Paul R. Lehman, Arrest of African American teens waiting for the bus show challenges for law enfforcement

December 9, 2013 at 8:56 pm | Posted in Affirmative Action, African American, Bigotry in America, blacks, democracy, discrimination, equality, ethnic stereotypes, Ethnicity in America, European American, fairness, Hispanic whites, justice, minority, Prejudice, Race in America, USA Today, whites | 2 Comments
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By now, many people have heard the story of the arrest of three African American high school basketball players in Rochester, N.Y. for refusing to move away from the sidewalk where they were standing waiting to catch a school bus. Their coach had told them to wait at that location for a school bus which would take them to a school where they would play a scrimmage game. The arrest reportedly occurred when a police officer ordered the teens to move away from their location. At least one of the teens tried to inform the office that they were only following the orders of their coach. The explanation was not accepted, if even heard, by the office that proceeded to handcuff the teens. The basketball coach arrived on the scene to see his players handcuffed and in the custody of the officer. The coach’s explanation as to why the teens were waiting for the bus in that location was also ignored by the officer. The officer even threatened the coach with arrest if he did not stay out of the incident.
The teens were taken to jail where their parents had to pay $200 for release of their sons on bail. Fortunately, after the District Attorney reviewed what had transpired, she dismissed “the charges in the interest of justice.” The Rochester Police Chief said, however, that he believed “the arrest was justified.” Evidently, the location where the arrest took place had been the scene of disturbances at some earlier time. Regardless of the reasons given for the arrest, the incident reveals a number of problems involving police and certain ethnic Americans citizens.
If anyone has difficulty understanding why the police and certain ethnic American populations have relationship challenges, this incident should serve to underscore what is at the core of the challenges. First, from the perspective of the African American teens, the police failed to recognize them as valuable human beings. Next, the police ignored what the teens had to say as irrelevant to his objective; finally, the police acted on the basis of stereotypes in going about making the arrests.
First, the one thing that all human being expect from other human beings is validation. That is, when one person says hello to another person, a reply is expected as normal behavior. If a reply is not forthcoming, then some form of rationalization is provided to satisfy the lack of a reply. However, in most cases, a reply is usually forthcoming. The reply lets the first person know that he or she has been recognized and validated. For someone not to reply could signal a rebuff or a deliberate lack of validation. In most cases the greeting is followed by a reply. What the office did, relative to the teens, in not allowing them to explain their present was to not validate them; that is, to show them that what they had to say was of no value to him.
When the officer handcuffed and arrested the teens, he further communicated to them that he did not value them as human beings worthy of common decency and respect. If someone accidently steps on another person’s foot, a quick comment of “excuse me” is generally offered to show respect for the person who foot was stepped on and to acknowledge regret for the offense. Because the office ignored what the teens said about their presence and the fact that they were handcuffed and arrested without any acknowledgement as to their humanity, we might assume that they felt helpless and certainly not valued.
In addition to what happened to the teens, they also witnessed the way the officer treated their coach and the lack of respect given him. Some people might excuse the officer for showing a lack of respect to the teen, but the coach was a responsible adult who deliberately spoke to the officer in a respectful manner. The officer not only ignored the explanations of the coach for the teens’ presence at that location, but also even threatened to arrest him as well. The actions of the officer suggest that he was the only person with any rights and value that mattered. Had it not been for the presence of other people with cameras and access to the social media, the results of this incident might have very well meant a criminal record for the teens and legal expenses for their parents. From numerous past experiences we know whose words would be viewed as true in a court of law when the balance is between the officer and the accused.
Most national polls (Gallup,7/13) reveal that two out of every eight African American and Hispanic American men have had some direct negative contact will law enforcement. So there should be little doubt why African Americans and Hispanic Americans regard police officers as the enemy rather than friend or protector.
What does this incident say about the challenges of the law enforcement establishments regarding relationships with minority citizens especially African Americans and Hispanics? If the people that the police are to protect question the motives of the officers, little or no cooperation or respect will be forth coming from those people. Too often officers are ill equipped and educated to serve successfully in minority communities. In the above incident, the arrest and subsequent actions could have been avoided had the officer given the teens a little respect and valued them as human beings rather than following negative stereotypical perceptions. One of the teens said in remembering the treatment received from the officer that “not all teens are bad;”in other words, why would the officer assume that these teens were bad since they had not done anything unlawful? The answer to that question comes from a lack of adequate instruction and education relative to how police are perceived by minority citizens and why they are perceived in such a negative way.
In far too many cases the police seem to forget their mantra “to Protect and To Serve” when it comes to certain minority citizens. Too often they forget that they represent the laws of the people they serve; they are not themselves the law. One approach to changing the negative perception of minorities towards police would be for the police to ask themselves how would like themselves or any member of their family to be treated? Once they have answered that question, they should proceed to meet their objective.

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2 Comments »

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  1. Dear Paul,    Your article is excellent and needed.  If it weren’t necessary to have the article written, we wouldn’t all have heard the phrase “driving while Black”.     It was my pleasure to meet and visit with you at Ann and Dennie Hall’s lovely luncheon. Sincerely, Pam Henry Retired OKC TV Newswoman

    Pam Henry Chair, OKC Mayor’s Committee on Disability Concerns pam.henry@sbcglobal.net 405-773-0684 7701 DeVore Dr. N18 Oklahoma City, OK 73162  877-408-9290 toll free fax

    ________________________________

  2. Paul, regardlesss of such matters as skin colors, there seems to be two justice systems in this country–one for the poor and one for the rich. For instance, do we execute rich people?


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