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

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

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].

123 Mentally Ill People Killed By Police So Far This Year

In the first six months of the year, nationwide police have shot and killed 462 people. Out of those 462 people, 123 of them were in the midst of a mental or emotional crisis according to a Washington post analysis. c07_jd_02jul_shootinggraphic-640x230

To be fair, most of these individuals were armed, but mostly with weapons less lethal than a firearm such as toy guns, knives or a machete. Only 3 officers have been killed by a knife or machete in the past decade according to the FBI.

Below I have included a video of a mentally ill man shot and killed by police only seconds after they arrive on the scene. The mans mother called because her mentally ill son was acting erratic. He was armed with a screw driver. You can watch the video with caution and judge for yourself.

The police who responded weren’t usually called to respond to a crime, but were called by concerned family members, bystanders and neighbors because a person was acting erratically. 50 of them were outright threatening suicide.

In more than half of those killings, the officers who responded did not have adequate training in dealing with persons with a mental illness. Most of them actually responded with tactics that escalated the already volatile situation.

Yelling and pointing guns at a person with a mental illness is like pouring gasoline on a fire. A person in the middle of a mental crisis is not going to respond like someone else would, they have too much going on in their heads.

Almost a dozen of these individuals killed by the police were military veterans, many who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). One was even a former California Highway patrolman who was forced into retirement after a severe beating during a traffic stop lift him suffering from depression and PTSD.

Forty five of these cases involved someone who was seeking medical treatment or had been turned away from medical treatment.

John Guillory, a 32 year old father of two had worked as a contractor in Afghanistan. He was having what his wife called a mental health emergency. He went to the Veterans Affairs hospital in Arizona, but was turned away because they were too busy. He went home and called 911 twice, hanging up both times. When the police showed up to his house he pulled a gun out of his waistband saying, “I bet I can outdraw you”. The police shot him six times killing him.

Suicide by cop is real thing and accounts for a number of these killings.

One individual in San Francisco who pulled a BB gun out on a group of officers and was shot and killed, had left a message on his phone telling the officers “You did nothing wrong. You ended the life of a man who was too much of a coward to do it himself.”

On average, police have killed someone who was mentally ill every 36 hours so far this year. Police are starting to acknowledge the lack of effective tools and trainings they have in dealing with this population. Without large-scale retraining and a nationwide increase in mental health services, these deadly encounters will continue.

While officers on average spend 60 hours in firearm training, they only spend 8 hours on learning to de-escalate a tense situation and 8 hours on handling mentally ill individuals. Otherwise they use tactics that are counterproductive and increase the risk of violence when they encounter these individuals. Most of these individuals end up dead within minutes of encountering the police.

Some of these killings probably couldn’t have been avoided. In some of the situations the individuals had guns pointed at the police. However, a large number of these individuals could still be alive if the officers had proper crisis intervention training.

Tragic Romeo And Juliet: Teens Kill Officer Then Themselves

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Officer Robert German

In an article I wrote previously Are You In Tune With Your Teenager,  I discussed the importance of parents engaging their teenagers in conversation and actually listening to what they have to say. So many parents simply do not listen to their teens and in this one incident in particular, it proved to be deathly.

Last week, in Windermere, Florida, a very small town just outside of Orlando, 18-year-old Brandon Goode and 17-year-old Alexandria Hollinghurst, two troubled teens in love from Davenport, Florida, decided to run away together. They were both suicidal.

Alexandria seemed to have been suffering from depression while Brandon may have suffered from any number of mental issues (in 2012 his mother called the police reporting that her son had painted his face black and was threatening her with an axe).

Their relationship seemed to be as unstable as the typical teenage relationship, but much more so due to both of their emotional and mental health states. Alexandria’s family didn’t seem to like Brandon too much, and three days before they ran away together, Brandon wrote Alexandria a letter apologizing for the trouble he had caused her with her parents and thought it would be better if they broke it off so he wouldn’t continue to cause her pain.

In that letter which was partially made public, and previous letters, it was obvious that the two were in love and had an intense emotional relationship, even declaring themselves to be engaged. They had thoughts of running away to the west coast of Florida together and sailing a boat to Panama where they would get married and live happily every after. A teenage fantasy that they were determined to either make happy, or die trying.

Brandon Goode and Alexandria Hollinghurst
Brandon Goode and Alexandria Hollinghurst

On the day they ran away together, Brandon left a suicide note that said: “Please don’t be sad, this is what I want now, I get to die peacefully with the woman I love, the woman of my dreams, my fiance (Yes we were engaged!).”

Alexandria had written a suicide note a day earlier, stating to her mother: “If I  had stayed another minute I would have painted the walls and stained the carpets with my blood, so you could clean it up,” she wrote in another letter to her mother “you turned a conversation about depression and suicide  into something all about you.”

Her mom called the police who were there when Alexandria showed back up at her home. She denied being suicidal and the deputy left. The next day she ran away with Brandon. The two were immediately listed as “missing and endangered” and local and surrounding police officers went looking for them, even spotting them once before they drove off recklessly, only to later encounter Windermere police Officer Robert German as they walked along the side of the road.

Officer German immediately called for assistance, but it was too late. The teens shot and killed the officer before killing themselves.

Could the murder of this officer and the suicide of these two teens have been prevented? I’m almost sure it could have, but it may have taken some type of intervention a long time ago. However, I can’t help, but to wonder what if Alexandria’s mother would have really listened to her when she tried to talk to her about depression and suicide? Would she have been able to save her daughter, get her some help and maybe both her daughter and Officer German and maybe even Brandon would be alive today?

We will never really know, but I definitely think this reinforces the fact that parents really need to listen to their teens, make sure they understand what their teen is trying to say and DO NOT turn their conversation into a lecture or something about the parent. That’s not what your teen needs in that moment. They need you to listen, to be in tune with them and definitely to help support and guide them.

There is a lesson to be learned from every tragedy and I hope this one helps us learn to listen, communicate and pay attention to warning signs before it’s too late.

Blinded By Beauty: Ignorance Towards The Mentally Ill

Alexander_AyannaYesterday while watching the local news, I saw a story about an officer who was called to an apartment complex after residents called bout a naked woman outside of her apartment.

Upon arriving, officer Ryan McIntosh found 20-year-old Ayanna Alexander outside of her apartment, but she had put on clothing by then.

Ayanna, who is an exotic dancer, told the officer that she was upset because she didn’t have a ride to work at Rachels, a local strip club.

The officer didn’t think Ayanna was impaired or had any other medical conditions, so he called his supervisor and got permission to drive Ayanna to work. He dropped her off and left, only to be called back shortly afterwards to a nearby restaurant after receiving a call about a naked woman thrashing the restaurant and disturbing patrons.

The officers arrived at the restaurant to find Ayanns with no pants or underwear on and during questioning by the police, she removed her shirt and bra and said she wanted to go to jail.

Ayanna was charged with disturbing the peace, indecent exposure and trespassing.

The problem I have with this is, not many people in their right minds, especially an “attractive” 20-year-old woman would just strip naked and cause havoc. To me, this just screams mental illness from the start, rather it is bipolar disorder or something else, but from the start of this story i felt like this woman should have been taken to the hospital for a mental evaluation, not taken to work and just dropped off.

Even after the second incident, instead of taking her to jail, I still feel like she should have been taken for a mental evaluation. Something clearly isn’t right. Maybe it is drugs, who knows? The officer said she didn’t seem impaired, but her behavior was abnormal and he didn’t do a urinary drug screen to rule out she was on anything.

Also, he was obviously not a Crisis Intervention Team officer or had much training, experience or exposure to mental illnesses or he would have recognized that this woman was in need of help, not a ride to her place of employment.

I’m not necessarily blaming the officer for not being trained properly, but I am blaming him for being ignorant and perhaps even blinded by an attractive female and wanting to do the “nice” thing by giving her a ride to work instead of truly investigating the incident.

At the hospital I work at it’s not uncommon for officers to bring us young, attractive, 20 something year old women they find naked running or walking through the streets or just sitting in the middle of the road. Nine times out of ten these women are not under the influence of any drugs or alcohol, but are suffering some type of mental break.

Often times it’s their first psychotic episode and they go on to be diagnosed and treated for bipolar disorder (most commonly), and other times they are people with long histories of mental illness.

The late teens and early twenties are the prime ages for the development of bipolar disorder and it’s not uncommon for people to present with symptoms of erratic, impulsive and irrational behavior for the first time around 20.

If this woman is simply arrested, charged and then released, she will get no help and eventually spiral out of control again, but maybe next time she won’t run into a naive officer who is trying to be nice, but maybe a predator or someone else who instead of helping this lady may victimize her or she may do something much more reckless and dangerous than taking off her clothing and throwing food in a restaurant.

Sometimes it’s hard to recognize and start treating the first symptoms of a mental illness, but to me it’s common sense that if you come across a naked, exotic dancer who gets paid to take her clothes off, doing it for free outside in the daytime, something isn’t right and the two most likely culprits are drugs and mental illness.

If the officer quickly decided she wasn’t impaired or had a medical conditions, why didn’t he take her to rule out a mental health condition other than ignorance? This is a problem on many occasions, but especially when you consider that the jails and prisons in our country today house many more mentally ill people than all of the mental hospitals, clinics and institutions combined.

Untrained officers come in contact with mentally ill people on nearly a daily basis and often times the result is tragic (numerous officer related shootings involving mentally ill people is what sparked crisis intervention team training for law enforcement officers), or they are arrested or simply ignored.

In this case, two out of three happened. Her mental condition was ignored and then she was arrested.