US soul-searching on race relations after police killings

Improvements have been made on race but ‘they are not where they should be by any stretch,’ says police veteran

US soul-searching on race relations after police killings

World Bulletin / News Desk

At a memorial service in Dallas for five officers shot dead during an otherwise peaceful Black Lives Matter protest, US President Obama, with a quivering lip, told the audience: “The deepest fault lines of our democracy have suddenly been exposed, perhaps even widened.”

Nevertheless, the president went on to reassure his fellow Americans, saying, “We are not as divided as we seem. I know that because I know America.”

After a tumultuous fortnight of violence, which has witnessed young black men dying at the hands of white officers, enraged protests decrying police brutality, and a vicious attack by a black ex-army veteran on Dallas police, America is deep in soul-searching on race relations, specifically regarding blue lives against black lives, and cut and dry answers seem elusive.

Bryan Pendleton of National Black Police Association, who served for three decades in the San Diego Police Department, straddles the very fault lines the president highlighted in his memorial address.

His life, dedicated to keeping communities safe, is blue and black.

“Growing up as a kid in San Diego, I did not like the police,” Pendleton said. “I didn’t like the interaction, I didn’t like the tone. I didn’t like anything about those police contacts.

“As I got into this job I found that we are not all the same, we can’t all be painted with the same broad brush.”

Having served most of his career in the homicide and street gang units, Bryan is no stranger to the streets. He said the current debate on race is an extension of what has taken place for 150 plus years.

“I believe things have gotten better. They are not the greatest. They are not where they should be by any stretch,” he sad.

But he agrees that protesters who demand justice after the deaths of Alton Sterling in Louisiana and of Philando Castile in Minnesota last week, have a reason to be frustrated.

“Based on what I’ve seen lately, some of the instances appear to be unfair, although the cop in me wants to say wait until we see all the details but it just doesn’t pass the eye test,” he says. “You look at it and it’s just wrong.”

Sterling, 37, was killed July 5, outside of a convenience store where he sold CDs, during a standoff with two police officers who had pinned him to the ground before one shot him several times. An investigator said the officer was prompted by Sterling reaching for his gun, but mobile phone video of the shooting from different angles appear not to support that claim.

Castile was shot dead a day later, while in his car with his girlfriend and her four-year-old daughter, after they were pulled over for having a broken taillight.

Both deaths were brought to the nation's attention by the help of amateur video.

For the nation’s black community that has endured the legacy of slavery, the Jim Crow era of segregation and seemingly ever-increasing frequency of black men killed by white police, the response has been swift.

Numerous Black Lives Matter protests cropped up across the country, instantly reminiscent of its carbon copies after police-involved shootings in Ferguson, Missouri, and Baltimore in the past two years.

The Black Lives Matter movement itself was borne out of the 2012 shooting death of black teen Trayvon Martin at the hands of a white man and it seeks to assert the “validity” of black life in everything from the justice system, humanities, politics and even sexuality.

The national debate has produced everything from victims sharing their personal experiences with law enforcement to political figures voicing opinions on these events with hardened positions.

Following Sterling's death, police officer Nakia Jones of Warrensville Heights, Ohio, posted an emotional video to Facebook that went viral.

She shared her passion for her job but didn’t shy away from expressing scorn for fellow officers who harbor racist attitudes.

Jones, who has served since 1996, shared her concerns as a mother of six black children and as an officer trying to make a change in black communities.

“I’m so hurt, it bothers me when people say: ‘police officers this’ or ‘police officers that’. They put us in this negative category, but I’m saying to myself, ‘I’m not that kind of police officer’,” she said.

“There’s many of us who would give our life for anybody, and we took this oath and we meant it. If you are an officer who is prejudiced, take the uniform off and put the KKK hoodie on,” she said in reference to the infamous white supremacist hate group.

Also weighing in on the matter, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani had a controversial interpretation of events when he spoke on television Sunday.

Giuliani is expected to address the Republican National Convention next week and went on record as saying the Black Lives Matter movement is “inherently racist” and that black children should not be afraid of police because blacks had a “99 percent chance” of killing each other.

“If you want to deal with this on the black side, you’ve got to teach your children to be respectful to the police, and you’ve got to teach your children that the real danger to them is not the police,” he said.

Andy Lowen, State Secretary for the Texas Fraternal Order of Police Union, believes allegations by protesters are over represented.

“I don’t really think their claims are totally valid,” Lowed said. “It’s just that they get more publicity and more media attention than other use of force issues by officers.”

Pendleton, on the other hand, has a different perspective.

Regarding the protesters, he says: “There’s always going to be people who are going to try to shine a negative light on Black Lives Matter partly because of the name.”

“I believe that sometimes people are scared of the word black. I think some people just need to deal with it, and not look at the name but look at the issues that are associated with the group.

“The fact of the matter is a lot of people believe that the violence that’s perpetrated upon young black males by police is extremely unfair and to some degree I agree with that.”

In a debate so politicized and so close to home for millions, facts can sometimes get lost in the highly charged discussion. 

In 2015, more whites than blacks were killed by police, but when those figures are adjusted for the overall population, blacks are several times more likely to be targeted by police for use of force or be killed in encounters with law enforcement than whites, according to analyses by major news outlets including The Washington Post and The Guardian.

The counter argument, championed mostly by conservatives, is that there is more crime in black communities, necessitating more use of force and skewing statistics against blacks.

But a July 2016 research by the Center for Policing Equity proves otherwise.

After plowing through a large body of data, it concludes that “racially disparate crime rate is an insufficient explanation of racially disparate use of force rates.”

Not a showstopper in a fierce, cross-cutting debate that has mobilized public opinion nationwide.

Last Mod: 14 Temmuz 2016, 11:26
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