What is the Matter with the Police in America? Part Two
3. A police problem or a media problem? There has always been a love-hate relationship between the media and the police. The media wants to get a story out. The police are concerned about conducting an investigation. CNN, FOX, MSNBC, etc, are all concerned about one thing: ratings. They want to generate stories that keep people tuned in so their ratings stay up and they can continue to sell more advertising slots.
Police departments are concerned with gathering the facts, gathering evidence, investigating the incident, and then bringing the appropriate charges against the suspect. To do this correctly takes some time. The media, though, is only concerned about the next top of the hour so they can update their story.
This is why we see the same videos blasted for hour after hour, and day after day. I know from first-hand experience, many reporters have no problem with changing the facts a little to give their stories the slant they want it to have. I have had police reports that I have written completely altered by the time it gets to the newspaper or news show.
A recent study showed that only 6% of the public trusts the media. And yet, when the media show a video of an officer using force or shooting someone, most people tend to accept that video at face value. They don’t think about whether or not the video was altered or edited. Most people don’t think about what led up to what they see on the video. They just see the officer punching, tackling, or shooting someone, so obviously, the officer is using excessive force. The same public who does not trust the media in most situations, seem to lap up everything they say about police officers and incidents involving the police.
The problem is compounded even further in many cases, when a thorough investigation is conducted and the officer is exonerated. In the Ferguson, Missouri case, protests, riots, and calls for the officer’s arrest began before the investigation was even close to being completed. The police officer was eventually cleared of any wrongdoing by the local investigative team. This outcome was completely unacceptable to many so the Justice Department, under the direction of Attorney General Holder reopened the case. The Feds also cleared the police officer.
Of course, the issues are much more complex than just simply exonerating a white police officer for shooting a black man who was trying to take his gun. My point is simply this: Let’s not let the media tell us what we should believe or how we should act. Let’s not let a 30 second video clip be the catalyst that causes us to lose our minds and start burning our own neighborhoods down. If only 6% of the public trusts the media, why should we allow them to control what we think and believe?
4. Are there racist police officers? In my 30 career as a police officer, working in the deep South, I can think of maybe three or four white officers that I would classify as racist. There may have been more but it was never expressed verbally. I can also think of a few black officers that were probably racist. Again, there may have been others but they did a good job of keeping their opinions to themselves.
On the other hand, there were a number of people I worked with over the years where the joke, “They aren’t racist, they hate everybody,” was often true. It wasn’t that they did not like black people or white people or hispanic people, they really just had anger issues. As a police supervisor and then as a manager, I was able get rid of a couple of these. I had a few officers that just had really bad attitudes. We can’t fire people for having a bad attitude so I did what I could to keep them on a short leash.
Contrary to popular opinion, though, the police do not begin their shifts, hoping to find a minority to beat or shoot. I am not being flippant here. This really seems to be a misconception that many people have about police officers. They are often perceived as looking for an opportunity to beat or shoot someone that looks different from them.
Think about this for a moment. What officer in their right mind would want to go through what the police officer in Ferguson, Missouri went through? He was physically assaulted by the black man he shot. He was tried and convicted by public opinion and the press before the initial investigation was complete. He was cleared of wrongdoing in that investigation, but then found out that he was going to be investigated again by the United States Justice Department. He watched the city that he served burnt down by the rioters who all blamed him. The Justice Department also cleared him but the damage was done.
The officer resigned after being told that even though he had been exonerated, he was now a liability to his police department. No other police department will hire him because no one wants that kind of publicity. He still may be sued civilly. He has had to move to another community. His wife was pregnant at the time of the incident and they received a multitude of death threats, including a promise to kill their baby. No one would willingly subject themselves to this kind of stress and danger.
Contrary to what the media and certain groups tell us, the vast majority of police officers are conscientious, caring, and professional. The nature of their job is that they are often placed in very difficult circumstances in which they have to make instant, often life and death decisions. They are often confronted by people who are uncooperative, verbally abusive, and in many cases under the influence of alcohol or drugs. When dealing with these kinds of people, especially if they are being arrested for a crime, it is no surprise that the police end up having to use force. It has nothing to do with race.
5. Are the police shooting more black people? A study of police shootings for 2015 showed that 50% of the people the police shot were white and 26% were black. As I have said before, these are complicated and emotional issues. We have to look at the facts. Demographics plays a significant and important part in police/citizen contacts.
If officers work in a predominantly white or hispanic or black neighborhood, those are the people that they are going to be interacting with, arresting, and in some cases, being forced to shoot. I responded as a backup officer one time when a friend of mine (a white guy) was arresting a black man for possession of cocaine. The arrestee, Willie, was not resisting arrest but was really telling my friend what he thought. “You are one racist officer. You are only arresting me because I am black. I am going to call the NAACP and Jesse Jackson. This is wrong! You are racially profiling me!”
My friend was walking Willie to the police car. He stopped walking but still held onto Willie’s arm. The officer said, “Willie, look around. Do you see any white people in this neighborhood besides the police?”
After a moment, Willie shook his head and said, “No.”
My friend said, “Willie, when you get out of jail if you can find me a white guy in your neighborhood with cocaine, I promise, I will arrest him.”
Willie actually laughed and said, “Ok, officer. If I find one I will call you.”
It is always tragic when someone loses their life. Even if they are a criminal, they leave behind loved ones. I must admit, though, it amazes me when Black Lives Matter stages a protest over a police shooting of a black man by the police but they do nothing when 20 or 30 black people are killed in Chicago over a weekend. That kind of math just does not add up.
To be continued…
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