would love to see men of color project a “bulletproof” image–an image that diverges from the “thug persona” and relieves the air of mistrust and biases that are projected on men of color. Should it matter what a man is wearing? No. Does it matter? Unfortunately, yes. We’ve seen the thug portrayal of young black men in hoodies and sagging jeans. Its not perceived as comfort clothes.
- Be thankful and supportive of those officers that are enforcing the law as it is intended, to protect and serve the communities at large. They say, it’s one bad apple that spoils the bunch. Well its beyond time to police those bad apples and hold them accountable.