Tag: police

Perceptions on Race and Crime…

What’s the difference between a joyride and stealing a car?

The elements are the same: the taking of a car with the intent to temporarily deprive the owner of its use. Unfortunately, what is considered a “joyride” in a white community becomes “grand theft auto” in a community of color. 

The outcome can be different depending on the defendant. If you have a white defendant that comes in with a fancy lawyer, who is arguing that it was a childish prank and points at the future the young man has ahead of him while the young man is crying in open court — the case may either be dismissed or result in a diversion program. 

Meanwhile, the defendant of color may not have anyone vehemently arguing on his behalf. His family does not have the money for a lawyer or to pay the fee for a diversion program. The overworked public defender cannot delve as deeply into the case.  He’s sorry for the stupid act; but maintains a stiff upper lip in front of the judge, because in his culture, men don’t cry — it’s perceived as weak. His outcome ends up being more severe with a criminal conviction. This now means he will have difficulty getting a job, obtaining student loans, living in public housing, or even joining the military. His life is over before it gets started. 

This is even assuming that the white defendant is even arrested — he may be brought home by the police with a stiff warning, and the car returned to the rightful owner. 

Similar scenarios play out across the country due to stereotypes some people have that people of color have no future.

So how do we make the justice system more colorblind?

All first time offenders of non violent crimes should be given a diversion program. All addicts should be placed into a drug court that requires treatment. It should not be a matter of whether or not your lawyer advocates on your behalf for a program. The Task Force on 21st Century Policung, convened but the White House after the events in Ferguson, issued a report that in part urges police departments to return to community policing, where they get out of their cars and get to know the residents. This way, you can bring young Johnny home to his family — or if there are issues at the home, the officer is aware and find another solution for a young person acting out. 

It happens regularly in white communities; with a little creativity the same can be done in communities of color. 

My friend Courtney Swan wrote a riveting piece on our criminal justice system from a Canadian perspective. She makes some great points backed by statistics that show the disparity brought on by the history of racism in America. She comes to similar conclusions as seen in my recent discussion on the War on Drugs. We are moving forward, but we still have some work to do! 

The War on Drugs is Killing Black America 

By guest blogger Courtney Swan

Since President Richard Nixon coined the term in a press conference in June 1971, the ‘War on Drugs’ has been a forceful weapon for nationwide, institutionalized discrimination and racism in the United States.

Nixon declaring to the Congress on Drug Abuse Prevention and Control that drug abuse was “public enemy number one” was the start of the country’s longest ongoing war, along with the notoriously detrimental effects of its repercussions.
Just to get it out of the way right now, because I know many of you are wondering what my stance is on it… the War on Drugs is a race issue. 
But please understand that this isn’t just my stance. This isn’t my opinion reflective of my own personal biases.
This is a cold, hard fact, and this series is going to extensively break down and analyze the many truths surrounding this.
The War on Drugs is a crisis which over the last 45 years has brutally and unjustly targeted and devastated communities of color all across America.
One of the most frequent responses to the pleas for criminal justice reform to solve the epidemic of mass incarceration of people of color is, “Well, the real issue we need to resolve is black-on-black crime!”
But, here’s the thing… black on black crime is in itself a twisted, and quite frankly racist expression used to represent the completely bogus idea that more black people are in prison because more black people are criminals.
This idea needs to be shut down.
What the idea of ‘black on black crime’ does is enable American citizens to turn a blind eye to this form of institutionalized racism by encouraging us to justify it. It allows us to diminish the value of black life and black freedom with implications that it is undeserved. . . that mass incarceration has nothing to do with systemic racism and everything to do with the shortcomings of black people in America.
So let’s debunk the myths.

Myth #1: Black on Black Crime Is Worse Than White on White Crime

Read the rest here

Rest In Peace Former Director Bobby Parker

bobby parker 2 This past Saturday, former Miami-Dade Police Department Director Robert “Bobby” Parker was laid to rest. He  retired in 2009 after rising through the ranks to become the first African American in the department’s top job. Director Parker was named Miami-Dade Police Director in 2004 by then Miami Dade County Mayor Carlos Alvarez. Director Parker joined the force in 1976 and quickly worked his way up the ranks. He spent 33 years in the eighth largest police department in the US, doing what he did best — protecting, serving and mentoring.

My memory of him was sitting next to him in 2009, as we were giving commencement speeches to the police academy class. We had met casually before, but this was the first extended contact I had with him. When he gave his speech, he  reminded the young officers that the police uniform will bring new attention, so do not forget who you started out with. 

I thought to myself “wow, things are that hectic that the Director has to tell folks not to cheat on their partners?”

But, he was right, and it was sage advice.

Throughout my career I had seen (and continue to see) officers get caught up in power and following the crowd — in the process, destroying their families. Bobby’s words of staying grounded rang so true; I often wondered how many of those new officers heeded his advice.

Since that day, we ran into each other frequently at community events. He always had an easy smile, and a great demeanor. I saw the many causes we shared in common, and that he had a genuine concern for the next generation, especially young African American men.

I had been out of town the last few weeks at the National Black Prosecutors Conference, and attending family matters, returning to discover he had passed away…and at his own hand.

It was right after his 62nd birthday

My heart broke into a million pieces.

I don’t know what happened. All I can say is this. Never be afraid to ask for help, no matter where you are in life. There is no shame in going to therapy; there is no weakness in speaking to someone about your problems. Who cares what is “macho” or not!

If someone comes to you wanting to talk, don’t blow it off or turn them away. We need to take care of each other, and find coping mechanisms to deal with the stress of life before it overwhelms us. If you sense a friend is in trouble, just ask the question.  Put aside whatever “bro-code”. I know we have to respect the privacy of others, but also follow your gut if you sense something.

And yes I will say it. My fellow African Americans, we have to stop this stigma of “therapy and depression is a White people thing”. Because it’s not — it’s real. Depression doesn’t stop to check what race you are before it invades your mind and destroys your spirit. Depression is killing us in different ways; therapy, medications, and other healthy coping mechanisms can help sort things out.

And guess what?

There are African American therapists, so cultural sensitivity is not a problem.

My mother always had a saying “Once there is life, there is hope”.

There is no problem without a solution, you just may need help finding it.

So please. Help yourself. Help each other.

Bobby, rest in peace. You left us way too soon.

My deepest condolences to the Parker family, and to my brothers and sisters in blue who are grieving right now.

M.

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A Moment of Reflection: Fill in the Blank

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In  our busy lives, it’s always good to take a moment of reflection. It is always critical to remind yourself that not all _____ are _____. You have to always remind yourself not to generalize, in whatever situation you are in life. The “blanks” differ from person to person.  If you’re a single man going through dating horrors, not all women are crazy. When I was single, I had to remind myself of that about men 🙂 . From a political standpoint, not all Republicans are evil, not all Democrats are destructive. Fill in the blanks.

I found myself having to have to do that frequently in the last few weeks. After coming off the heels of a widely publicized scandal, in which police officers that I knew in Miami Beach, socialized with, went to battle shoulder to shoulder with in the court room, were discovered to have sent very vile racist and misogynistic emails, I had to take a step back and reflect. After getting past my initial hurt and anger, I had to think about constructive ways to confront what has clearly emerged as a subculture of racism in a department that I actually have the unique opportunity to effect change in. But I had to remind myself that this was not necessarily the culture, but a subculture. Because not all ______are ______. Not all police officers are racist. Not every single police officer in that department was involved. But it did take a moment to get to that place. I had to evaluate all of my interactions. I had always believed that myself and people who were racist pretty much had a clear understanding; we’d look at each other, and know that we were not on the same page.There was always a certain edge that is present. It’s hard to put into words, but just how one can sense when a person doesn’t like you, it’s the same type of feeling.  But it was clear in this case that those who held ignorant views did not always act in this fashion, and were capable of hiding it on a whole new level.
Interestingly enough, several weeks before the Miami Beach emails broke, I was teaching a class to police management, and we reached the topic of social media.  A similar scandal had occurred in 45 minutes north of us in Ft. Lauderdale, and an African American sergeant asked me my opinion. Mistake #1 — never ask my opinion, because I will give it to you raw.  I basically said that anyone who would sent such emails degrading African Americans and women was a subhuman racist. I noticed an interesting shift of energy in the room, and the sergeant looking at me with panic. He came up to me after, and said “while I’m glad you said that and I agree with you, the truth is, there are some officers who really think that stuff is funny.” I looked at him as if he was an alien.  Not even two months later, the news of Miami Beach Police Department broke.
After just coming off the heels of this analysis and coming to a fairly decent place, I was then confronted with the horrible images that we all saw of the McKinney pool party video, and the actions of former officer Eric Casebolt. He has since resigned, with his attorney later explaining that Casebolt had responded to two suicide calls that day, and his emotions got the better of him. I can only hope that once he saw the video, he realized that “oh my gosh, I have a daughter/niece/neighbor the same age as did Dajerria Becton”. I can only hope that he realized when confronted with the video that his actions were rooted in anger, not an attempt to arrest someone engaged in criminal activity. I can only hope that in looking at the video he realized that he escalated the situation, and that the boys he drew his gun on only reacted to his unprofessional conduct in hurling a bikini clad girl to the ground; that the fact his fellow officers rushed over unarmed was a sign that he was over saturated and needed to step away from his position. I firmly believe that there needs to be policies in place to deal with officer stress. It is still taboo for officers to seek counseling or to complain of over saturation, which can lead to incidents like this. I believe officers need to be rotated out of certain assignments to quite bluntly, keep them sane.
I reflect back on the amazing cops I know.  I think of the African American officers who endured horrible racism in the last 20 years, but did it because they love the job and the community.  I think of the great cops of all races that do the job every day because they believe in justice, who treat everyone with respect, and are decent, good people. And I don’t want their good works to be tarnished by a few rogue nasty elements who are not worthy of the badge.  And in order to be safe, in order to have justice, we need good cops!
Regardless, I felt that I needed to step back and take a moment to remind myself to fill in the blank.  Because again if we are to ever move forward, we cannot indict an entire population for the actions of a few.
And this cuts both ways.
Remember to always fill in the blank.
M.

No, They Weren’t Overreacting: Ferguson & The Future

Outrage In Missouri Town After Police Shooting Of 18-Yr-Old ManThe grand jury and the Department of Justice have both come to the conclusion that now former Officer Darren Wilson should not face charges in the shooting death of Michael Brown. This was not a surprise, based on the legal standard in police shooting cases, as well as the forensics in this case.

What is also not surprising to me is the rest of the Department of Justice report, which points out a plethora of civil rights violations in Ferguson and surrounding communities in St. Louis.

The reason why I am not surprised is the fact that the people of Ferguson had such a visceral response to the shooting of Michael Brown, and that they were so quick to believe that Officer Wilson shot the young man out of malice. Many like to believe that the residents of Ferguson were either racist, victims of “race baiters” (whatever that means), or just devoid of any independent thought.

I however felt differently. I believe that where there is smoke, there’s fire. I always questioned that there had to be something deeper under the surface. The shooting of Michael Brown was just the tip of the iceberg and now the Department of Justice has provided empirical evidence that support the residents’ claims of systemic racism and wrongdoing.

The reality is for many years, the Ferguson Police Department has been violating its people. They have been arresting African-Americans in that community at a higher rate; African-Americans in the community have been levied fines at a higher rate than their white counterparts; and they struggled to pay those fines, doing what they had to do to be responsible citizens. Yet, they found no relief. When the tragic shooting of Michael Brown occurred, this was the tipping point. That is why the people reacted in such a violent angry way. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr once stated that “a riot is the language of the unheard”.  While I do not in any way shape or form condone the violence or the rioting that occurred, it originated as the means and the method of people that feel they had no voice. The courts provided them no remedy — they were excessively fining them.  The police were abusing them (as proven by the DOJ report). Voting was ineffective, because the candidates they elected were not bringing their concerns to the forefront. When the people that are in power are exchanging racist emails,  joking about the ability of an African American man to hold a job for a prolonged period of time, or that aborting an African American baby would positively affect the crime rate, where is one to go to get justice?

So what now? What needs to happen is that law enforcement around the country must take a long hard look in the mirror at their practices, their recruiting methods, and how they are interacting with the community. Because like President Obama said in a recent speech, this is not an isolated incident. There are Fergusons throughout this nation. And if we do not take proactive steps to fix this, we are doomed to have a repeat of the horrible events we saw around the country in 2014. And no one wants that. It is critical to have diversity at all levels of the criminal justice system. I can assure you that the abuses would not have been as rampant in Ferguson if there were more African-Americans on the police department. The same goes for in the court system, as well as in the prosecutors and defense offices of Ferguson. The racist emails are a clear indicator that these actors in the criminal justice system do not care about the well-being of the people that they are tasked with protecting and serving. This is an issue that needs to be addressed going forward.

scandal-lawn-chairIn last week’s episode of Scandal, writer Shonda Rhimes took on the issue of race and policing with a storyline of a police officer shooting an unarmed teen. In one of the closing scenes, the police officer goes off on a very anger filled rant, where he states some key points which I have heard before. He says “you people have not taught your children to respect me“, and secondly “I kiss my wife and kids goodbye, and drive 40 miles to protect these people, for what?
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The reality is, African Americans (like most people), raise their children to respect law and authority. The “rub” is when you have a situation like Ferguson, where the trust and belief of the system has been eroded by abuse of authority. Then that respect that was taught,  turns to resentment, then anger. Once that trust is broken, it takes a very long time to rebuild, requiring a conscious effort from both sides.

The second point is the heart of the balance in policing. When officers do not live in the communities they police, an air of detachment forms. It’s going home to your palace, as others go home to their hell. There needs to be a more concerted effort for police to reside in or close to the communities they police; and when they start to get burnt out or resentful of the people they are charged with serving, then be rotated to a different area.

It is clear from the evidence that the DOJ has uncovered that the people of Ferguson had no voice for a very long time. Now, this study has given them a voice. Hopefully changes will come from this.

There are no quick fixes or easy answers — but we have to try. Lives depend on this. ALL lives.  Because all lives matter — civilian and police. No matter the color of the skin or the badge you are wearing, a mother’s tears are the same.