Is Police Brutality The Main Issue Affecting African Americans?

WASHINGTON – Thanks to highly publicized official investigations, some of them led by the US Department of Justice, America is now convinced that we have a national White police brutality issue. Yes, we are told that African Americans are routinely singled out by (racist) White police officers.

Blacks are targeted by racist police

Blacks minding their own business are stopped for no reason by police. They are arrested on bogus charges. They are treated roughly while in police custody, and so forth. While this happens all the time, in more extreme cases several unarmed African Americans have been shot and killed by trigger happy police officers who later on say that they thought the Black person they killed might have had a gun. In truth, killing Black people is now akin to a sport.

This is what we are told. And, much worse, this is what most African Americans strongly believe: “We are targeted”.

Not that easy

Well, it is not that easy. The truth is a lot more complicated. It is undeniable that there are instances of White police brutality, including unnecessary use of force, sometimes leading to the killing of people wrongly suspected of holding weapons with criminal intent.

Policing high crime areas

However, the larger issue is that there is a connection between high levels of violent crime in Black areas and excessive use of force by police forces sent in to investigate crimes. To begin with, there is a much higher level of police activities in Black neighborhoods for the simple reason that these are high crime, or extremely high crime areas, with shootings and killings occurring every day.

So, let’s establish that Black neighborhoods are not targeted. The police go where crimes have been committed. It is therefore not surprising that police officers going into a very high crime area in which fire arms are routinely used may be on edge. Being on edge may in some cases trigger unjustified actions, or over reactions. And this unfortunately leads to mistakes and unwarranted use of force.

With this I am not trying to justify the killing of innocent Black victims by police officers, (who at least in some instances are motivated by racists feelings). Police brutality does exist, and it should be prosecuted.

More police interventions

However, it is truly disingenuous to ignore the fact that extremely high levels of crime in Black neighborhoods make policing of these areas much more difficult. Police officers patrolling streets in Black neighborhood where people are routinely shot are likely to be on edge. And high levels of tension may lead to bad judgment calls, including killing innocent victims.

And yet this high crime context is routinely ignored.

Is it just about the police?

Right now the official narrative is that the only issue at hand is totally unwarranted and unjustified police brutality against innocent, law abiding Blacks unfairly targeted simply because they are Black.

Because of this finding, police departments across America need to reformed. The instances in which the use of force may be permissible needs to be reassessed.

Again, I see nothing wrong with any of this. By all means, let’s make sure that all police officers behave properly.

But it is wrong to believe that police brutality is the only issue, and that there is no connection between policing dangerous, high crime areas and excessive use of force by some police officers.

The roots of Black crime are ignored

Unfortunately, the larger context of how stressful it is for police officers to operate daily in high crime areas is ignored. Moreover, I see national indignation only when a White police officer kills a Black person. But there is zero indignation when homicide statistics are made public.

And these statistics make it clear that the overwhelming majority of African Americans are killed by other African Americans in predominantly poor Black neighborhoods. They are not killed by mean spirited White police officers. Black on Black violent crime is the real, overwhelming problem that needs to be addressed.

Police brutality is an issue. No doubt about it. But it is certainly not the main problem affecting African Americans. The main problems are ignorance, illiteracy, poverty, drugs, and marginalization. These are the toxic factors that often lead to a life of crime and violence.

We should all welcome any reforms leading to well behaved police officers. But even the best trained police officers will be unable to improve –let alone solve– any of the deep social and economic problems affecting millions of African Americans.




The Killing Of Freddie Gray Reveals A Huge National Tragedy

WASHINGTON – In Baltimore, on April 19 Freddie Gray, a 25 year old African American, died of a spinal injury that occurred while he was in police custody. We do not know all the facts. But what we know invites the worst possible speculations.

Killed by the police

It is not clear what Gray did that justified his arrest. Still, whatever the charges against him, it looks that he was severely beaten by the Baltimore police. In fact, he died because of the severity of the beating.

This is positively awful. This is the United States of America, a country of laws and due process. A country founded on the proposition that the government’s main purpose is to secure and protect individual rights. And yes, people under arrest have the right to be treated properly by the police.

Killing Blacks OK?

The notion that a young African American can be arrested and killed while in police custody, and that this criminal tragedy may be explained away as “an unfortunate accident” makes the whole country look like we are still in Alabama circa 1950. In the bad old days, a policeman killing a Black person, intentionally or unintentionally, would not be in any serious trouble.

The broader picture

That said, if we look at the context in which the killing and its aftermath took place, the picture gets a lot darker. What happened in Baltimore in the aftermath of Gray’s killing shows a racially divided American society.

It also shows how within this divided society we have a large underclass of disaffected young African Americans who (in this case, as in many other cases) have used the legitimate protests as an opportunity to loot, steal and destroy almost everything in sight.

So, here is the thing. There are some plain racists within the ranks of at least some police forces. For them using excessive force and brutality is perfectly OK when it comes to young African Americans. This pattern of gratuitous police violence justifies strong anti-police feelings among a majority of American Blacks.

To all of this we have to add the toxic mix of extreme poverty, broken families and crime that plagues so many urban Black communities. A lot of crime invites more police interventions. And repeated police interventions may result in tragedies like Gray’s killing.

Easy to ignore the larger problem

As President Obama said, it is easy to ignore this social tragedy of young African Americans trapped in perpetual poverty, until something like the Baltimore riots happens. But then, after making some noises about the need to “do something”, when quiet returns we simply go back ignoring the root causes of crime and gang violence.

Sure enough, we can and should deal with the bad policing issues. It must be possible to identify, weed out and prosecute bad cops. But, as the President said, this is just the beginning.

The urban underclass

The broader issue is that in America we have a large urban underclass living in poverty and ignorance. For many of its members crime seems to be the only possible career.

Given this horrible mix, when something really outrageous happens, like the Gray killing in Baltimore, all restraint disappears. When criminal gangs take over, it takes minutes to transform a peaceful protest into mayhem, with stealing, looting and arson.

Again, this is a lot more than a law and order issue, with the police called upon to do the dirty work of arresting gang members.

We have a big problem

Given all this, it is clear that we have a big problem. A really big problem that goes way beyond a few bad cops who engage in criminal behavior. If we are serious about getting to the bottom of this, we have to educate millions of disaffected young people. We have to show them that there are credible and viable alternatives to crime and violence.

And yes, we also have to prosecute racist, violent cops who somehow believe that beating a Black prisoner to death is OK.

As I said, this is a really big problem.




African-Americans Feel Persecuted By White Police

WASHINGTON – Perception, as we know, is reality. And, sadly, right now the large US African-American community (more than 40 million citizens) perceives itself as the targeted victim of White police brutality. This includes the willful killing (murder?) of unarmed Black people.

No justice

Furthermore, most Blacks are convinced that the entire White-dominated and controlled justice system is fixed. And the fix is against them. If a White police officer in broad daylight kills an unarmed Black person, the police officer will go free –always.

Sure, there may be a perfunctory inquiry and/or a Grand Jury process. But, in the end, the White police officer will be exonerated, each and every time.

Therefore, it is quite clear that in America Blacks are persecuted, and that they will never get justice.

Persecution

In fact, it gets even worse. An African-American lady interviewed in a New York street by a major cable TV network stated with a very calm voice that it is quite clear that Whites are out to get Blacks. In fact, it is obvious that Whites are planning to kill all Blacks, one by one. This was not said in a an emotional tone. This was a calm reflection expressed by a person who appeared to be intelligent and articulate.

Alright, you might say that there was some hyperbole involved in that statement, and that she did not literally mean that indeed “all Blacks are targeted”.

Racist America?

Still, consider this statement within the wider context of today’s America. Today in the United States we have an African-American President, Barack Obama, elected twice with the crucial support of millions of White voters. Eric Holder, the US Attorney General, and therefore the head of the entire federal justice system, is an African-American. The Homeland Security Secretary is an African-American. There are scores of African-Americans elected to Congress, not to mention Mayors, members of City Councils, members of State legislatures, admirals and generals, university professors, journalists, TV anchors, CEOs, famous artists, movie stars, athletes, senior police officers, and so on.

And yet the perception of millions of African-Americans is that we are back to the old practices prevalent during the dark days of legally sanctioned segregation, with all the lynchings, Ku Klux Klan violence, and open intimidation against Blacks.

Policemen should be held accountable

I have no doubt that in some instances the police have used excessive force, and that some killings of Black Americans by police officers are not justifiable. And just one person killed for no good reason by the police is enough to raise concerns. Any killing is a serious matter. And all police officers should be held accountable for their actions, just like everybody else.

We have a problem

But to go from here to the widely shared perception that White police brutality is systemic and that more than 40 million Black Americans are now targets of excessive use of force that includes deliberate killings is a bit much.

That said, this is clearly a major problem. America cannot pretend that this racial divide does not exist, or that it will magically go away by itself.

I am not sure what should be done to re-establish a constructive dialogue that will recreate trust between Black and Whites, but our leaders should do something.