A 50-year-old problem continues to be ignored by local, state and federal governments and their law enforcement agencies. African-Americans continue to be targeted more often by officers of the law than any other group. Although it is seldom spoken out loud, most minorities see police as the enemy.
Statistics from 2008 regarding the United States Penal System are very troubling. Although our nation has only five percent of the world’s population, we have 25 percent of the world’s population in prisons. Between 1980 and 2008 America’s prison population rose from 500,000 to 2.3 million, an increase four times that of any other nation. In 2008 approximately one million of the total number of those incarcerated were African-American. Together with Hispanics, the two groups totaled 58 percent of prison population.
Of those incarcerated, the majority are there because of the ‘war on drugs.’ New York City has ceased a program designed to entrap individuals seeking to purchase marijuana. Part of the reason was in response to claims from residents that the program unfairly targeted minorities. Eighty six percent of these low-level arrests were comprised of African-Americans and Latinos. New York’s Narcotics Chief Brian McCarthy said that the main reason to end the program was to place the focus of narcotics investigations on the increasing problems of pills and heroin.
During the civil rights movement in the 1960’s a common sight and complaint was that law enforcement agencies were predominately white, even in neighborhoods which were almost entire populated by blacks. It continues here in 2014.
When a black teenager was shot and killed by a Ferguson, Missouri, policeman in August, the city, which is two-thirds black, marched in angry protest. The nearly all white police force responded wearing gear and carrying weapons which can only be described as ‘SWAT-like.’ Confrontation began almost immediately between the citizens and their police.
The outcome of the incident is yet to be decided, but what has happened is the resurgence of the decades old complaint about the existence of a mostly white police force in a mostly black community.
Mothers and fathers of young black men teach them how ‘not to look suspicious,’ and inform them of areas they should not occupy, especially after dark. As they reach the age when the can operate a vehicle, avoidance of certain streets and parts of the city are mapped out.
Statistics prove that black men are shot and killed by police at a nearly four-to-one ratio across the nation. Often the reports filed after a fatal shooting reveal a disarming exclusion. In the area which asks the question as to what prompted the officer to take lethal action, a single word was entered; ‘undetermined.’ (FBI records).
Although the Ferguson riots were the direct result of a single incident, the core reason was far more serious. As with the ‘Watts Riots’ decades ago the issue of police harassment and obvious mistrust on both sides was the true cause of civil disobedience. These decades old problems have yet to reach a solution. Instead they have festered through generations.
Two problems must be addressed. More minority officers must be hired by police departments. Secondly, and most importantly, training must be more inclusive. Community relations should be a priority. Communication does wonders to remove fear; and fear breeds hatred.
More city leaders and police hierarchy must get involved with the community, especially when they are dominated by a single race, or non-Caucasian population. Understanding and education is the only solution; violence simply breeds more violence.
By James Turnage