In the National Review/Oberlin thread, RonF wrote:1
The anti-racist-policing movement hasn’t had much to say in Freddie Gray’s case given that of the 6 cops going on trial, 3 are black – including the only one who was charged with murder. Maybe this will get people to see that the primary issue here isn’t necessarily racism.
Brian Anderson of Downtrend writes:
Not only are half of the officers involved in this black, the black officers are the ones facing the most serious charges. Does the race of the officers matter? It shouldn’t, but rioters, pundits, and activists have turned Gray’s death into an extreme case of racism, so their race matters now.
The story that Freddie Gray was killed by racist police officers just because he’s black has completely fallen apart.[…] Never before have a group of people worked so hard to make something innocuous into a racial crisis.2
Conservatives often wave around black and hispanic cops, who are part of a racist system, acting in racist ways, as proof that there isn’t racism.
And, to be fair, there are too many examples of anti-police racism activists putting too much emphasis on the race of individual abusive cops, when that’s not really the issue.
White supremacy is a matter of systematic power and bias, not just individual racists. Police racism can still be an important factor even if a particular police officer isn’t white, because officers typically act, not in isolation, but as part of a larger culture, and police abuse and raicsm is a pattern, not just a bunch of unconnected incidents.
The culture of policing evolved in a context of racial discrimination and racial control, where departments were charged with containing blacks, not protecting them. The demographics of policing have changed since the middle of the 20th century, but the culture has moved more slowly. And while we have minority officers, they—like their white counterparts—operate in an atmosphere of suspicion and distrust between communities and law enforcement.
“Regardless of who is carrying out the police function,” writes [academic researcher] Brad Smith, explaining his results, “police will always be seen as representatives of the larger establishment. As such, tensions between police and citizens may be a function of the police role.”
In a follow up interview on CNN, Blow argued that the race of the officer was not as important as the fact that police culture encourages officers to profile black men. Academic studies support Blow’s argument. […]
Conservatives seem incapable of comprehending the complex dynamics of modern American racism. In their simplistic understanding, all that is required to remove race from the equation is a minority police officer. If a black person is victimized by a black cop, conservatives reason that race must not have been a factor. To suggest racial assumptions could still be relevant is to “play the race card”. Yet, this shallow point of view fundamentally misinterprets how racism in police policy works. Police culture reflects some of the underlying biases held by the larger society. Racial profiling and police brutality are not typically the individual excesses of openly racist officers, hell bent on ethnic cleansing. Rather they are symptomatic of a covertly racist society that has yet to acknowledge the persistence of its own latent, but enduring prejudices.
In the case of Freddie Gray in Baltimore, for example, three of the six police officers charged for Gray’s death are black. This has led to some questions about whether racial bias is really at play — can a black cop be racist against his own racial group?
Related Understanding the racial bias you didn’t know you had Why do police so often see unarmed black men as threats?
But social psychologists and criminal justice experts say this question fundamentally misunderstands how institutional racism affects everyone, regardless of race. Racial bias isn’t necessarily about how a person views himself in terms of race, but how he views others in terms of race, particularly in different roles throughout his everyday life. And systemic racism, which has been part of the US since its founding, can corrupt anyone’s view of minorities in America.
In the case of police, all cops are dealing with enormous cultural and systemic forces that build racial bias against minority groups. Even if a black cop doesn’t view himself as racist, the way policing is done in the US is racially skewed — by, for example, targeting high-crime neighborhoods that are predominantly black. And these policing tactics can actually create and accentuate personal, subconscious bias by increasing the likelihood that officers will relate blackness with criminality or danger — leading to what psychologists call “implicit bias” against black Americans. Combined, this means the system as a whole as well as individual officers, even black ones, by and large act in ways that are deeply racially skewed.
ETA: See also Jarvis DeBerry’s article.
Police racism is not a matter of “a few bad apple white cops are trigger-happy.” That is not the issue. The issue is a larger culture of white supremacy, and how that creates a pattern of bias and unfair treatment.
- In comments, Ron objected that I was responding to an argument he hadn’t actually made, hence the cross-out. [↩]
- Anderson also claims that “there is very little evidence to support that the officers, of any race, caused Gray’s death,” but that part of his argument is beyond the scope of this post. [↩]