It’s sometimes hard to understand how much lives really matter. And what America has called human equality has either become a pipe dream or a convenient blindfold for some. But as we rack our brains back and forth between whether all lives matter or if the focus should belong to the excess of black lives in America, a new focus has shifted into our peripheral; the lives of the blue. The concept of whether blue lives matter, with these blue lives seemingly taking the breath of the blacks daily, can seem ridiculous, sad, or even a product of karma. That’s a discussion to tackle later; this is not what this piece is about.
But there is one clear summation that anyone can make; that police authority is an issue for the black community. And like most if not all issues within the black community, this isn’t new and we cannot just treat it as so. Time and time again the ordeals of the “African American” can be traced back through residual events that somehow get reenacted today. The same thing applies with our relationship with police in general. What factors, if any lead to the demolition of the police image? What has made police brutality/murder something we may be desensitized to? A lot can be learned from the 1960s.
Policemen are hurting the black community; the individual victims become continuous examples. Policemen are hurting our people; the videos just show how frequently it occurs. We say the “black community” and “our people” because that’s where the relationship between the police force and African Americans starts, in the community, in the neighborhood, at home. George L. Kelling, a journalist for The Atlantic, wrote an article on police interactions within neighborhoods touching on several variations of police presence. Kelling speaks on the shift in job narrative pointing out that it was originally a policeman’s job to maintain public order before the role of criminal apprehension. To Kelling, “disorder and crime are usually inextricably linked” and a policeman’s presence can lend a hand in how a community develops overtime.
For black people, police presence throughout the times has not helped positive community development. In 1973 the state of New Jersey initiated the Safe & Clean Neighborhoods Act that implemented foot patrol throughout the cities of New Jersey; making neighborhoods feel safer with known officers front and center. Meanwhile many urban neighborhoods, specifically public housing, have not and currently do not see police in that fashion. First off there are no known officers front and center, they are rarely seen and when seen it is not outside of an adverse moment. This is due on how police administration allocates their resources, their resources being their workers. Some areas have more demand for police force than others but that does not guarantee that all, if even most, of the calls placed to the number 911 will be answered or if answered will be satisfactory. Now what does that do for the sensitive mindset of an African American to see police not show up? You can easily feel that your area is not deemed important enough for service; questioning whether there is a legitimate reasons other than the color of your skin compared to those in the better-quality areas. Prime example? Cops becoming as rare as golden horn unicorns at the beginning of the Watts riots off of orders not to enter the area. Funny how the times don’t seem to change
Other times when you see officers it will be through a white and blue painted vehicle as they drive by. If you didn’t notice then they might have noticed you; slowing down just enough to let you understand you have gotten their attention, try them if you dare. If you’re not looking at a cop car you’re viewing it from the back seat, another way you may see the constables of your local district. The presence of police in neighborhoods can become intimidating and even not wanted. In the times today, there is a third way you may come in contact with the force and it is through the videos you watch every day on your newsfeed. Your view of the police is not the only thing is also affected on how you believe the police view you. Kelling, in his article on how a police may act on those with due suspicion citing that “at the community level, disorder and crime are usually inextricably linked, in a kind of developmental sequence.”
The way police treated those who exhibited “disreputable behavior” could be considered rough and unnecessary being that they were only based on suspicion. However, this is where the subject of racism and the degrading of black lives enter one’s mind. Are black people as a whole considered disreputable? Because the similarities of the 1960’s to now seems very clear. Black people complained about being manhandled back then, we just happen to film more of it now. For most people there is not arguable reason for a twelve year old girl to be slammed to the ground, punched, kick, stepped on or shot just to be arrested due to public disorder.
And if you’re not asking yourself why so much force exerted by the police force then maybe you’re asking yourself why so frequent. The fact of the matter is that police are not only high strung in their thinking but also in their training. I alluded to this earlier when bringing up the policemen’s original role of public order instead of criminal apprehension. One beautiful thing Kelling said is that “the criminal apprehension process was always understood to involve individual rights, the violation of which was unacceptable because it meant the violating officer would be acting as a judge and jury – and that was not his job.” Add to the quote executioner as well because that is what they have become. Because the role of the police became to stop crime, whether it is the war on drugs or gang activity, the training behind it is to deal with criminals. And guess who gets treated like one, a good dude named Philando Castile. Instead of being approached as a man with a broken taillight he is shot like one going 105 on a 45 with a hostage. A broken taillight is an issue of public safety, never to be a platform to take another black life.
Besides, training or professionalism does not explain the fact that “Young black men were nine times more likely than other Americans to be killed by police officers in 2015” or that minorities make up less than forty percent of the population but make up 47.2 percent of all death by police force. In a study by the US Department of Justice, written by Elinor Ostrom, Ostrom states that “police professionalism may serve more to insulate the police against external criticism that to reduce the level of discrimination by police against black citizens.”
Time and time again black people have seen police officers cloaked in a veil of invincibility when asked to explain their actions on the field. Another reason for blue lives resentment. Our voices get silenced when officers are questions. It’s as if when we point one finger, we have four batons, Tasers, or guns pointing right back. Maybe that’s why when five police officer are murdered for no just reason an initial reaction for some African Americans is well know you know how we feel.
The relationship between the police and African Americans starts with the neighborhood. Because it is not one black man or woman who looks at a badge in an intimidating light, it is all the black man or woman in that neighborhood. In the study by the US Department of Justice, statistics showed that many black people have a “resentment to confrontation” attitude for a number of reasons including “the unresponsiveness of the police [and] lack of police protection in the ghetto” and police brutality. This resentment to confrontation attitude is what leads to riots in the Robert Taylor Homes (Chicago), the 12th Street Riot (Detroit), and Watts (Los Angeles). All these implosions occurred in the 1960’s and now we see riots in Baltimore over the death of Freddie Gray.
Now all this piece does is highlight the emotional balance black people feel as they ask themselves, do we suffer because police aren’t effective or do they simply not like us? Who the police choose to place their aggression on is still irrational and we do not know why. It’s a hard pill to swallow, but from most viewpoints we as black people are handled as a threat more than a person. Does discrimination come from fear? I don’t need cops who are scared of my kind. Maybe brutality comes from what they hear of us. But black stereotypes are not a part from police training. We walk around police as if we’re walking on eggshells and maybe they do the same thing too. But we won’t know until we are told. We cannot proceed until the times are acknowledged. What we haven’t been told is how police feel about those with darker skin. What hasn’t been acknowledged is that this isn’t a newfound problem.