Paul R. Lehman, People of color want just and fair treatment from the law

July 20, 2014 at 10:45 pm | Posted in African American, blacks, equality, European American, fairness, justice, Oklahoma, Prejudice, whites | 1 Comment
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Eric Garner of Staten Island, New York, an African American man, was put in a chokehold, a procedure against NYPD policy, for allegedly selling single cigarettes. He was physically subdued and taken into police custody (July 2014).
Luis Rodriguez of Moore, Oklahoma, a Hispanic American, was physically detained for questioning by the police outside a local theatre relative to a domestic matter involving only his wife and daughter. He was physically subdued and taken into police custody (Feb.2014).
Often times when African Americans or Hispanic Americans complain about the unjust treatment of the police in relations to them, some Americans think that those claims are far-fetched. Usually, those not thinking the claims are unjust and false are European Americans whose relationship with the police is different—non violent and generally positive. The recent incident of New York Police’s actions involving an unharmed, African American man, Eric Garner, created a variety of questions about the police, their training relative to people of color, and society.
Because of past experiences involving the police (not just in New York) and people of color, we know the importance of eye-witness and video accounts of these incidents. One fact is certain involving the police actions is that without creditable eye-witness and video accounts of an incident, the police’s word is accepted above and beyond what any citizen has to say. Even with eye-witness and video accounts, most cases where police extreme force is alleged and death or injury to a citizen occurs, the police actions is usually found to be justified. Evidently, the only actions evaluated during these types of incidents are those of the policemen; the citizens are usually presumed to be at fault. Why is it the case that police use more force in encountering people of color?
The recent case of extreme force in New York involving an African American man shares a number of similar things with a recent case in the Oklahoma City area involving Luis Rodriguez, a Hispanic man. In both cases, numerous policemen were involved in the physical altercation. The first thing these two cases have in common involves the apparent haste by the police to physically subdue them. What seems out of reasonable thought is the lack of patience by the police to converse with the citizen when little or not threat of harm is imminent. Common decency would suggest that the police would want to get information relative the situation before initiating any physical action. That was not the case in the two incidents in question. Rather than trying to become informed about the situation, the police, as the videos show, simply order the men to submit to being arrested and placed in handcuffs without any stated cause for their actions.
In both cases, when the men try to speak to the police in an effort to understand the police orders to be handcuffed, the police apparently interpreted their actions as refusing to obey a command and begin immediately to physically subdue them. Why? Are the police taught during their training that physical restraints are necessary for all subjects regardless of what their offense might be? Why do the police not take more time to discern the situation before resorting to physical action against a subject? Is there a time limit involved in making an arrest? The actions of the police appear to be a rush-to-judgment rather than the use of rational judgment as in these two cases.
In addition, the lack of patience and communications demonstrated by the police in these two cases, the use of physical force as seen on the videos is appalling. We must keep in mind that the two victims did not have weapons nor were they attacking the police—they were trying to get information as to why they were being arrested. However, as soon as the order was given by the police, if the victim did not act immediately in compliance with that order, he was physically restrained. What seemed appalling during the physical restraint by the police was the lack of resistance from the victim. One notices that not two or three policemen are involved in the restraining but usually four or more. The actions of the police involved in the restraining resembled something like a scene from a National Geographic video where some lionesses have just made a kill, and the rest of the pride comes in to take part in the feast.
What was generally missing from the total incident was the rationale for treating the victim like a wild animal, rather than a human being. Once the victims are on the ground and under control why press their heads into the concrete; they have been subdued, and not fighting, why keep applying unnecessary pressure and pain? What seemed out of place to most objective viewers of these incidents were the inhuman and unjust actions of the police. Where does the mantra of to “Serve and Protect” enter the minds of the police? All the police seem to be in agreement when subduing a subject and applying unnecessary force, because not a single one finds the action not in keeping with proper conduct or try to prevent or discourage the others from their action. The actions of these officers are more a disservice to the police force than a service in that the impression one takes away from viewing these videos is one of callous disregards for the feelings of a human being.
In each incident, the victims told the police that they could not breathe. In each case, the words, and pleas of the victims were disregarded. Once they stopped breathing, no immediate medical assistance was offered. Both victims died. The irony of their deaths is that neither of these men had committed a crime that warranted arrest; at worse, had they been treated with respect and dignity as a human being, they probably would have been given a citation. In effect, the only crime, if we can call it a crime, these men are guilty of is not responding immediately to the policeman’s order to submit to being arrested.
The cases of Garner and Rodriguez, two men of color follow a long list of other victims of unjust and unfair treatment by some members of police forces across the country. Why is it that a herd mentality seems to take over when some police confront people of color? We suggest that in addition to honoring the mantra “To Serve and Protect” that police receive training in recognizing the challenges involved with treating human beings with respect and dignity regardless of how they look. The officers should be trained to think of themselves as being in the subject’s place. The phrases “We are Family,” and “Patience is a virtue, “if considered by police, would go a long way in helping police do a better job in closing the gap in their relationship with people of color.

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  1. Your National Geographic comparison is exactly what I thought about when I saw the Garner video. Why does this keep happening? How can two people view this video and interpret it differently? How can a citizen of the United States be attacked and murdered on the street in broad daylight by the very people sworn and paid to protect him? We need answers.


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