PRO: A built-in practice
Police shootings and their connection with race is back in the news after yet another unarmed African American male in San Francisco, Stephon Clark, was shot in his grandmother’s backyard. Police violence is not, like some may argue, an issue of isolated cases, but a deathly trend true to the African American community for over 60 years.
Disparities in race with regard to police shootings aren’t hard to find; in fact, it is almost quite literally black and white.
According to the FBI’s 2012 report, 31 percent of police shooting or killing victims were black, despite making up only 13 percent of the nation’s population. And according to the Guardian’s project, The Counted, unarmed victims killed by police are more likely to be minorities.
“It’s the way that police are trained to see communities of color as war zones and to behave like occupying force,” writes the executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, Vincent Warren.
Justification from the other side comes from violent crime statistics—since African American have a greater homicide rate than other groups and are thought to be more likely to be criminals, they are therefore more likely to be shot. However, many of these victims are stopped because of petty, and often, nonviolent offenses, such as traffic violations or stealing cigarettes. This was the case with Trayvon Martin (2012), Michael Brown (2014), Eric Garner (2014), Philando Castille (2016), Alton Sterling (2016) and many, many more. All were unarmed, and all police officers involved were either acquitted or not indicted for their actions.
It would be less concerning if the allegations of police abuse were specific to one city or state, however, they are not. A 2014 Department of Justice report discovered that Cleveland’s police department regularly used excessive deadly force on its majority black residents. In another investigation by the DOJ, racial bias patterns were found in Ferguson’s police department “typically in an effort to ticket as many low-income black residents as possible in an attempt to raise local budget revenue through fines and court fees.”
Similar conclusions were drawn from reports regarding Los Angeles, New Orleans, New Mexico and Oregon police departments.
It’s not to say every instance involving a white officer and a black victim has to be racial. In many cases, the officer might rightfully sense danger, and the person in question may be a criminal. However, what an officer senses as danger is incredibly subjective and police can use deadly force if they merely perceive a “threat,” whether it is reasonable or not.
These disparities aren’t exclusive to police shootings. In fact, they reflect the more rampant racial inequalities in the law enforcement system as a whole. It is not hard to find the statistics showing that blacks are much more likely to be arrested for drugs, despite similar rates of drug use between the races. In addition, the prison population is filled with blacks in disproportionate amounts and that blacks represent almost half of defendants who are later exonerated after being convicted of crimes.
While all the evidence keeps on stacking up, the black community is told to remain silent and trust a justice system that has failed over and over again, from Rodney King in 1991 to Stephon Clark today.
CON: Blame poor conditions, not evil police
The correlation between police violence and race is an uncontested fact, yet the issue is not whether or not this is true, but why it occurs.
Many people quickly assert that the reason behind these deaths is a racist agenda put into place by the police, but this could not be more wrong. In fact, this assumption can only lead to further damage race relations. A deeper look is required to reveal the true cause of this correlation.
A major factor ignored in this case is the fact that minorities tend to commit violent crimes at higher rates than Caucasians and Asians. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, over half of all homicides in the United States were committed by African Americans from 1980 to 2008, even though they only make up 13 percent of the U.S. population.
This statistic should not be taken at surface value either, as the reason that minorities tend to commit more crime is not due to their race, but other more prevalent factors. And these numbers only include homicides that are solved, which excludes about 61 percent of killings, and only those committed by a single perpetrator, according to U.S. News and World Report.
Data recorded by the FBI reveals that there is a strong positive correlation between crime and lower socioeconomic status. These communities are characterized by low employment rates and high single motherhood and high school dropout rates, as well as frequent gang activity. It is no surprise that there are more instances of police violence against minorities, as there is much more crime and therefore a greater likelihood of a violent criminal being present in these areas.
A frequent point brought up is the fact that many of the shootings do not happen when a violent crime is taking place, but at routine traffic stops. With a higher police presence due to higher crime rates, there tends to be more stops for simple traffic violations, which also increases the chances of pulling over a violent criminal.
More often than not, the police are justified in the shooting. Many times the victim is carrying a weapon or has a violent reaction and the safest option to avoid officer injury or death is to respond with deadly force. In Graham v. Connor heard by the U.S. Supreme Court, it was determined that the police may shoot someone who is suspected of a severe crime, poses a threat to officers or actively resists arrest.
An overwhelming majority of police shootings meet these criteria, as data collected by the Washington Post in 2015 found that almost all police shooting victims were armed with dangerous weapons and posed a threat to police officers.
The problem does not lie with how the police go about their jobs, but how well these communities do. The best way we can solve the issue of police violence against minorities is to address the root of the problem.
Someone who has graduated high school, has no children outside of marriage and is employed reduces their chance of being impoverished dramatically to around 2 percent, according to the Brookings Institution, a nonprofit research organization. We can successfully help these communities and reduce police violence by encouraging education, promoting the use of protection and supporting the creation of new jobs.