Paul R. Lehman, Good community relationships with the police requires clear, realistic perception

January 29, 2017 at 6:02 pm | Posted in African American, American Bigotry, American history, Bigotry in America, black inferiority, blacks, Constitutional rights, criminal activity, democracy, discrimination, Disrespect, equality, Ethnicity in America, European Americans, freedom of speech, justice, law enforcement agencies, Oklahoma, police force, Prejudice, President, President Obama, protest, race, segregation, skin complexion, social justice system, The Oklahoman, tolerance, white supremacy, whites | 1 Comment
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In an article by Mark A. Yancey, “Police and community relationship goes 2 ways,” (The Oklahoman 1/28/2017) his first two sentences underscore the reasons why community relationships are in need of a lot of work. He stated that: “In the wake of recent police-involved shootings around the country, I often hear that police need to rebuild trust with the communities they serve. While I agree trust needs to be re-established, we should not place the entire burden of restoring trust, promoting respect and tolerance and following the law solely on the police.”Two words are used in these sentences that demonstrate Yancey’s lack of understanding of the problems involved with building a relationship with the communities; those two words are rebuild and restoring.

While we can applaud Yancey’s desire to seek a good relationship with communities, we must recognize that he is a citizen of a society with a natural bias against people of color. Chances are, he does not realize his bias because it is not something he consciously acquired but was conditioned to be society—his home, neighborhood, school, church, city, state, and nation. One example should suffice to show how the bias works. If an officer observes a nice-looking late-model car driven by a young African American male, chances are two thoughts will cross the officer’s mind—the car is stolen, or the driver is a drug dealer. However, if the drive of the car is a young European American male, the two thoughts might be that he is a spoiled kid or it is the family’s car. The thoughts relative to the African American male were not made out of malice or anger; they are conditioned responses. If the officer does not recognize the negative thoughts relative to the African American, then they cannot be replaced.

One cannot rebuild or restore relationships that never existed in the first place. The relationship the officer has with the communities is the one conditioned by a society which sees people of color in a negative context. The relationship should be for the officer to serve and protect all the citizens without bias, but when the bias is hidden by social convention, the lines get blurred.

Yancey’s next sentence also underscored a problem of a lack of understanding in the police-community relationship: “Relationship-building, after all, is a two-way street and requires mutual trust, respect, and tolerance.” When we stop and take a look at some of the recent videos of police treatment of young African American men, we recognize that all three of these elements are missing from the behavior of the officers. Officers are paid by the citizens to do their jobs; the citizens are not, so it is incumbent on the officers to serve as examples in these areas. History shows us that the law enforcement agency has been wanting in these three areas relative to their relationship with the African American community. For example, shortly after former President Obama had taken office, a noted scholar a professor from a prestigious university was arrested for entering his own home. He identified himself to the officer, told the officer that the home was his, and showed him the key to the door. The officer disregarded all the professor said and arrested him. What happened to trust, respect and tolerance during this experience?

Another recent example of where the police disregard these areas of trust, respect, and tolerance involved a young African American man who had used a tool to do some work on the sunroof of his car. Someone from the neighborhood called 911 and reported someone breaking into an auto. When the young man’s car was pulled over, he got out with both hands in the air. The video showed the officers issuing orders and simultaneously charging the young man, not giving him any time to obey the commands. To add insult to injury, the officers kept telling the young man to stop resisting when there were three or four officers on him, pushing his face into the concrete, punching him and holding his hand behind his back with an officer’s knee. Yet, they kept yelling at him to stop resisting—he was not resisting. How could he when he was face down on the pavement with three or four officers on him? Where were the respect and tolerance? Videos of both these incidents exist and the behavior of the officer/officers can be observed on YouTube.

Yancey mentioned that “citizens need to do their part in the rebuilding process by avoiding unnecessary, violent confrontations with officers.” Officer Yancey would do well to review many of the videos that show no violence on the part of the citizens unless or until it is initiated by officers who are in a rush to subdue a citizen. The fact is that when an officer stops a citizen, the citizen loses all his or her rights because if a video and audio history of the event is not available, the law enforcement community will disregard anything the citizen has to say but accepts everything the officer has to say.

Time and again, videos have shown that citizens can observe the laws, and follow police orders and still get beaten, or shot, and then arrested. We are not saying that the citizens are never at fault; many times they are, and many times mental illness has some part to play in the events. Yancey stated that “The law requires officers to respect the citizens they serve. Citizens should show police the same respect they rightfully demand by cooperating with officers’ instructing and letting our judicial system resolve peacefully and disagreements about the lawfulness of their actions.” In an ideal world Yancey’s statement might be acceptable, but in reality, if the citizen cannot present evidence to prove his or her case, it is an automatic win for the officer. All we need to do is check the record of police cases of misconduct and see how many convictions have been placed on the officers.

The first order of business in trying to establish good community relationships is for the police departments to understand their history with the community. If the elements of trust, respect, and tolerance are missing, then the first question should be why? Chances are the problems start with the biased perception of the citizens conditioned in the law enforcers by society. That is the first thing that needs to change—all citizens should be viewed as citizens, no differences. We can admire Yancey’s efforts in wanting to address this problem, but he needs to better understand the role of the police officers and their relationship to the community before asking the community to give what must be earned—trust, respect, and tolerance

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Paul R. Lehman, Recent police videos indicate more than training is needed today.

April 23, 2015 at 12:11 am | Posted in African American, American Racism, Bigotry in America, blacks, Constitutional rights, democracy, discrimination, Disrespect, education, equality, ethnic stereotypes, Ethnicity in America, European American, fairness, freedom of speech, justice, justice system, law enforcement agencies, liberty, life, lower class, minority, police force, Prejudice, race, Race in America, social justice system, socioeconomics, whites | 1 Comment
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To many Americans, especially people of color, the idea that the training received by law enforcement agents and police is inadequate and too limited helps to create its counter-productiveness. Thanks to the recent spate of videos showing the activities of some law agents in action, we can actually observe how that training fails to have a positive impact of the citizens directly involved. Some of the scenes depict, in effect, the abuse and excessive use of force on helpless individuals. We know, and underscore, the fact that the videos do not reflect all law enforcement agents, but what is presented certainly helps us to raise questions about the limits of officer preparedness.

We have seen enough videos to know that office training relative to equipment and emergencies is usually top quality. What we have also witnessed, however, is the need for more than training in some situations, and the introduction of the use of common sense and rational thought. In effect, while the training is important and necessary, it alone is not sufficient to address the needs of today’s population. The philosophy of viewing some people as suspects that deserves little or no respect comes through in many of the videos in the manner in which they are addressed and treated. Education and instruction must begin to represent part of the preparation of law enforcement agents if their efforts are to be productive.

One of the common complaints of some officers who patrol areas inhabited by people of color whose social and economic status is less than middle class is the lack of coöperation by the citizens relative to police business. Why is it that these citizens generally do not help the police? One answer can be found in the area of community relations. Because the majority of the experiences involving law enforcement in these communities are negative, the first reaction of the citizens to the law officers will be guarded. After witnessing the treatment of a citizen by some officers, the last thing other citizens want to do is attract the attention of the officers. Law enforcement officers need to know that people of color as well as other people in the lower social-economic class generally react to them with fear. They know through experience and observation that they are not valued as human being by some officers. So they avoid taking an unnecessary chance of interaction with the officers.

What has happened in the past as well as presently regarding officer interaction involving people of color shows a need for better education and instruction for the officers, primarily, and the citizens, secondarily. Today, the training of the offices might be adequate for the job in general, but not sufficient for the needs of today’s diverse society. Depending on the nature, content, and objective of the current training, the results might produce more of a separation and discrimination mindset that focuses on human differences rather than commonalities and fairness.

Part of the problem with police preparedness has been the lack of education from a historical and cultural perspective relative to the communities being served. The frequently asked question of why people of color at times do not help police doing investigations underscores the problem of a lack of positive community relations. The police might take for granted that just because they represent the law and its authority that people will automatically come to assist them is based on a false premise. The make-up of the communities represents the underpinning of the problem, which is trust.

Often the attitudes of the law enforcers are a turn-off to the citizens because they show a lack of respect for the citizens and their rights. Unfortunately, the recent videos show time after time the abuse, excessive force, and total disregard for the citizens’ efforts to communicate. In many cases, the law enforcer is focused on doing his or her job which might include a disregard of rights of the citizen involved. For example, in the Eric Gardner situation, the officers were focused and intent on forcing Gardner to the ground and subduing him. During this process, they showed little or no concern for his repeated statements of “I can’t breath.”While they were probably following their training in subduing Gardner, they were ignoring the pleas of a human being under distress. The officers simple focused on a selective part of their preparation and conduct– the training, and not the education and reasonableness to examine the law infraction to the punishment being administered.

One aspect of the law enforcement agents’ current practice is the lack of concern that seemly concern for the interpretation of their actions by the public and other observers. The way citizens are treated by officers sends a message to the citizens relative to how some human beings are valued. Too often, as some of the videos indicate, when injuries inflicted on a citizen by officers are apparent, but ignored, the message sent to the public is one of little or no concern for the person being detained. The apparent philosophy is to value only the life and wellbeing of the officer, not the citizen. Of course we know that is not the case in every instance, but the videos show that this philosophy does represent a problem in current law enforcement shortcomings. People will not trust or coöperate with officers they fear and do not respect.

Today, the first order of business for law enforcers’ preparation should be to study American history that addresses the causes of ethnic injustice, not just the effects. Officers need a realistic and pertinent education that helps them to discard the prejudice, biases, and bigotry they brought with them to the job. They need to be taught to recognize social and economic characteristics of a community that will help them in their job to serve and defend all the citizens. So, the job of preparing the law enforcers must come from the top—the administrators. The officers can only reflect what they have inside and what has been made available to the public via videos indicate a lack of understanding and knowledge emanating from the top. The situation today relative to police and community relations requires a focus on the need for better officer preparation and instruction and how they should serve effectively in our ever-growing, diverse society. Our society needs law enforcement agents that are not only well-trained, but also well-educated regarding their responsibilities to the citizens—officers who can think as well as act.

Paul R. Lehman, Law enforcement Union leaders are necessary to community relations efforts

February 3, 2015 at 4:42 pm | Posted in African American, American history, blacks, Constitutional rights, democracy, Disrespect, equality, European American, Ferguson, justice, justice system, police force, Prejudice, public education, social justice system, socioeconomics, whites | Leave a comment
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In the wake of the Ferguson experience last Summer, many communities have attempted to get together with the law enforcement agencies and the Public administration to try and create some dialogue relative to improved relations among themselves. In some cases the efforts have been positive, however, in others, little or no progress has been made. To some observers, one of the stumbling blocks to progress involves the law enforcement union leaders. To get a better understanding of how that problem came to exist, we must look at it from an organizational perspective.
Whether one accepts it or not, the representatives of the law enforcement unions actually control the rank and file officers, not the chiefs or the public administrators. What has happened is that many of the union leaders have created a picture of their agency and members as the most value people in society because their duty is to protect and serve the public. These union leaders try to convince the public that because of the law enforcers’ jobs, they should be exempted from treatment reserved for the normal citizens. Their jobs are often said to be the most dangerous one in society; obviously ignoring other equally dangerous and life-threatening professions.
The characteristics of group mentality and behavior are introduced into the law enforcement organizations in their academics and schools; this aspect of group identity is necessary and welcomed for the well-being of the organizations and the individuals. The instruction and training received by the agents are generally excellent and are meant to serve the public well. Most agents volunteer to serve the public in this capacity because they sincerely want to serve and protect their communities.
To the outside observer, what has happened, to a degree, in American society is the taking of power by some law enforcement union leaders from the chiefs and administrators. These union leaders convince their followers that their profession requires them to adapt an attitude of us versus them. The “us” are the law enforcement agents, the good guys, and the “they” represent the general public, or the perpetrators, the bad guys. In addition, the union members are lead to believe that they will be protected by the union regardless of any situation in which they find themselves. The concept of the “Blue Line” is one that reinforces that unity and protection aspect of the union.
In any given situation involving law enforcement misconduct, the chiefs and supervisors must follow the prescribed procedures. However, when the union enters the picture, the power of the chiefs and supervisors seem to disappear. More often then not, the union prevails over the powers of the departments where the agent or agents were involved. In other instances, the departments investigate themselves; a practice that begs the question of how justice is served.
So, what does all this have to do with communities getting together with their public officials and law enforcement agencies to try and create better relationships? The answer is that the organizations involved in trying to start a constructive dialogue in the community must involve the union representatives, because they seemingly believe they hold the best interest of the law enforcement members. In some instances, these leaders have demonstrated their power over their membership beyond that of the publically elected law enforcement officials. For one example of this power, let us look at what happened in New York City and a situation involving the mayor Bill de Blasio:
“When Mayor de Blasio first spoke about the non-indictment of the police officer who killed Eric Garner, he placed the case in a personal context:
‘Chirlane and I have had to talk to Dante for years about the dangers that he may face. A good young man, law-abiding young man who would never think to do anything wrong. And yet, because of a history that still hangs over us, the dangers he may face, we’ve had to literally train him—as families have all over this city for decades—in how to take special care in any encounter he has with the police officers who are there to protect him.’” (dailykos.com)

The police union representative along with some officers took exception to the Mayor’s comments and took action in opposition to him:
“New York City’s largest police union created a form letter that members could send to the Mayor and the City Council Speaker, requesting the pair not attend the officer’s funeral should he or she die in the line of duty. The union said officers felt as if they had been ‘thrown under the bus,” and said the Mayor instead should have been encouraging parents to teach their children “to comply with police officers, even if they feel it’s unjust.’”(dailykos.com)
In addition to this action, when the Mayor attended and spoke at the funeral of one of the first of two officers that had been shot by a mentally disturbed man, many members of the police in attendance turned their back to the Mayor as a sign of disrespect. During the Mayor’s speech at the second officer’s funeral some police officers again turned their backs towards the Mayor even after the Police chief had requested they not do so. The officers had no fear of repercussions from their departments because of the power of their unions.
As things stand, the critical component in any attempts to create meaningful, positive, and effective relations between the law enforcement and the communities of color must involve the police unions. In order for the results of these meetings to be positive and effective knowledge of organizational structure must be accurate and transparent. The law enforcement agents need to know that they work for the people, not the other way around. Although their jobs are dangerous, they do not stand alone or apart from others with dangerous jobs; all lives are valuable. Their jobs are to uphold the laws, not serve as judge or jury. Their jobs are open to the public; all candidates must meet the qualifications and pass the necessary requirements; all these things are done voluntarily. No one is forced to go into law enforcement work.
In order to affect positive change in the relationships between the communities and the law enforcement agencies, the people, the public administrators, the immediate department supervisors and chiefs must not defer their powers to union leaders. If that happens, then the community becomes a “police state.”All participants must learn to work together for the common good if positive change is to occur. Change will happen, but it will be slow in coming because of the nature of power and who has it.

Paul R. Lehman, Real changes in the community must come from the top down

September 9, 2014 at 7:31 pm | Posted in African American, blacks, discrimination, equality, European American, fairness, liberty, lower class, poor, Prejudice, race, racism, socioeconomics, The Huffington Post, whites | 1 Comment
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When the Michael Brown tragedy occurred in Ferguson, Missouri, many people were dismayed that such a thing could happen. Sometime, it takes a tragedy to bring to the surface other equally discomforting things as well. We hear about people organizing to make things better for the community and especially better police and community relations. Usually, the focus of attention is on the event that just occurred and what caused it. In Ferguson we learned that out of a total of fifty-three policemen, only three or four were African American, when the population percentage of African Americans is around sixty-seven percent. The answer to resolving the police-community relations problem, according to some, is to hire more African Americans on the police force. Unfortunately, that would not solve the problem.
If we want to get to the heart of the problem that contributed to the death of Michael Brown, then hiring more police will not accomplish that objective. The real problem has to do with the treatment of African Americans with respect to fairness and justice. The problems of fairness and justice for African Americans will not be addressed or resolved by adding more African Americans to the police force if the perception, attitude, and behavior of the people in charge of the police do not change.
What incidents like the one in Ferguson shows is that the problem of community relations does not rest with the police force; the problem is systemic. The police behavior is simply one manifestation of the mind-set of the community leaders. The various elected officials from the mayor to the dog-catcher play a part in forming the attitude of the community relative to its citizens. Therefore, when searching for a cause of the problem relative to police behavior towards the African American community, one has to look at who controls the police.
One journalist looking into the community relations in areas near Ferguson discovered a pattern of unjust actions that places undue stress on the African American communities in the St. Louis area. For example, the greatest police-related instances taken from police reports occur in African American communities. The greatest percentage of traffic violations reported occurred in African American communities. The greatest percentage of arrest reported by the police occurred in African American communities. Why? We can not simply look at the police force for an answer.
Taken individually, the statistics seem to suggest that the African Americans are the worst drivers in the area, and they give the police more cause for arrest. However, when looked at collectively, we recognize that the majority of the African Americans stopped for traffic violations are poor, low-wage workers. When stopped by the police, whether they committed a violation or not, they do not usually complain. They do not complain because of the history of negative consequences associated with being African American and uncooperative with the police. The police not only know that African Americans understand this situation, but also depend on it working successfully in issuing tickets. The entire process is part of the system for general income for the community.
Many police departments depend on the poor, powerless communities of people of color to generate money to operate their local government. Usually, the poor do not have the extra money available to pay a large traffic fine. So, in some communities, if one cannot pay, they go to jail. If they go to jail, the family, friends, and often the employers of the jailed person will come up with the money. If not, the person jailed will usually lose his or her job, incur bills that cannot be paid, leave children to the mercy of available family or foster care, and in some instances lose their home and transportation. Why? They get caught in the system because they are powerless and defenseless and therefore, easy prey. The cause of their problems is not the police force; they just follow the instructions of the administrators.
Part of the problems comes from ignorance and prejudice of European Americans towards the African American and people of color in the community. The ignorance and prejudice comes from perception. Sean McElwee, in an article for Huffington.com, “Five Signs We’re Not a ‘Post-Racial’ Society” noted that
“In the wake of the Ferguson shooting, a recent Pew poll finds that 47 percent of whites believe that “race is getting more attention than it deserves,” with regards to the death of Michael Brown, while only 18 percent of African-Americans feel the same. Meanwhile, a similar Pew study found that whites are far less likely to see discrimination in the treatment blacks receive by the education system, the courts and hospitals. Such views are held by many Americans, who believe that “blacks are mostly responsible for their own condition.” Police killings of unarmed blacks are certainly the most visible manifestation of systemic racism, but data show that racism still manifests itself frequently in everyday life.”
The shooting of Michael Brown created an opportunity for all the citizens to see the actual conditions of the community and not rely on rumor and opinions. Armed with the facts of just how much African Americans are treated unjustly and unfairly, the citizens can began to organize themselves into groups that will act to address many of these problems. When concerned people in the community realize the degree to which the poor and people of color are exploited, they should be moved to some level of action.
Change will come to the community, not just Ferguson, when the leaders from the top on down adjust their attitudes and become better informed relative to the people they serve, all the people they serve. Likewise, the poor, and people of color need to realize that they have power through the vote and public protest to make positive changes. However, as McElwee stated: “In America, race determines not just where someone lives and what school he or she attends, it affects the very air we breathe. Although many whites wish to believe we live in a “post-racial” society, race appears not just in overt discrimination but in subtle structural factors.
So, the problems relative to the police and the African American communities are not simply police problems, but problems that involve the entire system of government that devalues and under represents many of its citizens of color. Problem solving, however, must began at the top.

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