Tuesday, November 25, 2014

What to Actually Learn from Ferguson

Once again Ferguson is blowing up my Facebook news feed, so I feel the need to mention the drama, because I agree that we can’t just sweep aside decades of inequality. However, I’m not sure people are focusing on the actual issues of this case, but instead are focused on what they perceive or “assume” happened. Yes, there are more shootings of black suspects than white, but the reason is not necessarily racism. The reason for these shootings is simply the fact that there are more black suspects.

About 40% of the prison population is black, compared to about 14% of the total population. Obama himself notably interchanged two phrases in his speech. In two subsequent sentences he mentioned “some communities of color” and “low-income, high crime neighborhoods”. I’m not sure anyone else has noticed yet, but he used those phrases as synonyms. If even our “black” president believes that some areas of a city, country, or state are dangerous because of the mentality of some of the residents, why should we expect our police force to act any differently?

Now, we have a problem that we can focus on and make progress towards. Why are the “black” low-income neighborhoods perceived as the violent and dangerous threat? Is this an economic problem, or an educational problem, or a cultural problem? What can be done about this problem? If we can keep or get our black fathers and uncles and brothers out of jail, if we give young mother’s the advice and training needed to raise their children, if we can fix the problems in our low-income schools by getting people to actually volunteer in them one-on-one to change our world, if we can stop the cycle of poverty in even a few families, maybe we can truly start to fix the problem.

Secondarily, police officers are given more license to harm because they are often in the way of danger. I was told, if I was ever pulled over, to keep my hands on the steering wheel unless the officer asked for my license and registration. I am probably the least likely suspect (white and female) but an officer doesn’t know based on the color of your skin or the glint of your eye whether you are reaching for a gun or your license and registration. According to a grand jury, it was not about the color of anyone’s skin in this particular case. The problem is that a suspect was advancing towards a police officer. There are white suspects who have been killed in exactly the same manner. Maybe we can use this to advise our children of all colors to respect the police officers authority and follow instructions, including laying face down on the ground or turned away from an officer to be handcuffed.

There’s a reason that “police assisted suicide” is a phrase. Police officers are trained, as they should be, to protect themselves from an imminent threat. If you want to teach your kids the same thing that I was taught about respecting and obeying police officers right away, I think that’s a great idea. Just don’t tell them it’s because of the color of their skin. When you tell a young child that a police officer will target them just because they are black, you are creating a new problem. Now that child has a hatred for and will antagonize white police officers, creating just the problem you were trying to avoid.

Now, I’m also not going to ignore the fact that a few police officers are actually racist and need to be taken off the streets. I’m not saying that’s the case in this situation, but I would assume, based on the reactions that at least a few police officers in Ferguson are harassing or targeting the black community in some way. The main problem we face, is how to identify the small percentage of police officers who are creating a problem. My suggestion would be a two part system. One part would be an independent national database to track complaints. You should be able to call a 1-800 number and report if you were targeted unfairly by a police officer or other law enforcement official due to your race, gender, or age. A third-party would then need to investigate to substantiate the claims, but that should be fairly easy (was the police officer in the stated area at that time, was there a conflicting report, was the person making the report charged with a crime).

The second part includes taking action on the database. Now, if a number of reports show up on a particular police officer, we can make changes, such as fining the officer, assigning administrative leave, switching the officer to desk work or kindly suggesting they find other employment. We also now have evidence, if this officer is then charged in a shooting, with whether they were acting on their documented racist tendencies, or if this is the first time something has happened and they were acting solely out of fear and self-preservation.

Let’s not make Ferguson into another hate-filled racial problem. Let’s use the media coverage given to solve a problem, not start more problems. I completely agree with the prosecutor’s comments on the 24-hour news cycle and social media. Somehow, with the advances of social media, each individual has become a judge, jury, and lawmaker of their own. We are not a law unto ourselves.
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