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African Americans and Caucasians live in completely different worlds when it comes to perceptions of the criminal justice system and the role that police play in society. The overall findings underscore the depth of distrust among a sizable majority of African Americans toward the police, as well as doubts about the treatment of blacks following decisions not to prosecute officers involved in the killings of unarmed black men in Ferguson and New York City.
It’s a well-known principle in social psychology that people define themselves in terms of social groupings and are quick to denigrate others who don’t seem to fit into those groups. Those who share our particular qualities are our ‘in-group,’ and those who do not are our ‘outgroup.’ Sometimes these grouping are determined by factors intrinsic to who we are including; sex, age, race/ethnicity, but in this case like many going on today, they are arrived in the question of racial equality in the criminal justice system. In the following scenario, America’s criminal justice system is portrayed as the in-group, while African Americans are perceived as the outgroup. According to Psychology Today, Susan Krauss Whitbourne says “It is precisely these fences that keep us from bonding with our fellow human beings and in this way, undercut our true security.” (Whitbourne, 2010).
African Americans consciously express their fear of interacting with police, even in the time of an emergency due to considerable risks. The very real possibility of inviting disrespect, even physical harm. Most have seen witnesses treated as suspects, and know how quickly African Americans calling the police for help could wind up in handcuffs in the back of a squad car. Some are even aware of black professionals who’ve had guns drawn on them unnecessarily. “We feared what could happen if police came rushing into a group of people who, by virtue of our skin color, might be mistaken for suspects.” (Hannah-Jones, 2015). Nikole also states, “We are not criminals because we are black. Nor are we somehow the only people in America who don’t want to live in safe neighborhoods. Yet many of us cannot fundamentally trust the people who are charged with keeping us and our communities safe.” (Hannah-Jones, 2015).
Racially biased messages from the culture around you have shaped the very wiring of your brain. Most police officers involved in recent killing are of Caucasian skin color, resulting in the culture they are surrounded in. Whites believe that blacks have only themselves to blame for the presence and behavior of police officers. If African Americans would get serious about cleaning up the problems in their own communities, Caucasians believe police would not be arresting or killing so many black people. One reason police have a disproportionate number of interactions with African American males is because these men commit a disproportionate number of offenses. Steve Chapman explains, “The gist of the message is that blacks created the problem and blacks need to solve it.” (Chapman, 2014).
A method in action of measuring the stereotypes that the criminal justice system believe about their present outgroup, would be the Implicit Association Test which measures racial prejudice that we cannot consciously control. The test asks you to rapidly categorize images of faces as either ‘African American’ or ‘European American’ while categorizing words like, evil, happy, awful, and peace. This version would be given to Caucasians, as a similar version of ‘Caucasian American’ and ‘European American’ be given to African Americans. Faces and words flash on the screen, and you tap a key, as quickly as possible, to indicate which category is appropriate. “A particular way of categorizing can be inaccurate, and those false categories can lead to prejudice and stereotyping. Much psychological research into bias has focused on how people “essentialize” certain categories, which boils down to assuming that these categories have an underlying nature that is tied to inherent and immutable qualities.” (Mooney, 2014).
Social Conflict theorists maintain that the state functions as an instrument of the dominant class, such as whites and moneyed elites. Government institutions, including police departments, are the product of political processes which reveal the interests of the powerful of the society. The main function of the police is to preserve the status quo of inequality and to assist the powerful to exploit the powerless. According to JiHyun Kwon, “Holmes and his colleagues (2008) found that along with the rational choice logic, Minority Threat Perspectives (a branch of Social Conflict Theory) “capture important external political influences on the allocation of police resources” (p. 148).” (Kwon). They assert that the intersection of race and class together determine police-civilian interactional dynamics. The economically marginalized and politically powerless of today’s society are more likely to file complaints of police misconduct and experience more of such, rather than those with greater power and more resources. Jacobs and Britt also found that the Conflict hypothesis upholds when tested against the number of police homicide incidents; police officers were most likely to use deadly force in the most unequal states, supporting the idea that police act as control agents disproportionately in minority communities. (Jacobs and Britt, 1979). Numerous scholars have also stated that police-citizen contact is affected by the race of the citizen, regardless of the race of the officers.
Control ratio is one of the cognitive factors of police brutality. This variable consists of personal and social control factors which an individual tries to maximize. Tittle argues, the strongest determinant when interfaced with the fact of imbalance, as it predisposes a person or social entity to become motivated for deviance. (Tittle, 2004).
One of the largest police abuse problems is physical brutality. The main goal here should be to get the police departments to adopt and enforce a written policy governing the use of physical force. The policy should restrict physical force to the narrowest possible range of specific situations. For example, there should be limitations on the use of hand-to-hand combat, batons, mace, stun guns, and firearms. However, limiting polices’ actions will bring much debate, especially from police officers and administrators themselves. Many feel that their firepower is already too weak to battle the weapons criminals have on the streets, and limiting their legality of gun use will not only endanger them, but the innocent bystanders who must endure the hierarchy gun power creates in the benefit of criminals. For instance, not only should officers use brutality in very limited situations, to help curtail unwarranted use, but policies should require officers to file a written report after any use of physical force, regardless of how seemingly insignificant. That report should then be automatically reviewed by superior officers. According to Abuse of Power, “Departments take different approaches to officer-involved domestic violence. Some have in-house victim liaisons specifically for victims of police officers. The liaison can meet with you just as she would meet with any other victim. She can provide information about your rights and options. She may have influence within the department and be familiar with departmental policies, rules and protocols. Without special training about officer-involved cases, however, her general knowledge may be insufficient to provide sound information.” (Abuse of Power, 2002). It is necessary to involve superior officers so that a tolerance of brutality is not established, and an atmosphere conducive to police abuse is not created. Police may feel that such action would be burdensome because they often already feel burdened and restrained by policy and paperwork which takes a large amount of their on-duty time. When will police be required to do paperwork on how long and what was done during each coffee break to ensure tax payers are getting their every seconds worth? There must be a reasonable balance between civilian intervention and administration. Although, if every incidence of police abuse was requested to be reported, how many actually would be? Maybe only those serious enough, as depicted in new guidelines, would make it, leaving some space for officers to exert pressure without crossing serious and abusive policy.
Another tactic to control police brutality is to establish a system to identify officers who have been involved in an inordinate number of incidents that include the inappropriate use of physical force. The incidents should then be investigated. For those officers who are frequently involved in unnecessary police brutality, they should be charged, disciplined, re-trained and offered counseling. According to Abuse of Power, “An abusive officer may be ordered to enter a batterer intervention program as a condition of continued employment or as a condition of sentencing or pre-trial diversion.” (Abuse of Power, 2002). If such treatment proves ineffective, officers who violate abuse standards should be brought up on review before an administrative board comprised of citizens and police officials. A third violation should be met with termination and loss of pension. Some may claim that this is paranoia and will simply cost too much. A single officer can tie up numerous other non-problem officers during the discipline and re-training stages, only adding to the cost of rehabilitating this problem officer. When does an officer need intervention? When is the officer worth keeping or discharging? Is identifying abusive officers a form of prejudice? The police officer is there to serve and protect the public who pays his or her salary. The officer should then be subject to any investigations into his or her abusive actions on the job.
A third method for controlling police brutality is creating a civilian review board. According to Peter Finn, “Oversight systems have the potential to benefit complainants, police and sheriff’s departments, elected and appointed officials, and the public at large.” (Finn, 2001). The review board should be independent from the police department so that officers cannot exert their influence over civilians or the decisions made by the group. The review board should also hold open meetings so that all members of the community are welcome to come and share their concerns, complaints, and any ideas about how to monitor and curtail police brutality. It is imperative that this review board be made up of strictly civilians, so that information and concerns remain honest, and not biased by those who hold only polices’ interests at hand. Of course police officers and their administrators may feel some prejudice because they are not represented on the board, yet their own internal review capability should more than compensate. Once again, a review board comprised strictly of civilians is the only way to comprehensively and justly address abuse concerns of the private citizen, short, of course, of resorting to the formal step of judicial proceedings.
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