It’s More Than Just a Few Bad Apples on the Police Force

When shall the day arrive police officers will be held accountable for murder?

President Obama famously said, Blacks’ distrust of police is “rooted in realities”.

Until transparency on a multifaceted level is no longer ardently pushed back at every turn and corner by law enforcement agencies countless Americans’ are never going to completely trust the police. Officers of the law should not have so much too hide from a community they’ve sworn to honorably protect and serve.

Concerned citizens demand long overdue answers, for starters, let us explore what’s it about police culture that prohibits many “good cops” from condemning the wrongdoing of the bad cops which is fundamentally perpetuating an Us [cops] verses Them narrative meanwhile law enforcement hypocritically disperses the public service announcement, “See something, say something”. (The police should especially take the advice, they expect the community to voluntarily provide.)

In recent years, the high-profile murders of unarmed African Americans by authorities exposes a profound structural problem– placing a spotlight on racism within law enforcement (a result of newly developed technologies i.e. body worn cameras and live streaming) that can no longer be concealed behind the ‘blue wall’ of silence.

The Department of Justice has proven a variety of police departments scattered throughout the country have heinously treated black people by vigorously engaging in ‘unconstitutional policing’.

Being black and coming in contact with law enforcement often the presumption of innocence turns out to be a presumption of guilt. African Americans routinely are subjected to illegal stops and searches suffering the highest rate of excessive force incidents– at the hands of the police.

In recent memory some of the “unarmed” African American victims brutally killed by the police: Wendell Allen, Tanisha Anderson, Jordan Baker, Rekia Boyd, Rumain Brisbon, Michael Brown, Kenneth Chamberlain, Phillip Coleman, John Crawford, Terence Crutcher, Samuel DuBose, Jordan Edwards, Jonathan Ferrell, Deion Fludd, Ezell Ford, Shereese Francis, Eric Garner, Brendon K. Glenn, Ramarley Graham, Oscar Grant, Freddie Gray, DeJuan Guillory, Gregory Gunn, Akai Gurley, Eric Courtney Harris, Larry Eugene Jackson Jr., Bettie Jones, Kendrec McDade, Kajieme Powell, Tamir Rice, Tamon Robinson, Deravis Caine Rogers, Walter Scott, Delrawn Small, Yvette Smith, Christian Taylor, Malissa Williams.

On a GoFundMe page for DeJuan Guillory’s funeral expenses his Mother, Monica Fontenot wrote: “Most of you know me (Monica Fontenot) from being a police officer for many, many years in my community. On July 6th, 2017, My Son (DeJuan Guillory) was shot to death by Law Enforcement. I am sorry to say the law I once believed in is deteriorating and becoming more scandalous…”

(The American tradegy is the fact that in spite of all the mounting video evidence, community outrage and protests the aforementioned list continues to add more names.)

What if all these unarmed victims were white that died at the hands of black officers would those directly involved expeditiously been brought to justice?

A study by three faculty professors from the prestigious Cornell University concluded of a “clear racial hierarchy” in law enforcement exposing that black defendants’ who murder white victims continue to receive the highest rate of death sentences throughout the criminal justice system. (African Americans are 13% of U.S. population but represent 42% of the death-row inmate population.) It’s not a coincidence the majority of African American death sentences occur in states that were once part of the Confederacy and after the Civil War notoriously became known as the “Lynching Belt” which ironically today many refer to as the Bible Belt.

Mass incarceration has disproportionately harmed African American communities and there are more black men incarcerated in U.S. than the total prison populations of Argentina, Canada, England, Finland, Germany, India, Israel, Japan, and Lebanon combined. (At 1.3 billion India has second highest population in the world.)

In 2014, the Department of Justice concluded the Albuquerque, N.M., police department “engages in a pattern or practice” of excessive force, including deadly force, in violation of the Fourth Amendment.

March 2015, the DOJ issued a report on Ferguson, Mo., police department detailing a pattern of clear “racial disparities” and “discriminatory intent”. The Justice Department’s investigation determined that police in Ferguson had issued more than 90,000 citations and summons between 2010 and 2014, in which nearly 90 percent were given to African Americans. According to the DOJ, this discrimination was ruthlessly administered, and Ferguson authorities maliciously ratcheted up the volume on low-level offense citations and fines merely as a method to strategically “raise revenue” as opposed to addressing legitimate public safety concerns. All of this had ensued in a suburb of 21,000 residence with the staggering statistic of 3 black officers and “50 white officers” policing a town that was 67 percent black. (By no means, is Ferguson, Mo., an outlier of this systematic and calculating policing tactic in predominantly black neighborhoods.)

In prior assessments, the Department of Justice has also substantiated systemic violations with the Philadelphia, Pa., Portland, Ore., Cleveland, Ohio, and Seattle, Wash. police departments with serious deficiencies in their use of force policies and procedures.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel publicly acknowledged “decades of city police corruption in Chicago” after the court ordered release of a dashcam video be made public, showing teenager Laquan McDonald being shot ’16 times’ and murdered by police. Mayor Emanuel said, “One young man asked me a simple question that gets to the core of what we’re talking about. He said, do you think the police would ever treat you the way they treat me? And the answer is no. And that is wrong. And that has to change.”

Three years ago, the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson was a flashpoint moment for the country bringing to the forefront what role race plays in the use of deadly force by law enforcement.

Former FBI Director, James Comey elaborated on how incomplete the data available is in a February 2015 speech.

Not long after the riots broke out in Ferguson, I asked my staff to tell me how many people shot by police were African American in this country. I wanted to see trends. I wanted to see information. They couldn’t give it to me, and it wasn’t their fault.

Demographic data regarding officer involved shootings is “not consistently reported to us” through our uniform crime reporting program. Because reporting is voluntary, our data is incomplete and therefore, in the aggregate, unreliable.

Politicians often talk about courage but they rarely display it when going-up against the “mighty” law enforcement lobby and as a result are responsible for delaying justice to the community until they put an end to cops who think they’re above the law solely because they took an oath to protect and serve.

The Fraternal Order of Police is the largest law enforcement labor organization in the United States, with more than 325,000 members.

In many states and municipalities information related to complaints and discipline against officers typically are tightly controlled by police departments, and in many cases protected from public release by state or local laws. (Just because something is legal, it doesn’t make it right.)

There are those in power who will always resist sweeping policy changes for the protection and benefit of civilians but more transparency undeniably will create a stronger partnership based on trust between the community and police.

(Out of the 18,000 police departments across America less than 3% voluntarily report how many civilians they have killed.)

Police officers can administer lethal force and are repeatedly trained to use it by default (instead of putting forth the effort to de-escalate the situation) ultimately to “protect themselves” rather than making the safety of the community their top priority. When interacting with the public there are plenty of officers that need to get off their high-horse and are in desperate need of some enhanced “anger management” training. As an officer, just because you feel disrespected that doesn’t provide you the right to kill an unarmed person in retaliation.

The Eric Garner case was a watershed moment demonstrating even a damning video does not guarantee justice. As Mr. Garner was being placed into a chokehold, He said 11 times, “I can’t breathe” before the police killed him.

Even if a pattern has been established exposing a police overreaction as a result of racial bias; police union defense attorneys frequently make the legal argument the officer ‘feared for their life’ for most lethal incidents to be considered a justifiable homicide.

You have the utility belt. The gun. The nightstick. The mace. The handcuffs. The badge. The backup. And yet you’re the only one that is supposed to be startled, frightened, and scared…?

(Close to 99 percent of misconduct accusations against cops get dismissed.)

New Jersey Superior Court Judge, Peter J. Barnes III had said, “It’s long past the day where you can say with a straight face that it’s OK to have officers investigate their own. It just isn’t a good system.”

Nobody is denying that being a police officer can be a challenging job with inherent risks but it’s a career path chosen out of free will. Pursuing law enforcement provides many officers the opportunity of obtaining a good paycheck along with first-class benefits without for instance the financial burden of having to pay the higher education costs associated with earning a bachelor’s or professional degrees. And many jurisdictions today just require a high school diploma or GED certificate to pursue a law enforcement career.

Heroes save lives; they don’t take them. And if a ‘hero’ has to kill, their top priority is not self-preservation but courageously acting on the behalf of someone else. In cop-culture, labeling every officer a hero just for showing-up and doing their job has infiltrated police departments across this nation. (Since when, doing what you’re suppose to due automatically makes you a hero?) If that was the benchmark, then every enlisted service member of the United States military should be awarded the Metal of Honor. When I think of a ‘hero’, I think of a Metal of Honor recipient. I think of hero pilot, Captain Sully safely landing the plane known as “The Miracle on the Hudson” and saving 155 lives.

There is a clear distinction between a ‘hero’ and a good cop doing what their supposed to do. The propaganda habitually dispersed by police unions’ that “every officer cruising in a squad car is a hero” is a disservice to the real heroes; and it is that self-righteous outlook that often justifies the lives and safety of the police are paramount compared to civilians.

When visiting the Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #5 website, I came across the promotion of the “Heroes Ballroom” with the following statement:

The Heroes Ballroom is dedicated to all the members of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #5 whom risk their lives day-to-day to protect and serve the great city of Philadelphia. It is fitting that such a magnificent ballroom be part of the legacy of our Heroes. Our heroes mean the world to us and their courageous spirit shines throughout the entire ballroom.

I don’t want to diminish the heroics of the officers who have gone beyond-the-call-of-duty and especially those officers who have made the ultimate sacrifice with their lives while protecting society; but the fact remains many taxpayers’ are becoming increasingly skeptical as to the overall integrity of their local police departments.

Former police officer Redditt Hudson said it best. “On any given day, in any police department in the nation, 15 percent of officers will do the right thing no matter what is happening. Fifteen percent of officers will abuse their authority at every opportunity. The remaining 70 percent could go either way depending on whom they are working with. (That remaining 70 percent of officers are highly susceptible to the culture in a given department.) In the absence of any real effort to challenge department cultures, they become part of the problem.”

Truth to power: there are a bunch of police officers across America who have no business being cops.

People have different perceptions of the police because consciously or subconsciously many officers within the same jurisdictions are unjustly treating community members differently based upon the two prevailing factors of neighborhood and race.

For decades-on-end, Why have black parents’ been forced to have what is known as “the conversation” especially with their teenage sons in preparation to interact with the police [when] not if they get stopped that Caucasians’ don’t have to concern themselves discussing with their children; regardless if the white parents may be from same socioeconomic class?

Think. Hard. For a moment, for the sake of humanity; what if the black and white roles were suddenly reversed and white mothers instead were forced to have “the conversation” with their sons’? What would be the response and impact?

How many more unarmed African Americans must be murdered by the police before law enforcement gets it and publicly acknowledges this ubiquitous epidemic.

“Maybe the worst racism of all is denying that racism exists.” — Kareem Abdul-Jabber

History has always taught us, you’re either on the side of justice or on the side of injustice.

Jason Kaye is a writer residing in Philadelphia. He’s a DePaul University graduate who focused his studies on the Civil Rights and Black Power movements.