Legislating our Country’s Demise

Dr. Bradley R. Anders

A couple of weeks ago I received an email from the Missouri Police Officer’s Association that contained a list of House and Senate bills in the Missouri State Legislature. Much like last year, the overwhelming number of bills aimed at correcting perceived problems in law enforcement is nothing short of amazing. Without a doubt, we are at a point in this country where we are witnessing a perverse lack of accountability of law violators and vilification of those who choose to serve their communities. The result is, and always will be, increased distrust of police and a further separation between officers and the citizens they serve. Furthermore, the distrust, lack of accountability, all of it is directly related to how we choose to address criminal behavior and attempt to further restrain efforts of those tasked with responding to it.

Back in the 1980s, we saw the advent of community policing in which police departments took note of the importance of police and community relations. Departments across the country jumped on this bandwagon and began to implement a variety of programs geared towards bridging the gap between uniformed officers and the citizens they served. Great progress has been made, in my opinion, but on the heels of a few highly publicized officer involved shootings and/or in-custody deaths the media has intentionally and recklessly set many departments back decades. What is to blame for all of this police misbehavior? Well according to lawmakers it’s training, of course. In an attempt to stop officer involved shootings, reduce use of force in general, or even control routine interaction with the public, our lawmakers have deemed it necessary to require additional training of our officers, much of which focuses on cultural differences. Not only that, they are crafting bills to dramatically reduce when force can be used. Let’s talk about training for a minute.

I attended the police academy about 14 years ago. It was a basic academy that met the minimum standards set forth by Missouri POST at that time (470 hours). My classmates and I were taught everything we needed to know to move forward into field training as probationary officers. It is here that our training was shaped and solidified; we were introduced to that “how we do it” routine which really did not differ dramatically from academy training save for some handcuffing procedures and high-risk stop procedures. I progressed in that department receiving very few citizen complaints while working in a relatively high crime area. Much like hundreds of thousands of officers in this country, I never shot anyone, I never used unnecessary force when making an arrest, and I never treated anyone differently based on their race or ethnicity. I moved on to a larger department and have continued that trend. Very few complaints, very few use of force incidents, and still have not shot anyone as the situation has yet to present itself. However, we constantly train for these situations in hopes we are physically and mentally prepared to respond appropriately within the parameters of the law. In addition, like all police officers, I attend in-service training and the required annual continuing education courses through Missouri POST including that which addresses racial bias. There is no shortage of training when it comes to law enforcement.

Not too long ago it struck me that through all of this required training I did not receive any training on how to talk to the general public during my time in the academy or in field training, only cultural sensitivity geared towards racial or ethnic minority contacts. I volunteered for training on handling and talking to those with mental health issues, but not one minute was spent on prepping me for public interaction. Yes, there was a spot on my daily observation report during field training, right there to a separate spot for dealing with racial minorities, that addressed interaction with the public, but it was not one of the main focuses of that model. What I did get, however, was training in which I was instructed to take note of someone’s race or ethnicity when dealing with them (by the way there is legislation in the works to take note of someone’s sexuality now). In addition, I have received training to treat people of color differently than I do Whites. Was it my racist brethren in blue that taught me this? No, it was state-mandated, annual training in which we are taught to walk on eggshells around the minority community taking care, for example, so as not to use a growing list of pejoratives that have reached a subjective level of offensive or degrading (“oriental” is now a pejorative…can’t say the word “ghetto”). We are taught to keep our minority contacts lower than the representative population of our communities lest we be labeled as one who profiles based on race. Make no mistake, this, in addition to the blatant hatred directed at police from the citizenry, has created an atmosphere in which police officers intentionally under-police minority populated areas. All of this stems from existing law here in the State of Missouri. Now our lawmakers want to create more laws that further drive a wedge between police and the communities they serve.

In the current Missouri legislative session, there are 198 bills that specifically pertain to law enforcement. Bills ranging from civilian review boards for officer involved shootings to ensuring “cultural competency”. There is even one bill that requires the immediate suspension and dismissal without pay of any officer who shoots an “unarmed person who is at a distance of twenty feet or greater from the officer”. Another interesting one proposes that those who are filing for a state job (Missouri State Highway Patrol included), public assistance, or public housing must not be required to disclose any non-violent felony convictions when applying for such job or assistance. All of this time and money spent on restraining law enforcement with little to no discussion on the social problems eating away at this country. It is almost as if lawmakers in this state intend to further alienate the minority population. Where is the focus on contraception? What about mental illness? Should we be making it easier for drug users and dealers to obtain public assistance? Where is the incentive to use such a program as a temporary option as opposed to a lifestyle? Why are we not addressing the growing culture of violence?

I did not make it this far in law enforcement because I was trained to talk to the public or attended cultural sensitivity classes. I made it this far because I have common sense in dealing with the public. My parents taught me respect as a child and that applies in this line of work. I have been able to foster good relationships in my patrol districts with all races and ethnicities in spite of the training that tells me to treat them differently. The answer to how we bridge gaps in our communities does not lie in creating more laws restricting police action or requiring divisive training. The answer lies in the individual officer alone, and no amount of training or laws will change the extremely few, isolated incidents where police act contrary to existing laws or procedures. The answer lies in programs within the minority community that not only address self-oppressive behaviors and a notable trend in furthering every stereotype the community pretends does not exist. Foster hope and respect for the law and those who enforce it as opposed to furthering hate and discontent. As long as the minority population continues to teach their children that the police are the enemy nothing is going to change no matter what laws are passed. This is a two-way street but the perceived problems are being addressed only on one side.

The continued assault of law enforcement in social media as well as in our legislative bodies will only serve to make our communities more problematic. They will become more problematic not because of a depolicing effect or even because lawmakers have tied the hands of police, it will be because we are effectively enabling criminal behavior and rewarding it at the highest levels. Not to mention, if some of these bills are passed it will further jeopardize the men and women who vigilantly serve their communities. Law violators are not playing by the rules. Let’s not make it easier for them to further victimize the community by restricting police action and fostering unequal treatment and protection. We do not need more laws to tell us how to treat citizens, and we do not need any laws that are designed to ignore equal protection. My advice to lawmakers from the lowest to highest levels would be to focus on issues that directly impact the growing criminal culture and lack of family values we witness in so many low-income areas in our country. Stop placing the blame at the feet of law enforcement and look in the mirror; you are the ones enabling this madness.

Silenced Majority

Dr. Bradley Anders

I love being a police officer. This is one of the few jobs one can hold in which you have so much control over some things, yet so little over others. Before anyone starts criticizing my use of the word “control,” let me clarify: Police officers have the ability to control how busy they are with their own personal drive. We can keep busy with traffic stops, directed patrols, and any number of pro-active activities. On the other hand, there are so many things that are out of our control such as call loads, the weather as it relates to the driving public, citizen reactions to our mere presence, and far too often whether or not we get the opportunity to go home at the end of our shifts. Over the past few months we have been hearing the boisterous minority talk about how difficult of a job police officers have, but then out of the other side of their mouths they spit misinformation and foster hatred for this great profession.

Boisterous minority… what is this you might ask? Well, it is the glorified, sensationalized, and seemingly unstoppable force that has waged a war of words against every man and woman who dons a uniform and badge. It is comprised of those political figures and community leaders/citizens that pretend to care about police lives while inciting distrust and even violence through their rhetoric. It also includes those people who outright hate the police. These are the people who get air time and unfortunately, some are in a position to make changes in a career field of which they know nothing about. However, I do not want to rant about those who are speaking out with such force about policing; that is not the point of this specific blog. What this is about is the silenced majority that is in each and every community we serve.

I have the privilege of working in a community that, as a whole, genuinely cares about the police. Almost weekly someone comes up to me and thanks me for the job that I do. I have had citizens buy my dinner, bring me bottles of water while directing traffic, and offer their homes to me for something as simple as just to get in out of the cold. More recently, I have had citizens apologize for things that are out of their hands…things of which they have no control or even any association. They apologize for news broadcasts that demonize police officers and genuinely thank me for my willingness to serve them. These are things that remind me of why I got into this line of work, and these are the people I am proud to serve. It is also a candid reminder of how our media operates and the message that is put out there for the world to interpret. These caring people are not the ones we are seeing on the news. These are not the people who take up a microphone and begin spewing filth and completely uneducated, untrue statements about the majority of police officers. These are the people who are effectively silenced by mainstream media because their message does not grab headlines. As a result, the true message, the reality of it all, gets lost in all of the negativity and is outweighed by anti-police rants and stereotypes.

My partner and I were talking in the car the other day about voices and being heard. He, like many other police officers including myself, is concerned by an apparent lack of support. “Where is my voice?” he asked. He pointed out how we as police officers are not allowed to voice our opinions in a public forum about our careers. Our policies and procedures typically keep us from jumping in front of a camera and talking about how we feel; we don’t get the luxury or publicly labeling something as BS even if we can see and smell it. We have seen a few supportive examples of late, but those are few and far between and are typically high-ranking police administrators willing to stand up and point out the inaccuracies within most news accounts attacking policing as a whole. The rest of us who have chosen to speak out have been disciplined over policy violations and have been labeled as “controversial” or “out-of-control.” It is hard to sit back and shut up; most of us are not wired that way. When challenged, we react…sitting back is not typically in our nature. Unfortunately, this is our only course of action until the silenced majority is allowed to speak, and judging from history…that is probably not going to happen. But it doesn’t matter. We can choose to ignore the minority and listen to the majority who has respect for you and/or your position. I honestly believe that most people out there understand that it is a bad idea to resist arrest. Remember, common sense does not shine amidst chaos, and chaos is what sells.

I often think about how people receive and interpret messages. With social media and corporate news outlets pumping out questionable information to listeners, viewers, internet surfers, or readers, I can’t help but question the validity of each and every word that is fed to the American public. Unfortunately, many people out there are not mentally capable of critical analysis, or they just refuse to do it, and interpret the most basic of information fed to them in such a way that results in knee-jerk reactions and baseless supposition. If we as police officers know this to be true, then why is it that we allow the boisterous minority to act as our professional thermostat? Why do we cool off and slow down when they heat up? Why are we not paying more attention to that one or two who took time to personally thank you for the job you do? These hate-filled diatribes so widely broadcast in a variety of formats are not directed at you and I personally, they are directed at a career field as a whole. They are directed at a system of which we are merely a working part. That person standing in front of you thanking you represents the community you serve and should serve as a reminder that we are fighting the good fight. That person took the time to voice their support for you individually. They are the silenced majority and are separate from that which is thrust into our world with such ire. Remember, this is the person who is going to suffer when we choose to let the loud mouths dictate our course of action. What a shame it would be if this person standing in front of us were harmed because we chose to let that boisterous minority dictate our actions. Understand this, there is a significant faction of people out there who are doing their best to keep that silenced majority silenced, and it is up to us to counter that. Don’t let the negativity guide you. You don’t have to be loud to be heard.

Are You Ready For The Fallout?

 Are You Ready For The Fallout?

Dr. Bradley R. Anders

For the past several months we have witnessed what appears the beginning of an all-out offensive on law enforcement training, tactics, and personnel. One cannot browse an online media news outlet without seeing a significant number of headlines exposing police brutality or some sort of racial disparity at the hands of police. To top off all of the stories written by journalists with very little knowledge of police tactics, we have President Obama and outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder reinforcing some of the most negative police stereotypes in existence, thereby furthering the divide between law enforcement and the communities they serve. The result? Continued civil unrest in America, an increased hatred and distrust for law enforcement in the minority community, and a dangerous message that may prompt police to hesitate in those most crucial moments when their training is needed the most.

Earlier this month I read a short passage written by a police officer in Wisconsin in which he expressed his frustration with how police are viewed. Much like Lt. Furseth (2014), the author of this writing, I am frustrated by the lack of understanding and the tendency for many in America to rush to judgment in policing issues (I said many…not all). It has a lasting impact on the morale of a police officer when the public and our government leaders turn their backs on officers who are thrust into the limelight simply for doing their jobs. At any moment this could happen to any one of us who have chosen this profession, but as we have witnessed in both the Ferguson incident as well as the New York incident, the officers involved were not indicted by Grand Juries. This has prompted responses from our nation’s government officials, community leaders, and even personal friends on social media sites; the majority of which have been negative. We have heard phrases like “secret Grand Juries” and “Black lives matter” while suspicion and doubt has been cast upon law enforcement across the country. Of course Black lives matter, so do White lives, or Brown lives, or any other hue that can be correlated with skin tone, but what the hell is a secret grand jury? This turned up in both the Ferguson rebuttal from the illustrious Al Sharpton and most recently from Eric Garner’s daughter in an interview with Katie Couric.

Reference the Eric Garner issue… when I started my doctoral studies my mentor gave me some advice in which she encouraged me to avoid writing about issues that are too close to home…issues that evoke strong emotion. I was reminded of this a couple of weeks ago during a lecture I was giving to one of my classes. As we touched on the topic of Eric Garner and the chokehold, I found myself becoming increasingly irritated; irritated to the point that I had to stop myself twice from dropping the dreaded “F-bomb” in front of my students. It was at this point I realized that this topic needed to be put on the back burner for a bit before I spoke or wrote about it. Why such emotion? Well… I guess I am an emotional person, or so I have been told. I have no direct ties to the officer involved, the NYPD, or Mr. Garner. I was not there and neither was 99.9% of those who are screaming about it, so none of us can actually cast judgment beyond a shadow of a doubt. But, much like Lt. Furseth (2014), I am frustrated because, “…a once noble profession has become despised, hated, distrusted, and mostly unwanted” (para.1).

The issue many are having with the Eric Garner case was the application of, what I have heard some refer to as, an “illegal” chokehold. It is important to note that just because something is not condoned by a police department does not make it illegal. Many departments have identified any kind of neck restraint as falling outside the parameters of their department policy not necessarily because of the danger it poses to the suspect but because of public perception; it looks bad when the police are choking people…I get that. I too cringe when I listen to this man exclaim that he cannot breathe. My department, on the other hand, trains and certifies all officers in what is called a Lateral Vascular Neck Restraint (LVNR). For those who are not familiar, and most of my blog followers are (all 10 of you), the result of the LVNR is an unconscious person, albeit for a very brief moment…very effective I might add. I bring this up because I wanted to note something about the training involved in this technique, and all other techniques taught across this country in every single police academy and in every single police department. At no time was I trained to apply this technique or any other technique specifically on any particular race. Also, at no time was I taught to not apply this technique or any other technique on someone because of their race. So why, if we are not trained to apply such techniques disparately, do we need to retrain officers on use of force? Why are we not addressing the failure to obey the command of a police officer? Why don’t we remind the public that it is unlawful to disobey the lawful command of a police officer even if you personally disagree with the command? Unfortunately, the more doubt that is cast upon this profession and the less credible we become in our communities, we are going to see more and more of these issues arise where people will demand answers before complying with a simple command such as “put your hands behind your back, you are under arrest.”

As a teenager, I remember my father pushing me to take responsibility for my own actions; teaching me to the best of his ability that there are repercussions for certain actions. Sometimes, those repercussions have unintended consequences, but that does not excuse the action itself. In both the Ferguson and New York incidents, the public has failed to recognize the behaviors that prompted police action. Eric Garner did not die because he was illegally selling cigarettes on the street corner as so many like to tout; he died because of an unintended consequence from police officers attempting to arrest an uncooperative subject. Should anyone die for selling cigarettes? Absolutely not…nor should they die for resisting arrest unless they are using deadly force against the officer. Nonetheless, some people have medical conditions that put them in a category that is dangerous not only for themselves but for the police officers dealing with them. Look at the Taser deaths that have occurred in this country and the medical issues often involved. The police do not have access to the medical records of those they encounter on a daily basis, and they do not have any way of knowing the conditions of those whom they encounter. If they did, I could have saved myself a whole lot of worry and doctor’s visits. My point is the police do not get to pick and choose what laws they enforce. If the City of New York has an ordinance stating people shall not sell cigarettes individually or unlicensed, then that is an ordinance that should be enforced regardless of who is violating it. Who are the police officers to say otherwise? They have discretion, yes, but to enforce some laws while ignoring others will eventually be viewed as unequal application of the law, unequal treatment, or just plain biased policing. Why? Because someone somewhere will insert race into the equation thereby negating any responsibility on part of the person being arrested; it will decriminalize a criminal act and displace blame erroneously upon the police officer. This is what our government is boisterously supporting in today’s society by drawing attention away from the illegal acts themselves and diverting it towards the new legislation they have created that in reality does nothing to address the handful of truly racist police officers out there.

Currently, just over half of our country has passed legislation in which racial profiling policies are a statutory requirement for all police departments, some of these states even criminalizing the practice. What I have found through my own research, however, is many departments have adopted these policies on their own without being required to do so. Cedar Rapids, Iowa, for example, has adopted a policy banning the use of race as a factor in the decision to stop or investigate criminal activity when the state has yet to pass a law requiring this of its police departments. More recently, President Obama’s administration has announced new guidelines for federal officers in using race as an indicator of criminal activity, but is this really going to impact how we police? Absolutely not, because the majority of us doing this job are not racially profiling. This is just another example of knee-jerk, feel-good legislation intended to make a politician look as if he or she is pro-active in combatting racial profiling.

So, with all of the attention on racial profiling and police brutality claims for incidents deemed as justified, what is the response from police officers? Like Lt. Furseth (2014) stated, most of us will continue to put on our uniforms each day and muster the will to go out and do our jobs as if nothing is any different. On the other hand, some of us will go to work with a chip on our shoulders and exacerbate the us vs. them mentality, or some of us will choose an alternative response called depolicing.

Depolicing is a response in which police officers move into a reactive only mode and do nothing that would be considered pro-active. Cooper (2003) noted the depolicing effect and stated that in response to public criticisms or accusations of disparate treatment involving minorities, police officers may choose to pay less attention to neighborhoods populated by minorities to show solidarity in discretion. In other words, if you continue to criticize the way the police are policing, then you will get no policing at all (Cooper, 2003). Wait and see what happens in low-income, minority populated areas across the country if and when the police purposely choose to stay away and take no enforcement actions; you will see what Rudy Giuliani was trying to say.

When I wrote my dissertation, I specifically addressed the concept of depolicing. I conducted a small study of three police departments in the Midwest in an effort to analyze the impact of statutorily mandated racial profiling laws on pro-active policing; I wanted to see if police officers in states where such policies are mandated with minority contact ratios tracked were acting any differently than those who were policing in states with no mandated profiling laws. What I found through logistic regression data analysis was that police officers in states with mandated racial profiling policies were 4.70 times more likely to not conduct a traffic stop for a traffic violation if the race was observed to be a minority prior to the decision to stop or not stop (Anders, 2013). What does this mean? It means that officers are intentionally avoiding a stop that involves a minority citing the fear of being disciplined for disproportionate minority contact ratios (Anders, 2013). One responding officer even noted that he or she is routinely told by his or her supervisor to stop White people over minorities (Anders, 2013). Is this the correct response? Is this what we are aiming for? I sincerely hope not. We do not address racial profiling by racially profiling. Oh, and by the way, it is not called reverse racial profiling as I have often heard simply because you are profiling White people; it is racial profiling either way you look at it.

I do not know what the fallout from these incidents will be. As I told a police sergeant with the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department on the night of the Grand Jury announcement in Ferguson, Mo, I am not worried about what the rioting and looting; I am worried about the social response from lawmakers and policy makers that are in a position, and seem most willing, to put officers lives at greater risk in the name of appeasement and public perception; there are those out there who want to disarm the police! What we have to remember is that we have an obligation not only to the communities we serve but to our families to stay safe. I would encourage my brothers and sisters in blue to not do anything different in the name of appeasement. If some tactic that we employ is legitimately found to be harmful towards a particular group of people then we should no longer employ that tactic, and I would expect broad, sweeping change to remove said tactic from a police officer’s repertoire. Until then, we must continue to hold people accountable for their actions using the tools we have been given without muddying the waters with race. Do not hesitate to act based on the color of a person’s skin, and do not act based on the same. Preferential treatment is unequal treatment, and unequal treatment is unconstitutional.

References

Anders, B. (2013). Racial profiling and its relation to pro-active policing. Retrieved from http://gradworks.umi.com/36/06/3606796.html.

Cooper, F.R. (2003). Understanding depolicing: Symbiosis theory and critical cultural theory. Villanova University Legal Working Paper Series. Villanova University School of Law Working Paper Series. Working Paper 17.doi: 10.219/SSRN.380022.

Furseth, D. (2014). Today I stopped caring… Retrieved from https://apbweb.com/hard-keep-caring/.

 

Burn it Down

Dr. Bradley R. Anders

 

Note: This blog is written in support of every police officer who is currently serving, or who has served their community, enduring what seems to be a growing distrust and resentment of a very honorable, selfless career.

I was 18 years old when rioting broke out in Los Angeles, California after a jury acquitted Los Angeles police officers for the incident involving Rodney King. Even at that age, with a somewhat defiant attitude in general, it struck me as odd that citizens were burning down their own neighborhoods in protest. The media swarmed the area and broadcast the events across the nation, but with a lack of organized social media outlets, and the internet in general, the events did not receive near the scrutiny that they would have if happened today. Nonetheless, many of the images broadcast over our television sets are etched into our minds as protestors caused millions of dollars in damage, leaving over 50 dead, thousands injured, and over 500 fires intentionally set. The interesting thing is this sort of senseless violence is not new; it has been a form of expression for years, and it is called civil unrest. While there are numerous instances where race was not at the heart of rioting it seems to creep into a significant number of riots, and there is always a common denominator: The police. As time passed, replacing the defiant attitude with a quest for answers, I sought to find out why these acts of civil unrest often resulted in significant damage to businesses, homes, and property in lower-income neighborhoods. I tried to rationalize the irrational, which is something I try to discourage people from doing while on duty, but I was able link some of the basic behaviors we all display at some point in our lives to these violent acts. The best way to characterize the…justification, for lack of a better word, takes us back to the time of Jim Crow laws and Supreme Court decisions like Plessy v. Ferguson (1896).

With the passage of the 14th Amendment of the US Constitution, the Supreme Court began to offer interpretation on what constitutes equal protection and equal treatment. Most notably, for this discussion anyway, is that of the separate but equal doctrine. In 1892, a Black man (at least by Louisiana definition) by the name of Homer Plessy sat in a railcar seat reserved for Whites in violation of Louisiana state law. He was arrested and the case moved its way up the chain to the Supreme Court. The ruling, with only one dissenting vote mind you, was that segregation was constitutional but that segregation had to be equal in accommodation. Well, none of us had to be alive to know that there was nothing that resembled equality in accommodations. We have to remember that up until the 14th Amendment, Black people were only considered 3/5 that of a White person. Accommodations were deplorable and the segregation laws were enforced by the police. Rationalization, or at least explanation, of these seemingly senseless acts of violence and civil unrest are rooted in decisions such as this. If I was viewed as less than whole or somehow inferior, it would irritate me as well. The answer? Burn it down…destroy those things that represent oppression or inequality.

As a kid, I cannot count the times I destroyed material things that I perceived as negative or inferior. My mother was a fan of the Pro-Wings shoes (those of you who were around in the 80s know exactly what I’m talking about). I hated the Pro-Wings. I remember I had a pair of high-top Pro-Wings while my friends were wearing Air Jordans. I did everything I could to destroy those shoes as quickly as I could thinking that the next pair my mother bought would be something name brand (because that’s what matters, right?). It didn’t happen.

Moving forward a few years, my parents bought me my first car. Selfish, spoiled, and obviously feeling entitled, I was not happy with the car. Looking back, it was a great car, but at the time I felt slighted. A 1976 Ford Mustang fastback, pukish yellow, with the V6. As a testosterone filled teenage boy who could not even get the tires to chirp when full of pointless, aimless rage, I did my best to destroy it thinking that the next car could not be anywhere near as bad as this one. Well, to understand frustration I apply that same logic to the historic acts of civil unrest during Jim Crow. If you expect me to use a facility that is completely subpar, why not just burn it down? I know it will be rebuilt at some point and it can’t be worse than what it is now, so fire it up! I am fully aware of the apples and oranges comparison here, and I am certainly not trying to draw a comparison between such material wishes and proven oppression. I am, however, using my shoes and car as an illustration to make a point. A notable difference here is that my parents didn’t have to buy me another car or pair of shoes (well…I guess they technically had to provide me with shoes), but the government had to provide facilities and according to the Supreme Court those facilities could be separate. If these facilities were burned to the ground, new ones were on the horizon at some point. In other words, an act of civil unrest may have done nothing to accomplish a larger goal of cultural change but something beneficial may have come out of it. There was an eventual reward for the acts.

Prior to, and during the Civil Rights Era, protesting quite often turned into violent displays of civil unrest with the police right there in the mix. With an increasing media presence, the police were being portrayed as the opposition to desegregation. Activists like Gunnar Myrdal were making inflammatory statements that have echoed through time and fueled the distrust and hatred that many Black people still harbor towards police today. Addressing how the police respond to these acts of civil unrest, as quoted in Kennedy (1997), Myrdal stated that police stand “not only for civic order as defined in formal laws and regulations, but also for White Supremacy…” As this statement was made the number of Black police officers were relatively few, but that has changed since then. This belief, on the other hand, has not changed and those Black officers are now called “Uncle Toms” or characterized as pawns in the systematic oppression of Black citizens. As Sklansky (2006) noted, race in the police force does not matter: Blue is blue. This is why a Black police officer can still be held accountable for racially profiling Black motorists or pedestrians.

Fast forward to August 9, 2014: A police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, while in the line of duty, shot and killed a man. While this is unfortunate, it happens on a daily basis numerous times across the country. What is not nearly as common is the unfortunate reaction from not only citizens but government agencies and public figures. Even law enforcement officials have reacted in a way that is less than desirable, but I am jumping ahead of myself. Let’s look at the tag line in the first sentence of this paragraph: A police officer shot and killed a man…this is what matters. However, for the past three months here is what we have seen from mainstream media: “White police officer shoots unarmed Black teen.” At some point in our near future, there should be some legislation directed at holding media outlets accountable for inciting violence. Much like they did in the Rodney King incident, the media has glamorized the incident, LIED BY OMMISSION, and turned it into what can only be called a circus. As so many advocates of the constitution support our 1st Amendment rights and the freedom of the press, they systematically fail to remember that the very same constitution is at the heart of the guilty until proven innocent ideology. Media outlets have made millions by perverting the truth and accuracy of high-profile incidents like the one in Ferguson, Missouri. Nonetheless, the police do have a direct role in the initial incident and they have responded in an attempt to quell the violent acts of civil unrest, but this time they have been unabashedly criticized by not only the violent protestors themselves but our national and state government. In other words, our government has taken on the role of activist and turned its proverbial back on law enforcement; this is really nothing new by the way.

Acting like their destructive predecessors, the citizens of Ferguson and the St. Louis metropolitan area have engaged in a display of civil unrest. As I watch from the other side of the state, I find myself pondering the same question that was prompted some 22 years ago: Why are they destroying their own neighborhood and community? It could be argued that these citizens are still facing the same oppression that might have justified such action in the early to mid 1900’s, but if that is the case the citizens are putting too much stock into the power police officers truly have. Police are not responsible for the continued residential segregation observed in many parts of this country. Police do not have the authority or clout to systematically cause the refusal of high-paying jobs or entry into a particular university. Police do not have the power to build neighborhoods or provide extra-curricular activities and after-school programs to help low-income children, but I can attest to the fact that they try. Most importantly, police do not have an oppressive role in society, but again, I can attest to the fact that this is the perception. Here is the problem summed up in one sentence: Forcing a lawless citizen to abide by the law is going to be perceived as oppressive. That is what we do; we force compliance through a variety of sanctions. It doesn’t have to have anything to do with race as the police can profile people based on the color of car they drive, the make of the car, or even the fact that they can’t afford to replace that license plate light…it is all profiling of some sort, but the race card is what trumps all. The mere fact that the police have stopped the person for whatever reason to force that compliance can always be turned into oppression, but at the heart of almost all of these allegations is a law violation of some sort or legitimate investigative action.

During the month of October, 2014, a Missouri State Senator was arrested in Ferguson, Missouri. According to Kevin Held (2014) of USA Today,

Missouri state Sen. Jamilah Nasheed was arrested Monday night on the streets of Ferguson. Video…showed Nasheed, a Democrat who represents parts of St. Louis, being handcuffed in the middle of the street outside the Ferguson Police Department. Nasheed yelled, “No justice,” and her fellow protestors shouted back, “No peace…” (para. 2).

The article further reads that Sen. Nasheed was blocking traffic and refused to move when warned by police. Other media outlets are reporting that Nasheed was armed with a handgun while possibly intoxicated during her attempt to promote peaceful protests. Even if the last two allegations wind up as false, I cannot think of a more pathetic show of politics or a more disgusting display from a public official than this. But, here is where we go back to why this behavior will continue beyond Ferguson. We reward this behavior as a society. She will be revered much like convicted felons reintegrating back into society from prison. Yes, for those of you not in law enforcement, in many parts of urban and rural America a completed prison sentence is worn as a badge of honor.

Prior to the buffoonery exhibited by Sen. Nasheed, Gov. Jay Nixon decided to intervene in the affairs of local police after he perceived potential improprieties. In addition, the FBI decided to launch an investigation into possible civil rights violations. Why? Because it is the socially acceptable response and our government has chosen to cower to the demands of violent protestors that clearly fit the definition of terrorists. It has nothing to do with what is right or wrong but everything to do with how these government figures and organizations are perceived by a violent few who somehow have been deemed as representative of the Black community. To add insult to injury, the DOJ has encouraged police officers to stop wearing bracelets of support for the police officer involved in the shooting. As I stated previously, I can rationalize, or find explanation in, the burning of businesses, homes, and property in a statement of defiance but that rationalization has lost much of its footing as we move away from the 1900s. Separate but equal is no more, but it seems as if pockets of America are still looking for the government to rebuild that which they destroy in protest.

As I stated earlier, police are the common denominator in most of these protests, but that is not because of their interests in any particular cause; it is absolutely because they are the ones tasked with addressing the violence that is likely to ensue. Now that our federal government, state government, and even individual politicians have chosen to side with the criminal elements, the police are left stranded on an island alone. You hear very little about the support these officers are needing or receiving, and you hear even less about what is truly happening in Ferguson, Missouri. As citizens and politicians look to latch on to their 15 minutes of fame, police officers are being shot at, assaulted, and treated like common trash. Their “militarized” vehicles and weaponry are failing them much like the communities they serve, much like the trash we put on and in the hands of our soldiers fighting for us overseas. What is amazing and admirable to me is the fact that these men and women volunteered to take on this problem on both fronts. They come to work every day knowing what they are going to face is what most of us will never, nor should, experience.

Within the next few weeks, we are going to see a decision made by the Grand Jury hearing the case involving Officer Wilson. If there is anything that resembles impartiality and justice there will be no bill, but we are going to have to get ready for the fallout. What we have seen in Ferguson is more than likely just the beginning, and we have to remember that our government officials have, whether intentionally or inadvertently, condoned the behavior exhibited since this shooting. The modern day Gunnar Myrdals like the Rev. Al Sharpton will continue to fuel the literal flames behind the scenes while calling for peace in front of the cameras. I can only imagine what awaits this country when this officer is cleared of any wrongdoing, but I will suit up and stand with the rest of my brothers and sisters in blue to address it and defend his actions. One thing is for sure, what happens next rests clearly on the shoulders of those government officials who chose to waiver in the face of intimidation.

So, looking at this situation as I would look when dealing with children who did not get their way, I can understand the urge to burn it down. Yes, we, meaning the respective members of our communities and elected officials, can continue to reach back into history and dredge up the most embarrassing times we have experienced in this country and use those actions as an excuse to pillage the community today. In addition, we can continue to force the kid glove response to outright assaults on police officers for fear of how we may be perceived in the community and witness an unfathomable loss of life in our police force. We can continue all of this, or we can stand up and support what is right even when it is not perceived as popular. Bad people often get shot by the police, but in today’s world that is no reason to burn down the local Quik Trip or loot the corner liquor store. If they choose this course of action, regardless of race, then we should rethink any response that may reinforce the destructive behavior. In other words, as harsh as it sounds, let them live in the ashes of their own civil unrest.

References

Held, K. (2014). Missouri state senator arrested in Ferguson. USA Today. Retrieved on 10/24/2014 from http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/10/20/missouri-state-senator-arrested-in-ferguson/17646651/.

Kennedy, R. (1997). Race, crime, and the law. New York, NY: Vintage Books.

Sklansky, D.A. (2006). Not your father’s police department: Making sense of the new demographics of law enforcement. Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, 96(3), 1209-1228.

The World is Backwards

Dr. Bradley R. Anders

It is a strange world in which we live and work. Unlike many people in society, we as police officers often see exactly how strange it is. I recently attended a physical surveillance school at Camp Dodge, Iowa where the instructor made the comment, “The world is backwards.” He was describing how society reacts to police and how some criminal elements lash out at not only our sworn officers but their families as well. As I have been watching the blowback from a few racially charged police shootings, I could not help but agree… the world is backwards. However, when it comes to police and race relations, the world is what those who came before us in policing have created, and unfortunately it is perpetuated by some today on a variety of different levels.

Recently, United States Attorney General Eric Holder announced his resignation. During one of his speeches preceding this resignation, Mr. Holder provided some anecdotal comments about his experience with racial profiling in which he recanted being pulled over and searched by police. The stories he told, mind you just after he inserted the unrelated Trayvon Martin shooting into a discussion about policing, reveal one of the main problems with not only police and racial minority relations, but police and community relations. People’s perceptions are their own realities, and we as police officers are expected to gaze into our crystal balls to identify those with whom we contact or stop. I have no doubt that the police officer to which Mr. Holder is referring on that fateful night, as he ran to the video store in Georgetown, did not know he was stopping a federal prosecutor. Nonetheless, it sounds as if Mr. Holder expected the officer to know and allow him to proceed. Much to our chagrin, this stop has been recanted as an act of racial profiling even though the Supreme Court has consistently held that a police officer has the authority to stop and investigate suspicious persons, detaining them until such time as that reasonable suspicion has subsided. It could have been any number of reasons that Mr. Holder was stopped. What do people do after they commit crimes? They run. It could have been the time of day or the neighborhood in which he was running that added to the officer’s suspicion. The question that many of us have is this: Why is it always race? The answer lies in our history of American policing, and it is perpetuated in those dreaded stereotypes of which we as police officers must strive to overcome.

Many racial minorities with whom we contact today have undoubtedly had talks with their parents similar to the one Mr. Holder referenced in his speech. They may have been told how to act when pulled over by the police, or they may have been told stories of police brutality. While these parents may think they are protecting their children by warning them, they are actually fostering the distrust that so many officers work hard to overcome. Anecdotally, just last month I was on a traffic stop in which I encountered a young Black child, no more than 10 years old. His mother had outstanding warrants and a small bag of marijuana in her possession. Not wanting to discredit the mother or scare the child, we waited for a family friend to arrive on scene before we handcuffed the mother. However, while my partner was speaking with the mother I stood by the passenger side of the car with the child. The child was obviously very nervous, and rightfully so. Despite his age he knew what was going on, but as I talked to him it became evident that not only was he afraid for his mother, he was afraid for his own life. During my one-sided conversation with the boy about sports and school, he made a statement to me that characterizes the world in which we police. After he expressed to me the fact that he was scared, the boy said, “Why do police shoot Black people?” Now, this question came just a couple of weeks after the incident in Ferguson, Missouri so I was not surprised by the question. I was, however, somewhat irritated with the mother for allowing this to fester. I spoke with the child at length about this job and the difficulties often associated with it. I also tried to let him know that we are people too. I told him about my son and his love for baseball trying to reveal some form of humanity faced with a child who thinks I am a monster. The encounter ended as best as it could considering the situation, but it left me ill at ease about the state of affairs surrounding police perception. It also reminded me that we as police officers are almost always lumped into the same category; we are often stereotyped by those who despise the practice the most. Just weeks before as I was driving through the parking lot of one of our Section 8 housing complexes, a small child of no more than 3 years old, accompanied by his father, raised his middle finger and exclaimed, “Fuck you cop!” as I drove by. Three years old! The point is this: while many of us teach our children about equality and tolerance, others are teaching suspicion and distrust, and even hatred and intolerance directed at police. But why?

Erving Goffman (1959) noted the propensity to lump people with like characteristics into known categories, thereby applying stereotypes. These categories are based on previous experience and knowledge about a group of people (Goffman, 1959). Now, Goffman speaks in-depth of roles, audiences, and perception, but here is why this seminal work is important: As police officers we have a certain role to play in our community. No matter how we go about it, our role is to enforce laws that are intended to limit and control human behavior. By definition this role is an adversarial one, but it becomes offensive when the audience perceives that role as oppressive. We have to remember that we are not that far away from a time where Jim Crow laws were enforced by police officers. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, or other close family members are passing down true stories of violent oppression. In this instance we are most definitely paying for the sins of our forefathers. It is because of these past practices we are lumped into an opposing group.

Gordon Allport (1958) observed that we accept those who are like us; we form groups of like-minded individuals and avoid those who are different. Group cohesiveness depends on there being an out-group (Allport, 1958). In other words, there has to be a group to oppose as it strengthens the bond of the in-group (Allport, 1958). Whether we choose to believe this or not, we must understand that we are part of a group that has a sordid history, and for many minorities the out-group is the police. I am most definitely not saying that racial or ethnic minorities oppose law and order, but many oppose the group tasked with enforcing law and maintaining order. Every one of us on the job has been in a situation where tensions were high, and every one of us has either calmed the situation or made it worse with our words and actions. Choosing the proper course of action is typically done through trial and error. The ageless advice of “Two wrongs don’t make a right” could not echo more true than in situations like these. Are police officers stereotyped? Absolutely. There are countless examples of police brutality, racism, and absolute buffoonery in our profession. The media has done a great job of reporting these issues and exacerbating the problem. We all carry the weight with each bad example glorified in the news, but the result is a reinforced stereotype for police officers. The result? We hear things like, “All cops think they are above the law.” That is ALL cops, not the sorry few who prompted the statement. Then we have events like the one in Ferguson, Missouri where it appears the police officer did exactly what he was trained to do, yet the result was socially unacceptable. The result? Police shoot Black people indiscriminately. We have chosen this profession and this sort of representation does not seem to be going away any time soon. What we should not do is respond in kind and categorize those we encounter based solely on their race or ethnicity. I have spent a great deal of time researching racial profiling, and I am confident in saying the phenomenon is nowhere near as common as some would want us to believe. It is our duty though, to convince those with whom we encounter, our audience, that we are honorable, ethical, and quite aware of a person’s individuality. In other words, even though we are categorized we will not do the same. It is part of our code and what sets us apart from the rest.

So, as I think about the instructor’s statement about our world being backwards I can say that yes, I agree, but only to an extent. When our elected officials perpetuate negative stereotypes of our police officers, I agree that the world is backwards. When our nation’s president and governors turn their backs on those who have chosen to serve their communities then yes, I agree that the world is backwards. Lastly, when our national and law enforcement leaders apologize for the actions of good police officers and revere criminality then yes, I agree that the world is backwards. On the other hand, we as police officers work in a society that is constantly changing and evolving. For most other events we witness both on and off duty, I can say that the world is just as one can expect, and we have the ability to change people’s realities through proper, appropriate actions. Do the right thing, even when nobody is looking.

References

Allport, G.W. (1958). The Nature of Prejudice. New York: Doubleday.

Goffman, E. (1959). The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. New York: Anchor Books.