While the Internet was once again awash in what seems like its semimonthly outrage over cellphone footage of a police officer abusing another unarmed person of color, the New York Times published a story that was far more frustrating and scream-about-able. Selecting Greensboro, N.C.—because of the state’s detailed traffic-stop data collection—the article documented a systemized history of stopping, searching and arresting black men and women that some readers found unbelievable. Meanwhile, black people’s response to the article was even more revealing:
Long before iPhones, YouTube or Instagram became embedded in the collective consciousness of African Americans, the prevailing thought was that cops were predators and black people were prey. The commotion surrounding the body-slamming of schoolgirls or the rear-naked choke-holding of cigarette sellers is because now we can all see it. We always knew it, but now we could point to the incontestable evidence and say to those who had previously shamed us into silence: “Look! Now everyone can finally see what we’ve been talking about when we mention the racist police!”
Yes, the police are racist, and we shouldn’t be afraid to say it. The less we say it, the easier it is to deny for those who have the power to change it. Say it with no nuance or disclaimer.
We have to start with the caveat that we are not talking about individual police officers. I don’t even mean generally, in the way you think black people can dance, firemen are fine or pit bulls are mean. I mean factually. Incontrovertibly. At a statistical significance. The collective of police officers, sheriffs, patrolmen and whatever-they-call-them-in-your-area practice racism as policy.
The government, media and even police departments know it. Every time any agency or organization conducts a study or survey that intersects race and law enforcement, the result is always the same: The police are racist.
I don’t say it like that to be incendiary or provocative. I believe we have to say it that way. It is easy to dismiss factual evidence when it is hedged with politically correct, inoffensive language. If you tell your homeboy that skinny jeans might not be the right style choice for him, he might dismiss your fashion advice. But tell him his fat rolls pop out the top and you can see his pathetic flaccid penis pressed against his thigh, and trust me, he’ll change.
The mere mention of the word “racist” solicits guffaws and gives white people the heebie-jeebies because they think an allegation of racism means “you hate black people.” It has evolved into an easily dismissible slur because there is a sentiment that all racists wear white hoods and spend summer nights burning crosses on lawns. We must first understand what the term “racist” really means.
I used to work for a small company whose CEO graduated from an all-white private school. His company had created a pipeline that selected, trained and siphoned smart, capable graduates from his alma mater into his company’s management ranks. We became close friends, and he was startled to learn that there was an outside perception that his company was racist.
I explained to him that if the pool that he hired and promoted from was mostly white, then people of color had less opportunity to work and advance at his company. I don’t believe there was a bone in his body that had disdain for black people, but I explained to him that his employment practices—by definition—were inherently racist. Regardless of his intentions, a black person had a lesser chance of entering his company’s workforce as a manager.
That is the definition of institutional racism (by the way, he fired me four days later). Very few people (outside of the black-barbershop community) believe that there is a backroom cabal instructing police officers to brutalize black people. Instead, the methodologies of policing used by most law-enforcement agencies across America are shown to have a disproportionately negative effect on its constituents of color. There is no way to argue that. It is a fact based in data, research and evidence. Here are some findings:
* More young black men were stopped in New York City in 2011 than there are young black men in the city.
* Eighty-seven percent of New York City’s stop-and-frisk efforts to stop gun violence were against African-American or Hispanic men, although whites were twice as likely to be found carrying a gun.
* In Greensboro, officers “used their discretion to search black drivers or their cars more than twice as often as white motorists—even though they found drugs and weapons significantly more often when the driver was white. … Officers were more likely to stop black drivers for no discernible reason. And they were more likely to use force if the driver was black, even when they did not encounter physical resistance.”
* A Propublica analysis of police shootings revealed that young black males are 21 times more likely to be killed by a police officer than their white counterparts.
* The Guardian found that unarmed black people are twice as likely to be killed in an encounter with the police than a white person.
* Two out of 3 convictions overturned by DNA evidence involve African-American or Hispanic men.
* Although whites use, sell and distribute illegal drugs more than blacks, African Americans are three times more likely to be arrested for a drug offense.
I could stick in 100 more easily Google-able statistics that show the way police officers conduct traffic stops, investigate crimes and carry out almost every other aspect of policing in America victimizes people of color. If simply having a darker skin tone renders one vulnerable to violence, the temporary loss of one’s right to privacy and the suspension of one’s constitutional protection against illegal search; if it makes tenuous one’s very freedom, and ultimately one’s life, then the term “white supremacy” shouldn’t be as provocative as it is. Blood is red. The sky is up. Police are racist.
We must accept this as fact. Denying it is as stupid as saying the earth is flat or that Dez Bryant didn’t catch that ball. (No, I’m not going to let it go!) If you want to lose weight, you first have to step on a scale and get an objective statistical statement of what you weigh now, and law enforcement in America is heavy with racism. Unless we are willing to say it out loud, we can’t begin to solve the residual problems.
So what do we do about it?
The hell if I know.
From here, though, we can have a meaningful conversation. Or not. There cannot be a constructive dialogue unless the involved parties can agree on the facts. There are legitimate questions to be answered about the roles of black-on-black crime, the African-American family unit, parenting, the education system and much more. There are some people who even believe that people of color are just less evolved, and inherently more animalistic, criminal and untrainable. Those people are stupid.
But no more stupid than anyone who wants to argue that police aren’t racist.