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“Nothing To Do With Race”: The Simplistic Way Many Of Us Perceive The All-American Conundrum Of Race

It had nothing to do with race.

So said Sheriff Leon Lott, last week, in discussing a violent arrest by one of his officers, a white deputy named Ben Fields, of a black female student at Spring Valley High in Richland County, South Carolina. Fields, a school resource officer, was called in when the girl reportedly ignored a teacher’s instruction to stop using her cellphone and leave the classroom. He ended up overturning her desk and slinging her across the floor like a sandbag or a sack of dog food.

His actions, caught on cellphone video, have detonated social media, many observers expressing visceral fury over this treatment of a black child. But Lott, who later fired his deputy, said he doesn’t think Fields acted from racial prejudice because he has an African-American girlfriend.

It is a statement of earnest, staggering obtuseness that sheds no light on the officer’s overreaction, but reveals with stark clarity the simplistic way many of us perceive the all-American conundrum of race. Granted, it is not inconceivable that a white girl could have been subjected to the same brutality in a similar situation. But it is a matter of statistical fact that it’s more likely to happen to a child of color.Multiple studies have shown that those kids are subjected to harsher discipline in school than their white classmates. Indeed, numbers released last year by the federal government show that this begins in preschool where the “students” are little more than toddlers, yet black kids, who account for 18 percent of the population, get 42 percent of the suspensions.

Nothing to do with race?

The people who habitually say that operate under the misapprehension that racial bias requires intent or awareness and that it leaves obvious evidence of itself: a tendency toward racist comments, let’s say, or membership in the Ku Klux Klan. In that worldview, racial bias is incompatible with having a black girlfriend.

But that worldview is naive. Bias is frequently subterranean, something you carry without meaning to or knowing you do. In a country that has used every outlet of media, religion, education, politics, law and science for over two centuries to drive home that black is threatening, black is inferior, black is bad, it is entirely possible Fields could have acted from unconscious racial bias and yet had a black girlfriend. For that matter, he could have acted from unconscious racial bias and had a black face; African-American people are no more immune to the drumbeat of negativity surrounding them than is anyone else.

So “nothing to do with race” is a reflexive copout many of us embrace against all reason because to do otherwise is to face a mirror whose reflection does not flatter. Which is why the usual suspects — Steve Doocy, Mark Fuhrman, Glenn Beck and etcetera — have attempted to fix the blame for what happened here on the girl.

Let’s be very clear in response. It doesn’t matter if she was disruptive. It doesn’t matter if she was disobedient. It doesn’t matter if she was disrespectful. Those things justify discipline, but they emphatically do not justify this child being lifted and flung by a grown man as if she were an inanimate object. If she were white, that would likely go without saying.

One is reminded of all the other African Americans we have seen in just the last few years brutalized and even killed for no good reason. One is reminded of Trayvon Martin and Walter Scott and Eric Garner and Charnesia Corley and Oscar Grant and Tamir Rice and Sean Bell and Levar Jones and more names than this column has space to hold, more blood than conscience can contain. And how many times have we been offered the same simplistic assurance in response?

This had nothing to do with race, they say.

Of course not. It never does.

 

By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist for The Miami Herald; The National Memo, November 2, 2015

November 3, 2015 Posted by | African Americans, Police Brutality, Racism | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Relying On Anecdotes From Police Officials”: No Data Exists To Support Police Claims Of Victimization

Shortly after FBI Director James Comey delivered ill-considered remarks linking increased scrutiny of police to rising crime, a cellphone video of a Columbia, South Carolina, school cop violently manhandling a teenage girl went viral. Comey’s comments were quickly overtaken by that news — which, coincidently, showed how imprudent they were.

On two occasions in late October, the FBI’s top official had the opportunity to reinforce for police officials the sacred trust at the center of their oaths, which require them to protect and serve. That sacred trust was violated — cleaved and quartered, in fact — by Ben Fields, the Spring Valley High “school resource officer” whose actions resulted in his firing and sparked a Justice Department investigation.

Instead, Comey chose to play to police officers’ paranoia and sense of isolation and victimization. In speeches at the University of Chicago Law School and to the annual convention of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, he suggested that homicides are on the rise in several cities because police officers are too intimidated to do their jobs properly.

Speaking to the police chiefs, Comey asked: “In today’s YouTube world, are officers reluctant to get out of their cars and do the work that controls violent crime? Are officers answering 911 calls but avoiding the informal contact that keeps bad guys from standing around, especially with guns?”

At the law school, he’d said that “viral videos” may be contributing to a police reluctance to confront criminals.

Let’s be clear: There is absolutely no data — as Comey admitted — that links rising homicides to a new passivity on the part of police. (Violent crime continues to decline, as it has since its peak in 1991, but homicides are now rising in a handful of cities. Criminologists don’t know why, as they still don’t know why crime has declined over the last few decades.)

In fact, there is no data showing that police are less aggressive than they used to be. The FBI director, who ought to know better, is relying on anecdotes from police officials, who are in the habit of complaining when they are under scrutiny.

But that scrutiny is long overdue. The Black Lives Matter movement, a loosely organized network of activists, was sparked by police violence that has resulted in the deaths of unarmed black civilians. You know the names of many of the victims, who include Eric Garner, put in a deadly chokehold by New York City police for the crime of selling untaxed cigarettes; 12-year-old Tamir Rice, shot dead by police in Cleveland for waving a toy gun in a park; and John Crawford III, shot dead by Beavercreek, Ohio, police after he picked up a BB gun from a Wal-Mart store shelf.

If protests over such official savagery keep police from doing their jobs, they are not committed to keeping the peace, to serving or protecting. If they were, they’d welcome attention that helps to weed out the bullies, the poorly trained and the bigots in their ranks. After all, police officers need the respect and cooperation of the communities they serve in order to catch the real criminals.

Unfortunately, though, many rank-and-file officers and their superiors have assumed the mantle of victims, complaining that the Black Lives Matter movement disrespects, and even endangers, police. It keeps them from doing their jobs. It emboldens criminals, they say.

And that narrative is constantly fed by conservative media outlets, whose pundits insist that President Obama panders to criminals while blaming police for simple errors. That notion was further fueled at the most recent Republican debate by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who insisted that the president doesn’t “support police officers.”

“You know, the FBI director … has said this week that because of a lack of support from politicians like the president of the United States, that police officers are afraid to get out of their cars, that they’re afraid to enforce the law,” Christie claimed.

If you want to see fear, take another look at that disturbing video of Ben Fields flinging a teenage girl across the floor. The other students cower in their desks, some afraid to look up. That lesson is one from which they’ll likely never recover.

 

By: Cynthia Tucker Haynes, Pulitzer Prize for Commentary in 2007; The National Memo, October 31, 2015

November 1, 2015 Posted by | James Comey, Police Brutality, Police Officers | , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

   

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