When I watched the video that showed Eric Garner being subdued and ultimately killed by the cops, I had a different take than many people. Most articles I’ve read or analysis I’ve seen about the case choose to focus on the one cop who put Garner in a choke hold and eventually suffocated him on the ground. It’s understandable to focus on that, but I believe it’s secondary to the main problem with the situation, which is this: Why are all the other cops helping the cop who subdues Garner, even after hearing Garner continue to cry out that he can’t breathe?
First of all, I would bet a lot of them thought he was exaggerating that in order to get the cop off of him, but then that leads to another question, which is why wouldn’t they give him the benefit of the doubt? If a man you’re arresting is saying he can’t breathe, it wouldn’t hurt you to ease up on the choke hold, you’re already surrounded by about five or more other cops, and the guy isn’t armed so you know he’s not a danger to anyone and certainly isn’t gonna escape.
Furthermore, if this were an obese white guy, would all these white cops have done the same thing? Probably not, but the question is why not? The answer isn’t because they necessarily hate black people, it’s because of how they view black men. They’re so used to seeing them in jail and arresting them that they see all black men as the same and it dehumanizes them. Plus, the cops become desensitized to the sight of black men dying and black men committing crimes.
This is dangerous because once that happens they no longer view their subjects as people, but merely as objects that must be arrested or at least profiled. That also means they aren’t gonna listen to the black men they’re profiling or attempting to arrest at any given time, regardless of whether or not they’re innocent or at least non-violent. That was clear in Garner’s case.
My belief is that most of these cops don’t hate black people, they hate criminals and people they perceive as criminals, and in certain areas such as this area of NY, the vast majority of criminals happen to be black (as former NY city mayor Rudy Giuliani pointed out and based his policing system off of). That attitude itself is wrong because as a cop you shouldn’t hate criminals (easier said than done, I know, especially when they try to kill you on a daily basis), you should always err on the side of saving lives, even the lives of criminals you might end up arresting, and treat every person with respect and dignity. But it’s the reason so many cops have that attitude that’s the problem.
There really is a “cop mentality” or “cop culture” within police departments throughout the US, but especially in big cities with high poverty and crime rates that are predominantly black. This culture causes cops to adopt the mindset that they always have to protect each other and that they’re always right no matter what, and that the person who’s suspected of committing a crime is always guilty no matter what.
It also leads to an “us vs them” mentality that results in police (often working with DAs and local politicians who make the laws) making sure they’re never held accountable, and because of this there are cover-ups when a policeman does something wrong or even criminal. There’s plenty of evidence to back up this assertion, just google “police cover-up” and you’ll get tons of articles proving it.
In fact, a cover-up occurred in Ferguson before most of the country ever heard about that city. So there was already a ton of corruption and a sense of being above the law by the police force there before the incident with Officer Wilson occurred. Even though the protests were misguided on that case, one can see why the black people in Ferguson had an underlying anger towards the cops and a reason not to believe Wilson was acting in self-defense.
Human evolution and a tribal “us vs them” mentality play a big role in this conflict
This is a bigger issue than a matter of the police vs black people or any civilians. It’s a human psychology issue. This is what happens when one smaller group of people (in this case the cops) is in a position of power and authority and are tasked with controlling another, much larger group of people on a daily basis who they rarely interact with in their day to day lives off the job, and don’t understand because their cultures are so different (poor black men in this case).
When individuals within the smaller, dominating group have to do this for many years and have many violent situations they have to deal with on a daily basis, it desensitizes them to not only the group of people they’re regularly arresting or fighting, but to the very act of killing or at least oppressing people with force.
You can take the cops and black men out of the equation and replace them with american soldiers in Afghanistan who committed the atrocities at Abu Ghraib, or prison officers in a Mexican prison who beat and abuse the inmates (also google “prison abuse by guards”, the stories are endless), or even workers at psychiatric hospitals or wards abusing their patients because they’re so tired of dealing with their problems (google “workers at psych ward abuse patients”, you’ll see what I mean). Is it any wonder, or should anyone then be surprised when we’re presented with evidence that cops are treating black men more like animals than human beings?
This is a human problem more so than just a cop problem, although there is also the problem of cop culture, but in effect that is also a human problem that is rooted in evolutionary biology and goes all the way back to our earliest ancestors. The tribes our ancestors belonged to developed an “us vs them” mentality because loyalty to their own tribe helped them survive in the wild longer, and that mindset evolved at the same time our brains did, thus wiring our brains to fear or dislike people who don’t look, act, or think the same way we do. There are countless examples of this primal way of thinking going on in this country and around the world between people of different races, religions, countries, and more. So it’s not unique to cops.
But it is also playing out on both sides of the fight in inner cities right now, where black people view all cops with suspicion and as a group that should be fought against at all times, and likewise the cops policing those areas tend to view all black men with suspicion and as a group that should be fought.
This mentality answers the following question: Why did all of the cops feel they couldn’t speak out against their fellow cops and tell the cop with the choke hold to ease up? When you’re all part of the same tribe and the person you’re arresting is part of another tribe, he loses his humanity and becomes just another soldier in the tribal war who must be taken down.
The root of the problem that nobody in the media will ever have the guts to talk about is that there is an epidemic of black crime in the inner cities of this country, and the cops have to deal with it on a regular basis. It’s not just about black on black crime, as many conservatives will point out, it’s about black men committing crime in general.
There are many cases where a crime is committed and there is no direct victim such as selling drugs, robbing stores, etc. This is a problem, and there are many reasons for it which I’ve already written about (I’m finishing editing my latest post on this and will update this entry with a link to it here) such as the breakdown of the black family, lack of school choice in inner cities, and gov’t programs that make people dependent on the gov’t instead of their families and the community (which isn’t confined to black communities).
This has created a separate problem throughout America in which police departments that are often majority white perceive all black men as potential criminals because not only have they personally arrested so many of them already, but they’re constantly being told stories about them by their fellow police friends who also are used to arresting black men on a regular basis. Liberals will say this is a racist stereotype that needs to die, and I agree, but every stereotype has some basis in reality, otherwise it wouldn’t become a stereotype.
We as a nation and black people themselves have to address the fundamental question of why there’s a disproportionate amount of violence and crime in black communities compared to all other ethnic groups in America. We have to have an honest conversation about it, because it’s feeding into the stereotype I just described, and it’s fueling the mutual animus between cops and the black community in inner cities all across this country.
So is there a racial disparity between the way cops treat whites vs blacks? I would argue there is in some areas of the country. You’re more likely to get pulled over in those areas if you’re a black man than if you’re a white man, that’s just stating the obvious. But it’s ignorant to just chalk it up to racism because a)that’s usually not the case and b)that shuts down the debate and doesn’t get us anywhere in terms of addressing the roots of the problem as I’ve previously discussed here.
We have to have people in the media and politicians who are willing to speak the hard truths, such as the fact that one reason cops are less likely to pull a white guy over even if he’s acting as suspicious as a black guy is because whites in those high crime areas I talked about simply are much less likely to be involved in a crime, that’s what the statistics show.
Due to this difference in the statistics between the races, there’s a certain amount of profiling that goes on, but some of that is just common sense. If you’re a cop on patrol over a period of three weeks and you get called to a certain neighborhood ten times, and 9/10 or 10/10 times the guy or guys you end up arresting are guilty of a crime and are black, the next time you get a call to go into that neighborhood, you’re gonna be on the lookout for black guys doing something illegal. That might not be politically correct to say out loud, but often it’s the case that reality is harsh and just isn’t politically correct at all.
Solutions that address the roots of the conflict
What conclusions can we draw from all this, and are there any practical solutions to this problem? The real solutions need to address the cultural, societal, and moral issues within the black community and within society at large that I talked about in my other diary entry. But there are temporary practical ideas that can reduce some of the violence until those broader changes come about. One would be body cameras, which won’t really solve the problem but will bring more exposure to it and thus possibly lead to a change in the behavior of both groups.
Beyond that, although I’ve never been in favor of racial quotas, I do believe police departments located in or near majority minority communities should start recruiting minorities in those communities. Why were all the cops who subdued Garner white? Even if none of them were racist, it doesn’t look good.
I think having more black men and women on the police force would go a long way towards reducing the tensions between police and black people, because those black officers would have shared experiences with the citizens they’re protecting and could relate to them better than white officers who haven’t had those experiences could. I think this would create an environment that makes interactions with escalations less likely, and would reduce the number of accidental deaths at the hands of cops.
Having more black cops arresting black men instead of white cops would start to take the issue of cop racism out of the equation and could do a lot to help heal some of the racial divisions around the country. At the very least it would kill the narrative that these problems are simply the result of racist white cops intentionally killing black men and keeping black people down, which just isn’t true.
Finally, the laws involving police investigations and accountability need to change, as this article clearly points out.
If we focus on the root of the problems in the black community while making these necessary changes to our laws and police units, I believe we can at least begin to change the attitudes of both police and black people in the inner cities of our country. More importantly, we can make progress in the racial unity of this country and help us understand the groups of people we don’t interact with, so we can start to see things through their eyes. When this happens we’ll be a lot less likely to judge them and a lot more eager to help them, and they’ll be more likely to accept our help instead of viewing us with suspicion and anger.