The Police, African-Americans, and Emotional Irrationality

I intended to write on a passage in Acts today on correction, but a recent news story has compelled me to take my opportunity to address a social issue for the first time in one of my posts. As you may or may not have read yet, unfortunately there’s been another moment of confrontation between the police and an African-American citizen. The story is still fresh, but as the current facts I read that have been reported, an 18 year old African-American male was being questioned by officers in St. Louis, and then apparently pulled out a gun. The officer responded by firing at the teen and he was killed. Unfortunately this began yet another protest that the media surely enjoys broadcasting for ratings. It can be difficult to get a firm grasp on an issue so high in emotions, and perhaps that’s the problem. I understand when an issue involves deaths; emotions will always be difficult to control.

However, those emotions cannot be the primary driving force of our approach to an issue. That appears to be why we have the extremes on both sides. There are those on the extreme of thinking every case of blacks being killed is a case of police brutality, and then those on the extreme that think all officers are doing the right thing and that blacks are at fault for everything. These two conclusions are not based in rational deduction of facts, but emotional biases that refuse to acknowledge facts, and simply admit wrong wherever there is wrong. Solutions won’t come until people stop making irrational broad generalizations of certain groups of people. Last I checked, we’re all individuals, and no matter what group one gets labeled in, we’re all not the same, except when we say we’re all human. I think once people move past these emotional biases, then we can look over what actually appear to be multiple factors that causes these problems, and begin to create rational solutions.

When I think of possible solutions, here’s what I come up with. First, we should have regular community police organized meet and greets in all cities. It can be an opportunity for people to know their officers serving them on a personal level, and not just see them as just another uniform walking around, as well as police officers to know the citizens they serve better. Secondly, we need to all re-educate ourselves on being respectful when encountering an authority figure. I know this one is difficult given the lack of respect that African-Americans feel they’ve not been given, and in some cases they are rightfully justified in feeling that way. But we all have to try to start over somewhere for the sake of improving the community. Obviously there can’t be a blank slate given the history, but there still has to be a starting point.

Thirdly, we need independent organizations investigating police units on a consistent basis, reviewing how often stops and arrests of individuals in the community are of a certain racial background, and thoroughly analyze these numbers to know if these stops and arrests are justified or not. The analysis should be based on a number of factors such as how many blacks are stopped and arrested in comparison with the overall racial background within the community, and how many of the stops of any particular race turned out to uncover criminal activity that was prosecuted. If the numbers prove to show an imbalance that suggests racial profiling, salaries should be deducted from these  police units, and not increased back to average pay until the next investigative reports show an improvement. Police units that prove to be operating in exemplary fashion should be rewarded as well, with awards of acknowledgment and increased bonuses to encourage units to want to be more accountable in how they operate.

Finally, we need to address the problem of the powerful lure of the deviant subculture that exists within impoverished neighborhoods. Some people that live in poverty are participating in a subculture that promotes deviant means of living and succeeding in life. It appears it’s the result of the stresses of the impoverished lifestyle that seems to influence and push some people to think that deviant means of success is the ideal and only way to succeed. These deviant means involve choosing to act in an aggressive manner and involve one’s self in criminal activity, and because of this participation in the deviant subculture, these people face greater potential of negative interaction with law enforcement.

We as a society need to help impoverished people not potentially fall into this subculture more by showing them a better way through both providing and making them more aware of therapeutic tools and resources to cope with their harsh circumstances. We also need to stress education more to them as the ideal means to successful living, and also make teachers have a special care for those students who struggle more cause of their impoverished situation. Through these actions we thus importantly give impoverished people the attention they need to show that they’re not invisible and their lives really do matter, before some may potentially cry out for help in deviant ways that could potentially cause an increased possibility of a tragedy occurring much like the ones we’ve seen recently. This of course isn’t the be-all end-all list of factors and solutions to consider with this problem, but I think approaching the issue in these ways would hopefully be a start.

Ultimately, it’s up to every individual to desire to cooperate with each other in achieving some level of peaceful coexistence. As Jesus so eloquently stated long ago, “Love your neighbor as you love yourself”, and may we all do unto others as we would have them do unto us.

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