by Yesulagbe Dzidzornu
“Police brutality!” “Racism!” “Black Lives Matter!” These are the chants you almost always hear on the daily news. Police brutality has become so much of a canker that society is beginning to lose interest and hope in the resolution of the subject matter. After the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida, on February 26, 2012, there has been an uproar of concern about the effects of racism in law enforcement in the United States of America. The Trayvon Martin case led to the creation of the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement, which has been keen on standing up for justice and speaking out against “police brutality,” “police killings of blacks,” and the general racial inequality that exists in the United States’ criminal justice system. Their interests as an international activist movement are expressed through public demonstrations and protests against the unfair criminal justice system. The “police brutality” has led to a myriad of narratives about the police in the United States, especially, and their response to people of other races in the delivery of their duties, creating widespread stereotypes that all police, specifically ‘white cops,’ are racist.
Racism of many forms has nourished other existing stereotypes and has falsely tainted the brand of the police in their line of duty. In the Black Lives Matter movement’s protests, there have been issues raised regarding how corrupt police officials had become in cases where blacks were fatally shot, when the police did all in their power to prove the non-existent guilt of these innocent African-Americans killed for apparently no reason and has further emphasized the corrupt nature of the entire police service in the United States. There have been other singular cases of corruption that, while not related to racism, have also cultivated the idea that the police in the United States is corrupt. For example, in November 2018, a Philadelphia police officer pleaded guilty to selling drugs with corrupt members of a Baltimore police task force. It is one of the worse U.S police scandals in recent decades, leading to the conviction of the police officers involved. Occurrences like these have marked the police with stereotypes of racism and corruption over the years, and it is tough for most Americans to believe the police are clean. However, as true these occurrences maybe, they should not be used to generalize about the nature of police officers across the country. These stereotypes of racism and corruption cannot be absolute and must not be held against the entire criminal justice system. Even though fingers point to law enforcement as the bad nut in the upsurge for justice, this coin needs to be viewed from both sides, one side as a result of institutional racism, the formation of hate groups such as the Ku Klux Klan (KKK).
“This ‘hate crimes’ perpetrated by some cops against African Americans in the United States historically originated from a segregation and discrimination point of view, which continues to shape the modern society” (Alexander 2010). Contrarily, from a similar perspective, “racism is an ideology, or belief system, designed to justify and rationalize racial and ethnic inequality” (Marger 2012). Some may argue that law enforcement officers (of the minority race) have not held enough positions of power to help protect themselves, let alone the communities. Mainstream America is only now getting more aware of the mistreats due to the prevalence of cellphone cameras, social media and other recording devices which have finally allowed them to see what has been told of the misconducts for years now which “makes you wonder whether the police are representatives of community values and morals” (Sunshine and Tyler 2003a). The impunity with which police officers often carry out violence on African Americans has an element of racism, acts such as “the Cell phone video which captured an unidentified officer repeatedly hitting Dashawn McGrier Saturday by a Baltimore police officer who resigned after disturbing video surfaced of him beating a man on the street” (Phillips 2018) which is a result of structural inadequacies perpetuated by the long history of segregation, mass incarceration, and black unemployment. The African American community has been smeared with resentment for who they are by white locals and citizens, “…and as a result, measures are put in place to impede their natural flow of life… [of these minorities]” (Taylor 2016). “Research finds it that… [the community’s expectations of the] police…[is]…less about ‘fear’ and the threat of crime, and more about moral order and social stability” (Girling et al. 2000).
Debunking the popular notion that all cops are brutal in the line of doing their jobs, we can draw a cue from Theodore Roosevelt, a former president of the United States and a former Police Commissioner in New York. He famously said, “it is not the critic that counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood…” (Roosevelt). In other words, a police officer must go into the field, of course, there will be critics, but they know it’s for a commendable cause. The future of law enforcement is in good hands if positive measures such as public scrutiny of law enforcement are put in place to eradicate the dirty mindset people have about the police, as well as taking out the bad nuts from the police force.
Yes! There are racism and a criminal system that exists among some law enforcement officials, but it is simply a concept of “one nut spoiling the whole soup,” which means the whole police force has been tainted with the crime of the negative few, particularly among the black community (Popular African saying). We need to bear in mind that there are cruel blacks as well as whites capitalizing on the negative notion of a bad justice system to keep doing wrong. We are all at fault for our current social hurdles on the way or the other, and we are all responsible for its reformation as well. Before the outcry of fair justice and law enforcement, people believed that being quiet and trying hard not to get in trouble with the cops is going to solve the problems we have been facing, but I think, as we have already begun doing, raise awareness of equality of the law, diversity in law enforcement and the need for coherent living amongst ourselves we will finally eradicate the notion that all cops, especially white cops are racist and brutal and in the long run stop the rise of injustice.
Alexander, M. (2010). The New Jim Crow: mass incarceration in the age of colorblindness. New York: The New.
Girling, E., Loader, I. and Sparks, R. (2000), Crime and Social Control in Middle England: Ques tions of order in an English Town. London: Routledge
Margcr, M. (2012). Race and ethnic relations: American and global perspectives (9th ed.). Belmont: Wadsworth
“MIL-OSI Security: CC Sara Thornton Blog: The future of policing is in good hands.” ForeignAffairs.co.nz, 16 Feb. 2019. Gale OneFile: News, https://link-gale-com.libaccess.hccs.edu/apps/doc/A574189712/STND?u=txshracd2512&sid=STND&xid=4d36b5f6. Accessed 29 Oct. 2019.
Phillips, Kristine. “Baltimore Police Officer Resigns after Viral Video of Him Pummeling a Man Who Was Not Fighting Back.” The Washington Post, 2018. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=edsgao&AN=edsgcl.550008377&site=eds-live.
Sunshine, J. and Tyler, T. (2003a), ‘Moral Solidarity, Identification with and the Importance of Procedural Justice: The Police as Prototypical Representatives Group’s Moral Values’, Social Psychology Quarterly, 66: 153-65.
Taylor, K. (2016), From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation, Chicago: Haymarket Books