Tags: African Americans, black, community relations, current-events, discrimination, ethnicity, European Americans, justice, law enforcement agencies, Mark A Yancey, Obama and American Bigotry, police force, President Obama, Race in America, rebuild, respect, restore, The Oklahoman, tolerance, trust, white
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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Dr. Paul Lehman