- By Lt. Tim McMillan
A Different Perspective On Race And Policing.
The woman yells as she is hoisted onto the shoulders of a man and woman. Behind her, another man follows holding her up, keeping her from wrestling backward and free from the current predicament she is in.
The woman wiggles in a disorganized effort to resist the control of her capturers, however, her efforts are in vain. Two of the three people carrying her, each roughly double her in size.
Her appearance is lethargic and noticeably she lacks the consistent gracefulness most people exercise over their voluntary movements. It doesn’t take an expert to tell that the woman’s overall demeanor is that of the archetype person who is drunk.
As the woman is carried upward along a path of narrow concrete stairs, her attempts to free herself become more chaotic and in a blatant display of her current inability to make sound decisions, she lashes out at one of her controllers.
The woman gives an apathetic effort to strike one of the men, first by swinging down in a typical slapping fashion, and then by bringing her hand back. Only her backward slap provides any semblance of success as her hand makes fleeting contact with her targets face.
In response, the man squares his shoulders towards the woman and delivers a direct punch to her face. Her body goes limp, and no longer under her voluntary control, only the large man behind her keeps her from tumbling backward onto the ground. The woman’s body lifelessly bobs, up the stairs and out of sight. In an instant, the scene is over; left only are the large swaths of onlookers who anxiously exchange glances at each other.
Whether as an artifact of our patriarchal society or as a concession of the inherent physiological differences between men and woman, most men are taught at a young age that it is against social norms to hit a woman. Barring the onslaught of a true violent attack, most men accept that being slapped by a woman is a consequence of misbehavior and the act does not coincide with the start of mutual physical combat. This is a cultural attribute that is reinforced by virtually every modern love story in entertainment, and it is almost a certainty that the main female love interest will at some point slap her male counterpart during a heated exchange at an antagonistic climax.
Under all conventional wisdom, the scene I just described between the drunken woman and man should beseech social outcry and communal condemnation of the man’s actions. Admittedly, when I saw the video of the incident, a certain twinge of uncomfortableness plagued me as I watched the clearly unconscious woman being carted off.
However, in defiant rejection to social norms, the response by many members of the public was apathetic and indifferent to the drunken woman being knocked unconscious by a swift punch to the face.
In fact, in a host of public opinions, both by men and women, it could easily be concluded that people’s overall mood of the man’s decision to knock the woman out, was celebratory and not all reproachful. Of course there were two significant factors I failed to mention in my retelling of the event that occurred this past year during a University of Miami football game.
The “captures” in question were not kidnappers, rather they were Miami-Dade police officers. The woman being removed was a drunken and belligerent fan who, at the time, was being ejected from the evening's football game. In addition, to their roles there was one other marked detail that influenced public opinion of the incident, an influence that most people would rather diminish that admit truly is something engrained in the American social fiber.
The officer who hit the woman was African American. The drunken woman, herself was White. Equally, noteworthy the bulk of the public response favorable towards the officer's actions were from White America and minority opinions seemed noticeably silent.
It is important to stipulate up front, my intent is not to give an opinion of the justification of the officer's actions. In fact, for me, this incident was far more interesting for other reasons, and admittedly I spent little time examining the event itself.
Rather, for me, this single incident that occurred on November 9th, 2017, at the Orange Bowl in Miami, Florida, captured by an onlooker and posted to Instagram, encapsulates a host of fascinating peeks into the collective social consciousness of Americans and how racial variances can influence our thoughts and opinions.
Now, the only significant reason for mentioning the racial dissimilarities of the woman and the officer who struck her comes from the fact that the collective acceptance of the officer’s actions was actually contradictory to a typical implicit social bias we suffer from.
The modern perception of Black men being more violent, dangerous, or predatory has been shown in a host of contemporary sociology and psychology studies. In fact, one would be hard-pressed to find a single peer-reviewed, empirical study that didn’t demonstrate that people have, at a minimum, an implicit bias of negative view towards Black men and their association with violence.
Ultimately, much of the modern association of Black men and violence stems from the early days after the 1863 abolition of slavery, when the negative cultural stereotyping of African Americans changed.
While suffering enslavement, people of color were labeled as hapless, unintelligent, docile or childlike. However, at the onset of the post-slavery era, White America’s narrative changed and presented African Americans as animalistic, inherently violent, social predators. This violent stereotype of people of color would be the seeds of implicit bias that have been planted in even the most consciously un-racist American today.
All of this is worth mentioning for the simple fact that, even if it was unconscious, the simple fact is that the American public should have been outraged with the African American police officer punched the woman in the face last November. In fact, the embedded and collective culture of America, White Americans should have been more likely to have been angered because the officer was Black and the woman was white, than they would have been had the situation been the same, with only the acting officer’s race being different.
However, as I collected data from responses from a host a differing outlet’s social media coverage of the incident, overwhelming the collective response went against the grain of the normal racial bias. Essentially, people rejected the social norm that men shouldn’t hit women and failed to let their implicit bias of the Officer’s race influence their opinion.
It is also particularly important to note that over the last half-decade, American law enforcement has found their decisions to use force against others under a social microscope. The scrutiny of police actions has been particularly questioned in relation to racial discrepancies; with a large portion of the African American community voicing their concern of disproportionate treatment by law enforcement. Which brings up the question, why was the response different in this incident?
Had the African American man who punched the woman been wearing a t-shirt and jeans, the responses would likely have been drastically different. However, at the end of the day, many White Americans rejected the implicit bias of the Black male violence stereotype because a much more significant influence overrode and took over the implicit collective consciousness.
The acceptance and willingness to trust authority.
Cultures, ethnic groups, and racial identities, they each have a collective personality that can be attributed to them. The video of the Miami-Dade police officer punching the woman provides one with an excellent example of how the collective racial personalities differ in America.
As a whole, White Americans are more likely to trust and accept that organized authority acts in a fair and responsibly just manner, than members of the minority community.
When it comes to the organized authority of a government, politicians, and legislators create and pass laws. Once governmental authorities enact laws, the task of enforcing those laws falls on the varying confederation of law enforcement agencies in America.
In the end, the law enforcement profession ends up then being the most symbolic and proximate form of authority that citizen can come in contact with. Additionally, by defined nature of their role, law enforcement entities are authority's actionable arm.
The divide in how racial groups view authority has been demonstrated through a host of different studies, such as a 2014 Cornell University study that found that 33% of Black Americans had confidence that the police would not use excessive force on suspects. Comparatively, only 7% of White Americans felt the same. A more significant contrast can be seen in the views of how quick the police are to employ deadly force, with 74% of Black Americans saying the police were too quick to use deadly force, with only 28% believing the same.
More recently, a December 2016, Criminal Justice Survey by the Cato Institute found that 68% of White Americans had a favorable view of government authority, while only 40% of African-Americans felt the same. Finally, an August 2017 study published by the Pew Research Center found that while 53% of White Americans felt “Very warmly” towards law enforcement, with only 22% of Black Americans feeling the same. Ultimately, the most significant attitude held by Black Americans towards the police was rated as “Very Cold” at 30%.
In the incident of the drunken woman being punched, the eventual overall influence on why there was little public outcry was based on a two-pronged response that was divided by collective racial personalities.
Many White Americans did not see the woman being hit as being unjust, as much of White America accepts that the actions of those in authority, de facto the police, are inherently justifiable. Conversely, for many minority Americans, the fact the woman was hit was not inherently viewed as justifiable and instead was considered as being a typical response when it comes to how authority responds when challenged. Additionally, there was probably, at a minimum, an unconscious sense of satisfaction that the woman, in this case, was not a minority and therefore if abuse of power must exist, at least the abuse can be equal.
As a whole, the differences of how racial groups perceive authority, can be considered the most significant factor of how incidents of police use of force are viewed by the public. A good example for this can be seen in the way in which many people dispute the protests against police violence against minority communities.
A characteristic argument against racism in the police's decision to employ violence comes with the suggestion that American law enforcement uses deadly force more on White persons than they do people of color. On the surface, this argument demonstrates a simplistic view of how proportional statistics works, however, most importantly it is not a valid argument that any person can ever truly make.
In fact, any argument of the use of police deadly force, regardless of which side of the spectrum it is used, cannot be every considered valid for one significant reason.
There is effectively zero governmental or non-governmental data collected on police deadly force usage. The only remotely close database on police use of force is the Washington Posts’ “Police Fatal Force” database. However, the news organization’s data collection only pertains to fatal encounters and it does not account for deadly force that is used and a suspect is not killed.
Ultimately, there is no authority that collects and archives data on the number of incidents in which the police shoot but do not kill suspects. Therefore, without any semblance of actual data, no one can ever truly render any legitimate conclusion on any correlations of police use of force and race.
Regardless, making the assumption that law enforcement indeed does use deadly force on White persons more than minorities, this only provides an argument against racism and the use of force, it does not by any means render any evidence to support whether the force is or isn’t justified.
By deductive logic, the counter-argument that police use deadly force more on Whites than minorities actually says: “The police kill more armed/unarmed White people than minorities, and we don’t really care, so why should you?”
Essentially, the social perception that lies underneath all of these arguments on race and policing isn’t merely that the public concludes that the police are using force proportionally against the public. Rather, it is that people accept that if the police used force then they had a legitimate reason to do so, and therefore consent that police authority is acting appropriately.
Now, one of the most important aspects to keep in mind when it comes to the differences in how collective racial personalities views authority is that the inherent minority mistrust of authority is not without merit.
When it comes to cultures, ethnic groups, or racial identities, just like your individual personality, the collective thoughts, opinions, and views of a group is influenced by their historical experiences.
Frankly, I shouldn’t have to elaborate too much, and hopefully, most everyone can think of more than one or two instances throughout America’s distant and not-too-distant past that provide the historical foundation for why minorities in America would be less trusting of authority. Conversely, these same examples can also support why White America would be more willing to trust those in power.
In essence, throughout American history the powers of authority have worked for the benefit of White Americans, yet they have been to the detriment of minority groups.
Understanding that we all, individually and collectively, are products of our past is important to remember when we consider how we go about improving our future. Equally, as important is recognizing that everyone else around us doesn’t necessarily have the same past as us and therefore their individual and collective personalities will differ.
To a large degree, overcoming and progressing positively for the future depends on our willingness to approach others much like we would any other intimate relationship in our lives.
This relationship approach indeed can help with the racial disparities and the views of policing, or racial differences as a whole.
Much like the beginnings of any relationship that one wishes to be successful, we must accept the differences of one’s past and recognize how they may shape their views today. Few views hold more significance than a person’s view of their own safety and security, and historical remnants that create feelings of mistrust are difficult obstacles in the path of relationship success. However, when a person cares about the success of the relationship, they will find ways to understand, empathize, and grow trust with another.
The importance of fostering successful relationships communally is just as important as to why we as individuals seek out relationships personally.
When we work together with others as a shared collective, our individual lives are more fruitful.
The eventual success in the relationships between people depends on our ability to set moral and ethical foundations on which to build on.
When it comes to the perceptions of both the public and the police, we must all have a desire set our foundations morally and ethically. This requires the police to ensure they are acting morally and ethically in order to ensure they are fostering public trust. Equally, it requires the public to measure the morality of events by their individual merit and not allow themselves to be bound in the present by the emotional scars of the past.
At the end of the day, the disparity in racial views of authority should not be considered as a hindrance by those in the positions of authority, nor should they be considered as a definite by those who mistrust positions of influence.
Instead, the prevailing differences should be viewed as momentous opportunities for great good. Because, when positive outcomes are assumed to be self-evident, the only potential that exists is to extend expected outcomes or fail to meet expectations. However, expected results are less certain or even negatively predisposed; these are the times in which one can give birth to unexpected great results.
By understanding our past, and recognizing its influence on the present, suddenly we find that each day is an opportunity for greatness and that each of us plays a role in our own ability to be great.
Lastly, life as a whole should always be about balance. Balance, as it relates to both trusting and mistrusting authority, should be considered very important. Regardless of what an authority represents, nothing should ever be considered beyond reproach and each of us should feel comfortable questioning our own governance.
For those who represent the positions of authority, we should never consider it to be a challenge or slight to questioned by anyone seeking to gain balance. Rather, the true demonstration of authority does not come from asking to be trusted without question. Instead, true authority comes from the ability gain the trust of others by one’s eagerness to answer questions when asked.