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

Paul R. Lehman, No lesson in tolerance, a missed opportunity

December 18, 2011 at 1:14 pm | Posted in American Bigotry, blacks, equality, Ethnicity in America, fairness, justice, Prejudice, Race in America, whites | 2 Comments
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In an article published in The Oklahoma Observer last month (11/25/11) entitled “Lesson In Tolerance, Only In America,” by George Earl Johnson Jr.  he related two experiences that he viewed as unique to an African American living in America. He also called the experiences lessons in tolerance. On closed examination, we discover that he might have misjudged these experiences.

Johnson writes about two experiences where stereotypical concepts of well-dressed African American men were used with him as the victim. One experience he apparently viewed as negative, the other as positive. The first experience occurred when he was standing the in the lobby of a classy hotel in Washington, D.C. and he is mistaken for a bellman by a European American man. The man approached him with “’Hey boy, get my bags.’ In doing so he stuck out toward me a fist full of hotel baggage claim tickets. Going along with the man, I smiled and said in reply, ‘Yes sir.’”This experience Johnson referred to as a lesson in tolerance because he did not take the opportunity to correct the perception of the man regarding him as a bellman.

The second experience encountered by Jackson involved several young European American Interns in an elevator who mistook Johnson and a colleague as congressmen.  This experience was viewed by Johnson as positive, but again, he made no effort to correct the misconception. To allow the Interns to think of him and his associate as congressmen was not a lesson in tolerance; in fact, it was a failed opportunity to correct a false image.

In the first incident where Johnson is approached in the hotel lobby by a European American man and given a claim ticket, Johnson missed an opportunity to correct a stereotypical image of African Americans men. The European American man apparently thought the only reason for a well-dressed African American man to be standing in the lobby of a Four-star hotel was to be employed as a bellman. Therefore, he does not hesitate to go to him and give him the claim ticket and refer to Johnson as a boy: “Hey boy, get my bags.” Johnson could have taken the opportunity to challenge that stereotype and refused to accept the claim ticket while informing the European American that he too was a customer and to look elsewhere for a bellman. Johnson’s by accepting the claim ticket, in effect, supported, encouraged, and promoted the negative stereotypical concept held by the European American that all well-dressed African American men standing in a hotel lobby are bell hops, not customers. This experience was not a lesson in tolerance.

In the second incident, Johnson allows some young European Americans Interns working in the capitol to think of him and his colleague as congressmen. Since Johnson took an elevator generally reserved for congressmen where he met these young interns, the general impression taken for him and his friend was that they are congressmen. Johnson does nothing to dispel this incorrect image. He instead, led these young people to think that if African American men are well-dressed and riding an elevator reserved for congressmen, then they must be congressmen and not ordinary people.

Again, Johnson missed an opportunity to challenge a stereotype by not telling the young European Americans the truth or at least that he was not a congressman. Instead, he contributed to the false concept of well-dressed African American men being congressmen held by the Interns.  This experience was not a lesson in tolerance. Johnson seems to think that if the African American was not seen in a negative light that all was well. Unfortunately, whether the concept was positive or negative, if it was incorrect and supports a stereotype, it should be challenged.

For Johnson to call his experiences lessons in tolerance is a mistake, because these experiences did not contain any sense of tolerance. What was tolerated? The stereotypical concepts of African Americans held by the European American were not challenged or changed and consequently, will occur over and over again, thanks to Johnson’s lack of constructive action. What Johnson seemingly calls tolerance can easily be seen as passive acceptance. Had Johnson in the first incident refused the claims from the man who took him to be a bell hop, he would have challenged that man’s stereotypical concept of well-dressed African American men standing in the lobby of a four-star hotel being bell hops. That action could be seen as a lesson in tolerance—allowing the European American to break through his pre-conceived concept to a new and informed one of the African American male.

What was troubling about Johnson’s experiences and his reactions to them was the fact that he never realized that he contributed to the stereotypes held by the various European Americans he encountered during these incidents. He believed that his lack of action should be interpreted as lessons in tolerance when they should be seen for what they were—failed opportunities to correct misconception about well-dressed African American men. A long as African Americans take the path of Johnson by ignoring the opportunity to address a false conception by European Americans, these false conceptions will continued unchecked. Letting the opportunities go unchallenged is not tolerance, it is a form of indifference.

While Johnson’s experiences might appear to be inconsequential on the surface, they in effect, represent a troubling situation in America. For Johnson’s experiences to be considered as lessons in tolerance the European Americans should have walked away from the experience with a different, more  accurate and acceptable view of African Americans outside of the stereotype. Tolerance suggests open-mindedness, something Johnson did not display. He actually supported the status quo by choosing non-action over corrective action. By Johnson not taking the opportunity to correct a misconceptions, nobody benefits from the experiences—not Johnson, not the European Americans. Whether in America or on Mars, not correcting a false impression or false concept of one’s self image is a missed opportunity—not a lesson in tolerance.

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