Race & Policing
September 27, the Foley Institute hosted a panel of experts to speak on the recent events surrounding race and policing in United States. Dr. Lorenzo Boyd, Chairman of the Department of Criminal Justice at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore; Captain CP Taylor of the Tacoma Police Department; president of the Spokane chapter of the NAACP, Phillip Tyler; and Assistant Professor here at WSU’s Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology, Dale Willis offered their take on the relationship between minority communities and the police that serve them.
Within this past year, 800 people— and counting— have been killed at the hands of the police. Over half of these deaths were of minorities. Coming from a law enforcement background, Dr. Boyd pursued academia where he now serves as one of the nation’s leading criminologists. His work is an effort to explain, making clear “not to justify,” the reaction of anger to the trend of police force and killings of so many unarmed people of color. “When the media tells you there is a war on police,” Boyd stated, “factually, that’s not correct to say.” Showcasing research and informative statistics, members of the audience learned that line of duty deaths of police officers actually decreased by 6% this last year. Meanwhile, the number of unarmed black Americans killed by police was five times that of white Americans.
Integral to the problem in this relationship, Dr. Boyd cited the 1993 work of Jerome Skolnick, a piece of literature that has infiltrated the mindset of policing: this author illustrates the “symbolic assailant.” This individual is identified as an “undesirable” likely of having committed a crime. Skolnick’s profiling is dangerous and contributes to the “us versus them” mentality that, Dr. Boyd explained, results in police acting more as warriors and less as guardians. Reflecting on the words of 17th century British Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel, Dr. Boyd calls upon the audience to analyze the authority and legitimacy of law enforcement: “The police are the public and the public are the police.” Captain CP Taylor spoke more on this, expanding on Peel’s philosophy that “the police are only members of the public who are paid to give full time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.”
All of the panelists touched on the matter of procedural justice. Captain Taylor emphasized the need for law enforcement to turn away from the “rote, quantitative police” training “devoid of context,” and to analyze situations for a more “values based policing.” This is the shift in mindset within the law enforcement community that Captain Taylor is attempting to invoke in his department. The legitimate outcomes that would follow values based policing absent from historic enforcement techniques. Dr. Boyd outlined several issues in methodology of policing, from selective enforcement, hot spot policing, broken window approaches, and zero tolerance regulation. These ineffective procedures are once again calling into question context. The recent presidential debates even touched on stop-and-frisk searches, which were determined to be unconstitutional. Boyd explained that the St. Clair Commission found that African Americans make up just 24% of Boston’s population, but were 63% of those stopped and searched. This policing found evidence of a crime having been committed in only 2.5% of the stops.
Phillip Tyler, also a former law enforcement officer, asked “How can individuals of color avoid indication of danger if that very indication is the color of skin?” Dr. Boyd was able to expand on this issue as it was determined a week prior in a Massachusetts state ruling finding, “Flight is not necessarily probative of a suspect’s state of mind or consciousness of guilt.” The excessive force of law enforcement upon unarmed people of color would surely inspire an individual to turn and run the other way. Complying, on the other hand, could very well expose one to another instance of excessive force. “Let’s talk about those who died in police custody,” Dr. Boyd declared, “You should comply Eric Garner. You should comply Sandra Bland.”
Tyler analyzed cases of police brutality and killings as he cited the prosector in the trial of Tulsa officer Betty Shelby. Terence Crutcher “was determined guilty in a split second.” Procedural justice was once again brought to center stage as Tyler denounced the media’s tendency to bring up the past of the victims of excessive police force but not “digging up the officer’s past.” The thin blue line, Tyler explained, acts as a veil of secrecy in which police have protected each other, even covering up another officer’s wrongdoings. Tyler restated reshaping the mindset of departments, as Cpt. Taylor touched on, as he determined that communities asked to trust their officers when “too often the line is used to justify misconduct.”
In this age of body, dashboard, and cellphone cameras, police legitimacy is challenged, as it has never been before. Dr. Dale Willits explained the altered role of transparency and accountability of law enforcement. Not only are the actions of officers in the line of duty being analyzed by the nation, Dr. Willits enlightened the
audience on the rising academic research of officers’ methodology and behavior. The WSU professor made clear the shockingly low data collected by departments on their own use of excessive force. However, Willits gives hope that through research understanding of police actions will lead to deterring the use of force. The panel determined that a shift within the mindset of law enforcement is needed in order to take on the guardian—rather than the warrior— role of civil rights. The result will be communities viewing their police forces with legitimacy through accountability, transparency, and legitimate outcomes of effective policing techniques.
Contributor: Shantara Pintak