Seven Ways We Can Combat Racial Bias In Society and Law Enforcement

AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin

In my last post we discussed racial bias and it’s influence on deathly police shootings of unarmed Black males. In this post, we’re going to descuss seven ways to possibly correct this racial bias and hopefully create a society that’s less racist and law enforcement that protects and serves it’s Black citizens better.

Address Racial Prejudice At A Young Age

Let’s face it, we live in a racist society. It’s hard to grow up today and not have some form of prejudice implanted in you by society. Even many of us who think we aren’t prejudice have shown our true colors during the Black Lives Matter protests by the things we say in comment sections when we think we’re safe behind our keyboards and smart phones.

The good thing is, children are much more accepting and responsive to racial bias reduction strategies compared to adults. The earlier we introduce them to racial bias and stereotypes, the more likely they are to recognize them and therefore not engage in them when they get older. Introducing programs that address racial bias reduction in elementary schools could lead to a whole new generation of adults that are less prejudice compared to trying to integrate racial bias reduction programs later in life.

Increase Interracial Engagement

If we mainly surround ourselves by others who look and think like us, it’s easy to develop intergroup bias. Cross racial engagement helps alleviate that bias. When people engage with others from different races, it gives them a chance to know them on a deeper level, therefore when they hear broad assumptions such as “All Black people are criminals”, they have a frame of reference that allows them to say “that is not true”. Cross-racial engagement not only leads to better understanding of other groups, but it can lead to better relationships as well. White college students for example, with cross-race roommates tend to have more diverse friendship bases, experience less interracial anxiety, and are more likely to value diversity after only a few months (Gaither & Sommers, 2013). When people from opposite races, personally know people from that race , they are less likely to engage in stereotypes and more likely to support systemic reform that helps make the lives of those who may look different from them better.

Increase Community Policing

Ideally, community policing means that the police are engaged with the civilians who live in that community. They take the time and effort to build relationships. They show that they are there to protect and serve, not just to enforce the law. As a Black male who grew up in a Black neighborhood, as a kid I was always afraid when the police came to my street because I never saw them show up to do anything other than harass and arrest people. They weren’t usually nice. I didn’t see them as allies. I saw them as someone to be afraid of, to run from. That’s how the police are viewed in a lot of inner-city neighborhoods because of the lack of relationships they have within the community. It doesn’t help that in my neighborhood, most of the time the police who patrolled it were White, they didn’t live anywhere near where I lived. They got to come to our lower income neighborhood, harass us for being in our neighborhood and then leave and go to better neighborhoods. We resented them and that’s not how it should have been, but that’s how it was when I was growing up and it hasn’t changed. In community policing, law enforcement and the citizens have mutual respect for each other and work together to keep the community safe. The citizens and police develop trust between each other which is something that is lacking in most inner-city neighborhoods. When police officers are seen only as coming around to harass citizens and over patrol a neighborhood, the citizens not only develop a fear towards the officers, but also a distrust and resentment that makes it hard for both the officers to do their jobs and for the citizens to feel as if they are being protected and served by those officers fairly.

Diversify Police Departments

A diverse police department not only helps officers from different races, genders and backgrounds develop better gender and interracial engagement among each other, but it would greatly help with community policing. As I said before, most of the officers that patrolled the Black neighborhood I grew up in were White. Because there often is a distrust between the Black community and police in general and White police officers particularly, it fosters an “us versus them” mentality in both the community and with the police officers. This “us versus them” mentality in law enforcement I believe is one of the cancers that a diversified police department can cut out by inhibiting prototypicality and less homogeneity while increasing more positive attitudes towards the communities these officers patrol.

Rotational Assignments For Officers

Many officers are assigned to high crime areas where their only interactions with minorities may be dealing with the worst of the worst. They may be in gang units or “street crime units” where they are more likely to encounter minorities who fit the cultural stereotype of being criminals. If this is what the officers see on a regular basis, it’s easy for them to start assuming that most minorities, especially Black males, are suspicious or involved in some type of criminal activity. It would be helpful to have officers rotate assignments in minority communities so that they can see that race isn’t a diagnostic cue for determining a threat. For example, an officer who was in the gang unit can also be assigned to work where he or she will have a wider range of interactions with minorities such as school aged children, the elderly, business owners and just regular citizens who care about their community. This exposure will likely help the officer be less stereotypical and not relate race so much to crime or a threat. This goes for officers of all races.

Diveristy Training

It should be required that all law enforcement officers go through continual diversity training. Studies have shown that diversity training can have immediate, positive impacts on the way officers view other races, especially when that training is combined with both awareness (self awareness of stereotyping) and skill development (practice resolving conflict). Most people do not intend to be racist, bias or even stereotype, but it is subsconcious and that’s why diversity training is so important. It helps bring those subconscious biases and stereotypes to the conscious where they can be addressed.

Increase Accountability

Lastly, to equalize status differences between law enforcement officers and civilians as well as to address racial bias, body cams and dash cams should be mandatory during each officers-civilian encounter. This will help hold officers accountable for their on-duty conduct. It is a good idea for both the protection of the officer and the civilian as well as can be used as a training and appraisal tool. It also equalizes status differences between the officer and civilian so that the officers account of an incident doesn’t automatically outweigh the account of the civilians. Law enforcement officers should not be afraid to do their jobs, but like all professionals, they should be held accountable, trained properly and disciplined when they do their jobs poorly.

 

Changes don’t happen over night, but none of these suggestions are hard to put into place. We have to tackle racial bias if we hope to reduce the number of shootings of unarmed Black men, the over patrolling and arresting of minorities as well as creating a police force that is welcomed and not feared in minority communities.

Sources:

Hall, A. V.< Hall, E. V., & Perry, J. L. (2016) Black and blue: Exploring racial bias and law enforcement in the killings of unarmed black male civilians {Electronic version].

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