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, Walter Scott’s video underscores police creditability problem with people of color

April 10, 2015 at 12:02 am | Posted in African American, American history, American Racism, blacks, discrimination, Disrespect, equality, Ethnicity in America, European American, fairness, justice, justice system, law enforcement agencies, police force, Prejudice, social justice system, whites | 3 Comments
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Once again a video shows a European American policeman shooting an unarmed African American in the back and killing him. Unfortunately for the policeman, someone captured on video the action that compromised the officer’s account of what happened. What the video does in this case is call into question the officer’s account of fearing for his life. In the majority of cases involving the shooting of an unarmed African American by a European American officer, the words of witnesses and especially those of the people of color are usually discounted. Since slavery, the words of a European American trump those of the African American citizen if they contradict the law enforcer, even in the face of creditable evidence. With the Walter Scott video Americans have cause to pause and question the practice of taking for granted, the police’s word as truth.

Since the Scott video showed the actions of the policeman while contradicting his report, he was arrested and charged with Scott’s death. While this arrest might signal a problem in the system of criminal justice system for African Americans, the fact is that nothing lasting will change for the benefit of the African Americans and people of color until the system is changed. The system was what gave the police officer the ease to write a report that turned the victim into the villain without question. The system is what allowed the acceptance of the officer’s story without investigation, before the video appeared. The point is that because of the system that supports the actions of the officers, usually without question, the greater percentage of shootings by European American officers of unarmed African American men creates little or no concern relative to the officers’ actions.

The way the criminal justice system works now is when an officer stops a citizen, the citizen loses all rights. In many cases violence is introduced by the officers. However, when the citizen asks questions or hesitates to comply, in the officer’s opinion, with the officer’s order, he or she is charged with some offence. From this point on until the citizen is arrested, or worse, shot, all citizen rights have been forfeited. Whenever an officer says his or her life was being threatened, we are led to believe that the life of the citizen is worthless. In essence, citizens have little or no rights when engaged by an officer because their lives have less value than the officer’s.

All too often we hear that the negative actions of the law enforcement agencies are caused by a few bad apples. With all the instances of these bad apples shooting unarmed African Americans it almost appears that the good apples are the exception in law enforcement. If the system is going to change, then the good officers are going to have to take the lead in seeing that their actions comport with the value of all citizens. The excuse of a few bad apples in the force causing all the problems has run its course now to have any creditability. Structural changes are needed in order to begin to address the systemic changes needed.

One of the primary changes that need to be addressed is the practice of the law enforcement agency investigating itself. How can that not be viewed as a conflict of interest? We need to forgo the idea of a gilt-free and truthful band of law officers, never at fault for any negative actions. We have proof in the Scott video that some officers have a totally different perspective of how they do their job. If only the people who serve with them get to investigate their actions, well, the outcome is generally obvious. Until recently, it appeared that only the people affected by the action of the bad apples complained for justice to be served, and their cry usually fell on deaf ears. The system needs changing.

Although the practice of self investigation by law enforcement groups needs to be changed, the culture of that system must be first addressed. From the evidence reported via media and other sources, the law enforcement agents do not value all citizens fairly. Certainly, the unfair treatment of African American citizens and other citizens of color by law enforcers is constantly called into question. The fact that no apparent repercussions for the ill treatment of African American citizens by law enforcers is ever evidenced, seemingly, encourage the officers to continue the practice. When all the law enforcers see and treat all the citizens that they are employed to serve fairly, then positive changes will happen. Unfortunately, that is not the case presently.

Most citizens understand the need for policing and protecting the public, and that this job requires officers to experience life-threatening situations from time to time. However, how can a traffic stop for a minor law infraction, like a broken tail light or an unfastened seat belt lead to death? If officers are afraid for their lives when serving in areas inhabited by people of color, they need to request a change of service location or seek other employment. No one is forced to wear a uniform or carry a badge to protect and serve the citizens. If stereotypical negative concepts color or dominate an officer’s behavior towards people of color, then he or she needs to find employment in a community that suits their needs or try another profession.

The Walter Scott video shows without doubt that a problem exist in police community relations, especially involving people of color. One sure way of knowing that structural changes will not occur is when the administration officials fail to understand that their concept and perspectives help to create the environment that produced this outcome. Adding faces of color to an existing police force will not solve the problem because the problems exist in the way the community and the police view the citizens of color. Unfortunately, too many European Americans cannot see the problem as it relates to human value or recognize that they are part of the problem. So we wait for the next video to appear.

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