Paul R. Lehman, Reasons why European American (white) police shoot and kill African Americans

March 31, 2018 at 7:30 pm | Posted in African American, American Bigotry, American Racism, amygdala, Bigotry in America, black inferiority, blacks, Breaking Ranks, criminal justice, discrimination, equality, Ethnicity in America, European American, European Americans, justice, justice system, law enforcement agencies, Norm Stamper, Race in America, social conditioning, the Black Codes, white supremacy, whites | 3 Comments
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The police officers shooting and killing an unarmed African American man in Sacramento, California recently should come as no surprise to anyone who has been following the news the last four to five years. The excuses for the shootings are always the same: the officers reveal that they feared for their lives or they felt their lives were threatened, or the victim made a threatening gesture or movement towards them or they thought he or she had a gun in their hands. All of these reasons are viewed as justifiable for the shooting of a suspect. On the other hand, the family of the victim always asks the questions: why did you not wait to assess the situation before you fired shots? Why did you not use another of the tools available to you like the tazer, rubber bullets, nightstick, and bean bags? Why could you not have shot him or her in the arm or leg or some non-deadly place? Why did you not give the victim time to respond to your commands?

The fact that this scenario keeps happening over and over again is not an accident or the action of a few bad officers but part of a culture that permeates the entire criminal justice system. Most officers know that regardless of their actions, their department and union will always take their word as valid over any citizen, so the fear of serious repercussions for a wrong deed does not represent an impediment to their actions. The American public has witnessed many times the results of a police shooting via video that contradicts the report of the officers. Yet, the officers walk away without being held responsible for the misdeeds committed. To blame be officers for not being held responsible for their deeds is not their fault but the system that supports them including the Attorney General, District attorney, prosecutor, judge, jury, and society.

What many African Americans understand about the criminal justice system in American is that it has always been biased against them as clearly recorded by history from before Reconstruction, the Black Codes, and Jim Crow. Many European Americans generally support law enforcement actions without question and by doing so allow injustices to continue against people of color. Some present and former police officers have readily admitted that a culture of hate, fear, anger, and bigotry against African Americans exist in law enforcement.  From where do these feelings derive? The most obvious answer identifies social conditioning as the primary contributor to ethnic bias in American society that is retained by people who become part of the criminal justice system directly and indirectly.

Norm Stamper, a former police officer and author of the book Breaking Rank (2005) underscored the European American law officers’ perception of the African Americans: “Simply put, white cops are afraid of black men. We don’t talk about it, we pretend it doesn’t exist, we claim ‘colorblindness,’ we say white officers treat black men the same way they treat white men. But that’s a lie.”These feelings are not reserved for European American law enforcers only. Paul Butler, in his book Choke Hold (2017), noted that recent scientific research shed some light on how many African Americans are generally perceived: “When people see black men they don’t know, they have a physical response that is different from their response to other people. Their blood pressure goes up and they sweat more. When a white person sees an unfamiliar black male face, the amygdala, the part of the brain that processes fear, activates.” Earlier studies also indicated that the negative reactions of European American law officers towards African American males may because by unconscious social bias rather than deliberate actions.

Michelle Alexander in her book The New Jim Crow (2013) noted that a number of studies showed how some European Americans reacted to images of European Americans and African Americans in an exercise that considered observation, interpretation, and reaction. She noted, “that racial schemas operated not only as part of conscious, rational deliberations, but also automatically—without awareness or intent.” This study might possibly explain why some European American police officers act irrationally when having to deal with African Americans and people of color in general:

One study, for example, involved a video game that placed photographs of white and black individuals holding either a gun or other object (such as a wallet, soda can or cell phone into various photographic backgrounds. Participants were told to decide as quickly as possible whether to shoot the target. Consistent with earlier studies, participants were more likely to mistake a black target as armed when he was not, and mistake a white target as unarmed, when in fact he was armed. This pattern of discrimination reflected automatic, unconscious thought processes, not careful deliberations (p. 107)

The fact that ethnic bias is central to the social conditioning in America accounts for the unconscious bias of many European Americans; that bias can be manifested either implicitly, explicitly or both. Consequently, many European Americans can honestly believe that they are not biased against African Americans because many of their friends, relatives, and associates are African American, however, that fact does not mean they are free of biases.  Alexander noted that “Implicit bias test may still show that you [European Americans] hold negative attitudes and stereotypes about blacks, even though you do not believe you do and do not want to. In the study described above, for example, black participants showed an amount of ‘shooter bias’ similar to that shown by whites” (107). Of course, fewer European Americans are shot and killed by African American police officers than by European American officers.

Armed with the scientific information from the various studies mentioned, we can assert that much more than police training is necessary to replace the biased ethnic culture in our criminal justice system. The problem of ethnic bias must be the first item on the agenda to be addressed, not through training, but education. Society must fully understand and reject the bias before it can begin to replace it.

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Paul R. Lehman, No justice from ‘A jury of one’s peers’ in U. S. court system

July 14, 2017 at 11:33 am | Posted in African American, American Bigotry, American history, American Racism, amygdala, Bigotry in America, blacks, criminal activity, Department of Justice, discrimination, equality, Ethnicity in America, European Americans, fairness, grand jury, justice, justice system, law, law enforcement agencies, Media and Race, minority, Oklahoma, police force, Prejudice, Race in America, racism, respect, social conditioning, social justice system, The U.S. Constitution, Tulsa, white supremacy, whites | 3 Comments
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Recently in Tulsa, Oklahoma, a judge declared a mistrial, for the third time, in a case involving a European American former police office, Shannon Kepler. The officer acknowledged shooting Jeremey Lake, a 19-year-old African American male who had been dating Keller’s daughter, Lisa. While Kepler claimed that he was defending himself when he shot Lake, no weapon was found on Lake or anywhere near the scene. An article on abcnews.go.com provided the following information: “Kepler, who retired from the force after he was charged, was a 24-year-police veteran who said he was trying to protect his daughter, who had run away from home and was living in a crime-ridden neighborhood.”

Americans in general and African Americans in particular, should not be surprised at the mistrial or even a not guilty decision from this trail and the many others involving African American men and police officers. We should realize by now that the criminal justice system, especially the courts were not meant to serve justice to people of color. We must be constantly reminded of the fact that American is a biased society and that people of color are viewed as objects that cause fear and anxiety to European Americans. Many of our laws, regardless of what they might intend, are meant to keep the concept of two different groups of people separated. That separation is underscored in the court system and especially the jury system in America.

For African Americans as well most Americans in general, the phrase “A jury of one’s peers,” is meaningless, and because it is meaningless, few people ever experience having a member of his or their jury a peer. In an article by Eric Peters (3/23/2012), “A Jury of One’s Peers,” he notes that while this phrase is not found in our Constitution, the concept comes from English Common Law from which our Constitution was based. The phrase was intended to describe a situation where “The men of a community would gather to weigh evidence presented against someone—someone they knew. Unfortunately, what we have today is an altogether different animal. You may find yourself tried in front of a jury—but they will not be your peers.”

Today, in Oklahoma, anyone 18-years-old and older with a valid driver’s license can be randomly selected to serve on a jury. The individuals are not selected from a particular community, but usually from the county in which they live. If members of a jury were selected from specific communities where people of similar social, religious, economic, political, and education tend to live, then individuals facing charges from those communities would have a reasonable chance of being judged by a peer. Unfortunately, that is not the way things work.

In America, three things work against African Americans when they involve European American police officers, and juries—a lack of people of color on the jury, law enforcement bigotry, and systemic cultural bigotry. Most juries will consist of few people of color for any number of reasons, first of which is availability. Fewer people of color are chosen (at random) for jury duty and few are chosen to serve on a jury once reporting for jury duty. The lack of representation of people of color on the jury for an African American can make a difference in the jury’s final decision. Also, the presence of one or two persons of color serving on a jury of predominately European Americans can be intimidating and stressful to them.

In his recently published book (2017), CHOKEHOLD, Paul Butler, a former prosecutor and law professor at Georgetown University, stated that “Cops routinely hurt and humiliate black people because that is what they are paid to do. Virtually every objective investigation of a U.S. law enforcement agency finds that the police, as policy, treat African Americans with contempt.” He further stated that “The most problematic practices of American criminal justice—excessive force by police, harsh sentencing, the erosion of civil liberties, widespread government surveillance, and mass incarceration—are best understood as measures originally intended for African American men.” The many jury verdicts involving the shooting by law enforcement agents have demonstrated that the repercussions for a European American or an officer killing a person of color are little and none, which underscores Butler’s point. The fact that European American law enforcement agents use the aspect of fear in their defense of their actions is one that does not differ from the fear that European Americans experience generally when coming into contact with an African American male.

European Americans are socially conditioned to view African Americans with fear and dismay unless the African Americans are known to the European Americans. This conditioning is a natural and a normal part of everyday life and not viewed as a bias towards people of color. Butler referenced  in his book a study entitled “Transforming Perceptions: Black Men and Boys,” by the American Values Institute (3/2013), that noted the following: “When people [European Americans] see black men they don’t know, they have a physical response that is different from their response to other people. Their blood pressure goes up and they sweat more.” He also noted another study that stated: “When a white person sees an unfamiliar black male face, the amygdala, the part of the brain that processes fear, activates.” So, the reference to the fear experienced by European Americans law enforcement as noted is part of the American experience for them and bad news for African Americans. The challenge for all Americans is to replace that fear with reason and understanding, knowing that we all belong to the same family of mankind. We must all work to replace the present criminal justice system or continue to be victims of it.

Consequently, we need to practice justice and respect towards one another because we realize as Peters noted: “Court proceedings should, of course, be impartial—but not to the extent of being obtuse. And obtuse—even evil—is precisely what we have today. Mindless worship of statutes as opposed to the spirit animating them. No harm done (or intended) no longer matters. Just ‘the law’—as interpreted by twelve random strangers.” While we can no longer practice the concept of “a jury of one’s peers,” we can certainly underscore the humanity we all possess. We must be the change we need.

Paul R. Lehman, Mother Jones article, “Are You A Racist?” falls short on logic

December 12, 2014 at 8:14 pm | Posted in African American, American Racism, amygdala, blacks, discrimination, DNA, equality, ethnic stereotypes, Ethnicity in America, European American, fairness, justice, justice system, liberty, Prejudice, race, racism, skin color, skin complexion, socioeconomics | Leave a comment
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In a current (January/February 2015) article by Chris Mooney in “Mother Jones,” “Are You Racist? Science is beginning to unmask the bigot inside your brain,” we are introduced to a number of tests, exercises, games and other activities that are focused on helping to identify and control our prejudice. Most of the tests and activities involve our association with things that seemingly feed into our prejudices. Unfortunately, the article failed to achieve its objective if that objective was to help us identify ourselves as racist and to try to address the problem in a rational way.
The first problem in the article was its failure to define racist. Had the term racist been defined, then we would have a basis from which to launch a rational discussion. Racist is a spin-off of the term race that is generally associated with science. The concept of race in America is based on an illusion, a creation, and a lie when it becomes plural, as in black race and white race. As far as science is concerned, the only race we need be socially concerned with is the human race, and it is not based or defined by skin color.
Rather than making clear or defining the terms African American and European American, Mooney uses the words black and white interchangeably with them respectively. These terms are not interchangeable—they have separate and unique meanings; that is, all blacks are not or consider themselves African Americans, and all whites are not nor do they consider themselves European Americans. The article does not make that distinction. Consider the following statement regarding the test referred to as Implicit Association Test: “The test asks you to rapidly categorize images of faces as either “African American” or “European American” while you also categorize words (like “evil,” “happy,” “awful,” and “peace”) as either “good” or “bad.” Faces and words flash on the screen, and you tap a key, as fast as you can, to indicate which category is appropriate.
Sometimes you’re asked to sort African American faces and “good” words to one side of the screen. Other times, black faces are to be sorted with “bad” words.”
We notice the shift from African American faces to black faces in the about quote and this is no exception regarding these terms; it happens throughout the article. According to Mooney these tests and activities were created to measure ethnic prejudice in society, but seemingly overlook the fact that we were born into an ethnically biased society. Our perspectives are based on our social conditioning. The assumption made in the article is unrealistic:
“You think of yourself as a person who strives to be unprejudiced, but you can’t control these split-second reactions. As the milliseconds are being tallied up, you know the tale they’ll tell: When negative words and black faces are paired together, you’re a better, faster categorizer. Which suggests that racially biased messages from the culture around you have shaped the very wring of your brain.”
For the most part, the article examines activities that tell us what we already know—ethnic prejudice is a part of our mental make-up and is based on our social/cultural conditioning. What we should be focusing our attention on are ways to overcome these biases. Unfortunately, the article never debunks the notion of race as unacceptable but instead moves to the concept of tribalism as rationale. We know the benefits associated with tribal membership: identity, security, comfort, value, unity to mention as few.
Mooney’s visit with the scientist, David Amodio, a member of New York University’s psychology department, acquaints him with research regarding the brain, tribalism and prejudice: “One simple, evolutionary explanation for our innate tendency toward tribalism is safety in numbers. You’re more likely to survive an attack from a marauding tribe if you join forces with your buddies. And primal fear of those not in the in-group also seems closely tied to racial bias.” The professor added that his “research suggests that one key area associated with prejudice is the amygdala, a small and evolutionarily ancient region in the middle of the brain that is responsible for triggering the notorious “fight or flight” response.” The article continued; “In interracial situations, Amodio explains, amygdala firing can translate into anything from “less direct eye gaze and more social distance” to literal fear and vigilance toward those of other races.”
What seems apparent in this article is the fact that some scientists seem to want to verify what we already know—that prejudice exists in us and our society. The challenge is to over-come the prejudice, and we do that by educating our brains to recognize a different tribal group—the human family. One would think that the first order of business in making this shift is to first debunk to idea and concept of multiple biological races—we did it with Santa and lived through it. We certainly can do it with the illusion of race, notwithstanding Amodio’s research. We can not begin to deal with the problem of ethnic bigotry and prejudice until we face the fact that we have been living with an illusion for a few hundred years and now the time has come to face the truth.
Mooney recognized the problem of ethnic prejudice and realized that: “To be sure, it will take more than thought exercises to erase the deep tracks of prejudice America has carved through the generations.” He concludes the article with the statement: “Biases have slipped into all of our brains. And that means we all have a responsibility to recognize those biases and work to change them.” Actually, biases did not slip into our brains; in America they were cultivated through our culture, laws and social systems. One of the first things we can do is recognize that we belong to the same group by not referring to each other as black or white. What the European American needs to know is that each time he or she refers to him/herself as white, the race card is being played. Of course, the same goes for the African American and black. Ethnic bigotry, prejudice and racism will not simply disappear, it must be eradicated.

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