Paul R. Lehman,Being poor signals a lack of power with the police for ethnic minorities.

September 2, 2012 at 5:09 pm | Posted in American Bigotry, blacks, Disrespect, equality, Ethnicity in America, fairness, justice, Media and Race, Prejudice, Race in America, socioeconomics, whites | 1 Comment
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Is there any doubt about why most ethnic American communities, especially the African American, American Indian, and the Hispanic, have problems accepting the police as being “servants of the people” when the majority of the experiences involving the police in these communities are negative? Unless the readers are ethnic American, chances are their experiences with the police are quite different from those who are. One only has to watch the local and national news to learn about how many ethnic Americans are treated by the police departments in given situations. They, generally, get no respect. Two recent examples of disrespect to African American families come to mind– Trayvon Martin, and Robin Leander Howard.

Most people know the story of Trayvon Martin being shot and killed within sight of his family members’ residence.  His family was not notified for several days that their loved one had died from a gun shot. When his family inquired of Trayvon’s location, they were not given any answers.  When Trayvon’s father went to the Police and requested a missing person’s complaint, he was not told about his son’s death. The police listed Trayvon as “John Doe,” since, according to them, he did not have any identification on him. The fact of the matter is that the family of Trayvon was not given any detail information until they obtained the services of an attorney. Even then, the information requested by the family attorney was not readily forthcoming.

The situation was somewhat different with respect to the victim in the case of Robin Leander Howard. According to the newspaper report (The Oklahoma, 8/15/12), “Officers said Howard led them on a chase that ended in the 1400 block of Monticello Court, about 150 yards from the small home he shared with his mother. What happened after police caught up with Howard is a mystery.”Reports indicate that medical assistance was first called to the location, but later refused. The article did not indicate who refused the medical attention. However, we are told that the police later took Howard to a hospital where he later died. His family was able to retrieve the mother’s vehicle from the impound lot, but when inquiry concerning Howard’s location was made, the family received no helpful information. Finally, after four days, the family was notified by the police that Howard was dead and that he had died in the hospital.

Still unable to obtain detailed information concerning Howard’s death from the police department, the family hired an attorney to assist them. A few days later, the city’s police chief made a public apology to the family for not notifying them of their loved one’s death in a timely manner. However, the family still did not receive any information relative to why and how Howard died. The family decided to seek the assistance of national organizations to help in this matter so maybe they can receive the information they want.

The object of this topic is not to cast aspersions towards the police and/or the police departments in general, but to focus on how the families of ethnic minorities, especially African Americans are treated by many law enforcement agencies. To say that they are treated with disrespect would be an understatement; they simply are not valued. Why?  Part of the answer lies in the attitude of the establishment regarding minority ethnic groups that is expressed in the number of incarcerations.  Two researchers, Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett (The Spirit Level), state that “Racial and ethnic disparities in rate of imprisonment are one way of showing the inequalities in risk of being imprisoned. In America, the racial gap can be measured as the ration between imprisonment rates for whites and blacks.” Wilkinson and Pickett further noted that “Twenty-five per cent of white youths in America have committed one violent offense by age 17, compared to 36 per cent of African Americans, ethnic rates of property are the same, and African American youth commit fewer drug crimes.” However, we are told that “…African-American youth are overwhelmingly more likely to be arrested, to be detained, to be charged, to be charged as if an adult and to be imprisoned.”

In addition, these researchers indicated that “The same pattern is true for African- American and Hispanic adults, who are treated more harshly than whites at every stage of judicial proceedings.” Also, we learn that “Facing the same charges, white defendants are far more likely to have the charges against them reduced, or to be offered ‘diversion’—a deferment or suspension of prosecution if the offender agrees to certain conditions, such as completing a drug rehabilitation programme.”

While the information pertaining to the treatment of African Americans and other minorities is important, it does not give a reason for it happening, the cause. The reasons are spelled out, however, in the following statement by Wilkinson and Pickett:

“People nearer the bottom of society almost always face downward discrimination and prejudice. There are of course important differences between what is seen as class prejudice in society without ethnic divisions, and as racial prejudice where there are. Although the cultural marks of class are derived inherently from status differentiation, they are less indelible than differences in skin colour. But when differences in ethnicity, religion or language come to be seen as markers of low social status and attract various downward prejudices, social division and discrimination may increase.”

If we translate the language of the researchers, we find that the reasons for the lack of respect shown the African Americans relative to the various police departments is due to their perception of African Americans having little or nor economic, political, or social power–poor people equal no power. The attitudes of both the police and the ethnic communities are generally based on the experiences encountered by each segment. Approximately 90 per cent of the police encounters in the minority communities are negative. The communities, then, assume that the only value police associates with them are negative. So, the assessments go both ways.

If the practice is to stop, work has to be done by the local police departments in improving their images and relationship with the ethnic communities and the communities must help to create better positive relations with the law enforcement agencies. The best way to insure continued negative results and poor relations between both sides is for each side to ignore the problems.

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  1. Even though great strides have been made the racial construct remains in place as evidenced in your observations in these two cases and in disproportionalities that remain and can only be the result of ethic bigotry. Legal access to basic human rights does not translate into equal access. The battle to live up to our Nation’s creed continues and it is a battle worth waging.


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