Racism is one of the more significant challenges that continues to plague police forces, particularly in America. This problem started gaining international attention when videos of African Americans facing discrimination, violence and death began to surface online as part of a movement that sought to bring attention to the plight of people of color in American. These headlines have raised questions surrounding the reasons a minority group was being subjected to discriminatory treatment from police forces. Racism against people of color occurs at the three stages of an arrest. This essay will prove that American police forces discriminate against African Americans before, during, and after an arrest. It will do so through highlighting racial profiling, the escalation of force, and the falsification of evidence as key factors that contribute to discrimination and racism against African Americans. It is important to note that racism and policing is not limited to these three factors, however, for the purposes of this essay these three key concepts will be of primary focus.
Race, racialization, and racial profiling
Race is a socially constructed grouping that seeks to define and assemble people based on phenotypical characteristics. Race is an important identifier of identity in all societies (Thompson, 2008). Minority groups are often differentiated based on racial terms. In other words, they have been racialized. Racialization refers to the classification of people into groups by reference to their anatomical features, such as skin color and facial features (Owusu-Bempah, 2016). Moreover, racialization is connected to racial profiling, which is described as the practice of targeting or stopping an individual based primarily on their race, rather than any individualized suspicion (Warren & Farrell, 2009). Police forces in America racially discriminate against people of color before an arrest through the use of racialization and racial profiling. When a police officer believes in the negative stereotypes of a minority, they begin to employ racial bias during their encounters. Racial profiling can come in many forms. One of the most prevalent forms comes from an offense dubbed “Driving While Black”, where police officers stop Black drivers at a disproportionate amount in the hopes of making a drug arrest (Rice & White, 2010). The belief that people of color are more likely to be in possession of illegal drugs is also a form of racialization, as the officer assumes that all people of color are drug users. Furthermore, racial profiling can also involve police officers stopping Black civilians without reasonable evidence or suspicion. Similarly to the “Driving While Black” offense, Black citizens are more likely to be stopped by police for reasons that would not illicit a response from a white suspect. For example, on thanksgiving of 2014, a Black man in Michigan was stopped for walking with his hands in his pockets while it was snowing (Altar, 2014). The police officer explained that walking with his hands in his pockets raised concerns over the safety of nearby neighborhoods due to recent robberies. This is an example of racial profiling being used by police forces. While the officer should not have stopped a man simply walking in the cold, his decision to stop him was ultimately made because of his race. The officer assumed that the passerby could have been involved in the robberies because of the color of his skin and, had the individual been white, the police officer would have probably avoided confrontation. An officer of the law holds the duty to protect communities and those who live in them. Part of this duty involves using the officer’s intuition to be able to pick out those who are criminal or guilty. However, assuming those of a certain race are automatically suspicious, guilty, or otherwise criminal without further evidence is a result of racial profiling and racialization. Although police departments would not admit it, racial profiling is still constantly being utilized by police officers as a means to make arrests and look into suspicions. The racial bias which police officers hold help racially discriminate against people of color. By focusing on negative stereotypes based on race, police officers aid in destroying Black communities rather than trying to build them up.
The excessive use of force
When police officers deal with complicated situations, possibly involving criminals or weapons, it is important to remain calm to prevent the escalation of violence. Allowing the suspect to peacefully comply lowers the risk of harm to both the officer as well as the suspect. However, this mindset seems to change when police officers approach and interact with people of color. Often, escalation of force is used, which involves the unnecessary use of increased and deadlier force. Police forces in America racially discriminate against people of color during an arrest through the use of excessive force. Research has proven that aggressive forms of policing disproportionately targets African Americans (Bass, 2001). Moreover, research has also found that police officers often prolong or escalate encounters with African American suspects due to the belief that they are dangerous and that violent force is necessary and appropriate (Carbado & Rock, 2016). By entering a confrontation with this incorrect mindset, the police officer has already prepared themselves for the use of force regardless of the need of the situation (Carbado & Rock, 2016). In cases like these, innocent, unarmed Black men are usually killed or harmed due to the police officer’s eagerness to “protect” themselves. This is proven by the killing of Freddie Gray, an innocent Black man who was chased down for running away from the police. While the police had no reason to arrest Gray, other than him running, they exhibited incredibly aggressive force with which they handled his arrest and subsequent transportation. Freddie Gray’s calls for medical help were also overlooked and ignored. This ultimately led to his death which was caused by a “spine [that] was 80% severed at his neck” (Freddie Gray’s Death in Police Custody – What We Know, 2016). This example of excessive force was unjustified and racially provoked, as a Black man running away was enough evidence for his arrest and subsequent mistreatment. This use of excessive force allows police officers to continue to exhibit racist attitudes and behaviors during an arrest and continue to racially discriminate against people of color in America.
Falsifying crime scenes, evidence, and records
As this essay has explained, police officer’s mindsets change when dealing with African American suspects. They prolong confrontations in an effort to draw out aggression, as they believe that all people of color are violent and therefore dangerous (Carbado & Rock, 2016). This negative and incorrect belief results in an increase in the use of excessive force and, therefore, an increase in police beatings and shootings of suspects. As a result, police officers often feel the need to alter crime scenes or falsify records and statements in an attempt to appear justified. Police forces in the United States of America racially discriminate against people of color by altering and falsifying records, statements, and crime scenes involving Black suspects. While the saying “with great power comes responsibility” has become a cliché, its meaning thoroughly applies to this situation. The importance of police reports and crime scene investigations in the court of law as well as their assumption to be completely true places them at a high standing in the justice system. As a result, their altering or falsification not only damages the victim, but also ruins the integrity of the police officers and their department. Another issue involves the uncovering of these interactions, where civilian video is required to be able to correctly identify the events that occurred. The increase in civilian video has also caused an increase in accountability for police officers (Kelly, 2014). However, if the truth can only come out through external video contradicting an officers statement, then Black citizens cannot trust the police to protect them and their communities. This results in a deadly cycle where the lack of trust in police would increase violence and disobedience during police encounters and, therefore, police officers would use excessive force and restart the cycle. An example of this can be found in the shooting of Walter Scott, an unarmed Black man who was shot and killed during an encounter with a police officer. Scott was stopped for a broken tail light when he attempted to run away, prompting a chase from the officer. The officer chased Scott until he fired at him a total of 8 times. The officer reported that Scott attempted to grab his Taser and, as a result, the officer felt threatened and was justified in shooting him. He also claims that he attempted to apply CPR to Scott. Days after the incident, cell phone video from a passerby was released. The video showed that Scott never attempted to grab the police officer’s Taser and, instead, kept running when he was fired upon. The video also shows the officer possibly planting the Taser on Scott’s body (Blinder & Williams, 2015). Furthermore, the officer never attempted to resuscitate Scott after the shooting and handcuffed him instead, leaving him face down on the ground. While the officer in this case was jailed for murder (Fantz, 2015), the fact that it had still occurred shows the extent of racism that still exists in police forces in America. Moreover, had the bystander video not been released, the officer would have been able to avoid persecution and continue to serve without any form of punishment, while Walter Scott would have never attained the justice he deserved. Had the police officer not used excessive force, there would have been no need to alter the crime scene and falsify police records. However, the officer’s actions and racial bias prompted an exaggerated use of force and, as a result, felt the need to lie in order to appear to be justified in his actions. Thus, the cycle continues and racialization and racial profiling continues to be present in police forces.
Although progress has been made throughout the years to help distance police departments from any form of racial bias, racism still exists in policing today. This essay proved how racism towards Black Americans is evident before, during, and after an arrest. Racial profiling, the escalation of force, and the falsification of evidence were the three key factors explored that contributed to discrimination and racism against Black Americans. The attention has shifted in recent years to the injustice that Black Americans face when it comes to policing. While research surrounding these types of discrimination exists and continues to be produced, what is more essential is further research on police training. What training can be implemented to reduce racism and racial bias? What is required from police forces to help mend the aftermath of discrimination in Black communities? These are some of the vital questions that require immediate attention and action.
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- Blinder, Alan and Timothy Williams. “Ex-South Carolina Officer Is Indicted in Shooting Death of Black Man.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 08 June 2015. Web. 10 July 2017.
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