fbpx

Type to search

Police Are Not The Problem, We Are

Featured Post Memo Pad National News Politics

Police Are Not The Problem, We Are

Share
Activist Najee Ali, seated center, is supported by a group of black civil rights activists as they block Spring Street in front of the Hall of Justice in downtown Los Angeles on September 30, 2015. "With Black Lives Matter being a new organization with young activists, they don't have the experience or discipline to be more effective advocates," Ali said. (Al Seib/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

This is not about the police.

At least, not solely. Granted, the police are the reason we are heartbroken today, the reason cable news networks are assembling panels to talk about black and blue, the fraught intersection between African Americans and the law. Last week, after all, saw two more African-American men shot by police under questionable circumstances and then, five Dallas police officers assassinated by a sniper at a Black Lives Matter rally.

But ultimately another tragedy overarches both of those: America’s ongoing struggle to reconcile itself along lines of race. We are still fighting over what being black means — and should mean — in a nation that ostensibly holds equality as a foundational belief.

We say that’s what we stand for, yet in virtually every field of endeavor, our behavior proves us liars.

In education, for instance, the federal government issued data in 2014 documenting that even as early as preschool, African-American kids are suspended far more frequently than others.

In medicine, a 2016 study by researchers from the University of Virginia found that white med students were sometimes less aggressive in assessing and managing the pain of African-American patients.

In labor, a 2003 study by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that job seekers with perceived “black” names were significantly less likely to get callbacks from prospective employers.

And in justice, oh, dear God. Multiple studies have documented a system that, from arrest to incarceration, is heavily stacked against African-American people.

This is not abstract. This is blood and bone reality, life as experienced by more than 40 million Americans. And can any thinking or compassionate person blame them if they are sick and tired of it?

Yet rather than respond to expressions of that frustration and anger in constructive and compassionate ways, too many of us seek every cowardly avenue of avoidance they can find.

Some take refuge in defensiveness, answering complaints about subconscious and systemic biases as if you’d just accused them, personally, of membership in the KKK. As if their feelings were what this is all about. Others try to shout down the messenger, often using the absurd formulation that to talk about race is racist.

Go online if you’re not there already and read the message board beneath this column; chances are good you’ll see examples of both.

Then, there are those who try to change the subject. As in Bill O’Reilly, the TV pundit, who recently proclaimed that Martin Luther King would never march with Black Lives Matter, a movement O’Reilly accuses of fomenting violence. King would probably find that laughable, given how often he was accused of the selfsame thing.

But again, to make this all about Black Lives Matter — or policing — is to make it too small. Granted, inequality becomes more visceral, visible and urgent when police are concerned, when we are called upon to tease out the role color played in some split-second decision to pull the trigger. But the point is, color also plays a role in the decision to punish a toddler, call back a job applicant, prescribe a drug, approve a loan, rent an apartment, or just extend the benefit of the doubt.

The police do not stand apart from society — they reflect it. And our society is riven by race, defensive about race, terrified of race. We say we seek understanding and light, yet too often generate only noise and heat. If America is ever to reconcile itself, that has to change.

It’s fine to demand better training, more body cams, more community liaisons. But to lay the onus entirely on the men and women in blue is to delude ourselves. Ultimately, the police are not the problem.

We are.

 

Leonard Pitts is a columnist for The Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla., 33132. Readers may contact him via e-mail at lpitts@miamiherald.com.

Photo: Activist Najee Ali, seated center, is supported by a group of black civil rights activists as they block Spring Street in front of the Hall of Justice in downtown Los Angeles on September 30, 2015. (Al Seib/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

Tags:
Leonard Pitts Jr.

Leonard Pitts Jr. is a nationally syndicated commentator, journalist, and novelist. Pitts' column for the Miami Herald deals with the intersection between race, politics, and culture, and has won him multiple awards including a Pulitzer Prize in 2004.

The highly regarded novel, Freeman (2009), is his most recent book.

  • 1

16 Comments

  1. dtgraham July 14, 2016

    When I first started coming to this website in early 2012, it eventually began dawning on me the extent to which race played in American politics and current events. Prior to that it was one thing to see the masked racial animus of the Fox News talking heads, and what I knew of Limbaugh at the time, but it was another to see the comments of everyday Americans here to the sheer volume of NM racially based stories. Comments from both the left and the right. It presented a good cross-section of thought and opinion on the topic from average Americans and it led me to check out other similar sites occasionally. I remember being surprised by it.

    I still say that race explains a lot more in American politics than many think. It often explains the unexplainable and at least partially reveals why so many lower income whites vote against their own economic self-interest. I believe that to many on the right, the Democrats are seen as the party for Blacks and Hispanics. The Republicans are viewed as the white person’s party.

    Lots of political science research has consistently shown that, while partisanship can be caused by ideology, it is just as often caused by many non-ideological factors, such as picking up voting habits from previous generations or feeling like a party best fits with one’s self-identity. That self-identity is often tied into race in America.

    Reply
    1. adler56 July 14, 2016

      I agree. Many poor whites vote Republican and that is really dumb but they don’t want to hear it. Whether their parents voted Republican and they just followed or they can see that racists are a huge part of the Republican party and follow that crowd we need to find a way to shine some light on these people and find a way to decrease their fear and stop them from voting against themselves.

      Reply
      1. A_Real_Einstein July 14, 2016

        Perhaps we should start giving them candidates that are worth voting for. Candidates who are not on the take and truly are in it for their voters as opposed to their donors.

        Reply
        1. idamag July 14, 2016

          To do that, we would have to get money out of politics and that is a formidable problem right now.

          Reply
  2. FT66 July 14, 2016

    I don’t think it is all about race per se. It is also about how policemen carry their duties. I think time has come for America to have reforms in policing and operate like other countries do. There must be what is called: “Traffic Police” which is seperated from the normal police. This group is specialised on traffic only and don’t do other police duties. They are well trained, know consequences of acting in unacceptable way and always know what they are doing. They have different uniforms to seperate them from the normal policemen so every individual can distinguish them.

    Reply
  3. Box July 14, 2016

    Not only police, anyone! Same with guns. Guns arent the problem, the person holding the gun is the problem. Cars arent the problem, the drunk behind the wheel is the problem. Society has sunk to the bottom. The average IQ in USA doesnt even reach 100. A third of the people are in mental therapy and more on prescription drugs. Why are so many people suffering from depression and anxiety? Where are our manners and politeness? Where is anything!! Want to fix the world? Fix onesself first.

    Reply
  4. ivory69690@yahoo.com July 14, 2016

    its said there is a RACE problem . the real problem is of the police and their hate of a race and or race’s . it is a surprise that it took so long for this to have happen in Dallas . for all the black lives murdered by the police (and even with video’s showing that its nothing less then murder ) think of it this way if thy had video’s of black people killing (say white people ) with these video’s thy would be found guilty . and what’s happing to the white cops ? NOTHING AT ALL THY ARE GETTING AWAY WITH MURDER heck even murdering a little kid in the park on video . ok nothing for nothing these cops only seem to have hate and murder on their minds from the start . if thy didn’t thy would shot these people in the leg . one that gets shot in the leg im sure will stop them . but no thy have to shoot for the heart (even a little kid playing in the park .. what the new saying from the police now ? don’t hang out with gang its dangerous kids should hang out at a park not with gangs in the street . why are thy and easyer target in the park for the hateful cops ? the one to blame for the police killed in Dallas are the POLICE around the country . that’s who’s fault it is . the one that murdered unarmed black people for no other reason but thy was black . let those murder cops take the blame for the fallen cops. me im whiter then white IR.SCT.FCH CA. ENSH. my race is human .its cops responcibilty to watch other cops . its not turning on the other cops to say something its doing their job . and would I be surprised to see more police killed for the acts the police have already done ? nope would not surprise me at all . I do feel there are a lot of good cops and few truly hateful bad cops. but it the bad evil cops that put the lives at risk of what thy call their brother police . the truth as I feel no bad cop should get away with the murdering of anybody it should be the ones that murdered unarmed people that should be killed . not like the 5 that was killed in Dallas . but the ones that are the reason why those 5 cops were killed . all cops . just one should be targeting the one that deserve it target only the evil hateful murdering bad cops . leave the good cops alive

    Reply
  5. idamag July 14, 2016

    Interesting article. In my morning paper there was an article about a policeman, in Rexburg, Idaho, a small community 95% Mormon. One of their policemen put racists remarks on Facebook. Their chief said there would be no repercussions as it was more foolish than hateful. It might be noted that until 1978, Mormons taught racism as part of their doctrine. I am sure these biases did not suddenly die out when they had a vision that Blacks would not be allowed to join the church.

    Reply
  6. Otto T. Goat July 14, 2016

    I agree with Leontard for once, blacks are the problem.

    Reply
    1. Sterling Harris July 14, 2016

      THEN PUT ON A UNIFORM AND SHOOT ALL THE BLACK PEOPLE YOU SEE
      YOU WILL NOT BE PROSECUTED

      Reply
  7. LogicRules55 July 14, 2016

    The author sure nailed this assertion:

    “Some take refuge in defensiveness, answering complaints about subconscious and systemic biases as if you’d just accused them, personally, of membership in the KKK. As if their feelings were what this is all about. Others try to shout down the messenger, often using the absurd formulation that to talk about race is racist.

    Go online if you’re not there already and read the message board beneath this column; chances are good you’ll see examples of both.”

    Reply
  8. Dakota Erikson July 14, 2016

    White supremacists…including the KKK….have been infiltrating police forces and the military for decades. I believe that they are the root cause of police brutality and excessive force. There guys need to be ferreted out.

    http://countercurrentnews.com/2015/05/fbi-says-groups-have-been-infiltrating-police-departments-for-years/

    Reply
  9. Acts Of Faith Blog July 14, 2016

    This article doesn’t even begin to touch on the nuance and depth needed. Also…using a photo of a known fake activist and black woman hater like that guy with the fake Ali name who was JUST caught on film threatening a black women journalist at a Council meeting where the police were in attendance is lazy reporting.

    Reply

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.