Oct 24, 2016 (San Diego) One of the t-shirts that have emerged in street protests in El Cajon is simple. It reads. “Wake Up: Stop the Genocide.” What is going on? And what happened to Black Lives Matter? Well that was there too. But this particular t-shirt goes hand in hand with another theme that was also present in the streets of El Cajon and is now gone viral. It is a simple plea: “Stop killing us.”
To those looking in from the outside, this makes no sense. But for African-American, and to a lesser extent, Latino youth there is a reason for these t-shirts. They summarize their experience. It starts early in their lives. Around the time a young boy reaches the age of eight or nine, sometimes parents delay it until 12, they sit down to have the talk. This is not the usual birds, and the bees talk that many other parents have with their kids. Nor is it limited to the inner city. It happens in very well to do areas with family members in the professions, as well as the inner city and anywhere else in between. The talk is quite plainly, how to survive a police encounter.
They are not paranoid either. A 2014 study by the American Psychological Association found this.
Children in most societies are considered to be in a distinct group with characteristics such as innocence and the need for protection. Our research found that black boys can be seen as responsible for their actions at an age when white boys still benefit from the assumption that children are essentially innocent,” said author Phillip Atiba Goff, PhD, of the University of California, Los Angeles. The study was published online in APA’s Journal of Personality and Social Psychology®.
Researchers tested 176 police officers, mostly white males, average age 37, in large urban areas, to determine their levels of two distinct types of bias — prejudice and unconscious dehumanization of black people by comparing them to apes. To test for prejudice, researchers had officers complete a widely used psychological questionnaire with statements such as “It is likely that blacks will bring violence to neighborhoods when they move in.” To determine officers’ dehumanization of blacks, the researchers gave them a psychological task in which they paired blacks and whites with large cats, such as lions, or with apes. Researchers reviewed police officers’ personnel records to determine use of force while on duty and found that those who dehumanized blacks were more likely to have used force against a black child in custody than officers who did not dehumanize blacks. The study described use of force as takedown or wrist lock; kicking or punching; striking with a blunt object; using a police dog, restraints or hobbling; or using tear gas, electric shock or killing. Only dehumanization and not police officers’ prejudice against blacks — conscious or not — was linked to violent encounters with black children in custody, according to the study.
We also know that there is implicit bias in policing, that has been historic and long standing. It is present in the current time, and studies are finding evidence for this. It is important to define the term.
Implicit bias describes the automatic association people make between groups of people and stereotypes about those groups. Under certain conditions, those automatic associations can influence behavior—making people respond in biased ways even when they are not explicitly prejudiced. More than thirty years of research in neurology and social and cognitive psychology has shown that people hold implicit biases even in the absence of heartfelt bigotry, simply by paying attention to the social world around them. Implicit racial bias has given rise to a phenomenon known as “racism without racists,” which can cause institutions or individuals to act on racial prejudices, even in spite of good intentions and nondiscriminatory policies or standards.
The first step in changing these dynamics is facing it. As a society, we need to come to terms with this idea that we have a problem. Thankfully police executives have started, and as they say, the first step in getting better is owning a behavior. Why the apology from Chief Terrence Cunningham, president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, who acknowledged his profession’s “dark side of our shared history” at the group’s annual conference in San Diego. This is from NPR .
That is a significant step. While Al Sharpton said that there needed to be action to get behind those words. In fact, there is action starting to get behind those words. The National Initiative for Building Community has issued a training program, already adopted by departments including Oakland, to reduce tensions. They call it Strengthening Community-Police Relationships: Training as a Tool for Change
This training is important because it also helps to keep officers and those who interact with them safer. Being aware of one’s biases, unconscious and all, can contribute to lower the temperature as it were. Some of the lessons learned could apply to your local departments. There is little trust, or love, between the departments and the communities of color they police. (For that matter some of these issues are also present in very rural areas. They just have a slightly different feel.)
This is the description of the three departments they already worked within the state:
Stockton, a diverse Central Valley community of almost 300,000, was recovering from bankruptcy, and its growing but young police department was making steady progress reducing street violence after a record 71 homicides in 2012. Stockton’s police chief, Eric Jones, viewed procedural justice training as an opportunity to shape his department’s values and future.
Oakland, a highly diverse Bay Area city of just over 400,000 widely known as one of the most violent cities in the country, was wrestling with an alarming increase in street violence that resulted in 126 homicides in 2012. The police department hoped to reverse that trend by implementing an evidence-based violence-reduction strategy in partnership with community leaders, but longstanding mutual distrust handicapped their efforts to work together.
In Salinas – an agricultural community of 155,000 residents, 75 percent of whom are Latino and many of whom are monolingual Spanish speakers – the department viewed the training as an opportunity to address the challenge of building trust in the face of considerable cultural and language barriers.
All these conditions do apply to many of our local agencies. There is a lack of trust. To the point that people completely distrust the agencies. We have heard this as well. Many feel that the police is not there to protect them, but as an occupation force. In fact, this is not limited to San Diego, but it is quite common nationwide.
So what does this training do? It helps to bring those barriers down. It makes officers more aware of their biases, which will help them become more efficient at their jobs. It also brings into the process local community leaders.
Which brings me back to the city of El Cajon and the issues we have seen recently. Alfred Olango was shot on Sept 28. It has been almost a full month, and Mayor Bill Wells has yet to meet with any member of the community. The police chief has yet to do that as well. All the contact the citizens on the streets have had is that of a militarized police. The city also ordered businesses to close down for 72 hours. This situation has created more barriers between the authorities and the community.
Now back to the t-shirts. African Americans feel under siege. Their youth goes to prison. The problem is severe with 2 million plus Americans behind prison walls. Here is an excellent graphic to show the extent of the problem via the Prison Policy Initiative.
The racial disparities are evident as well. It is a reality that more people of color will go to prison, for far longer, than whites. There is an inverse relationship to yes, melanin content, as well as a lesser relationship to wealth.
For the young people protesting who knows somebody who has gone to prison, this is a form of genocide, albeit a slow one. They also see it as a new Jim Crow, a system created to keep them away from the vote, or other opportunities in the society. It is also a system designed to keep large swaths of young men of color under judicial control. Some local activists, such as Mark Bartlett, have also made the connections between these prisons, to the enrichment of some, and what passes as a new form of slavery. He often asks why we are building more prisons and not more schools? He is not alone. We have heard this question often.
So when you see those t-shirts, if you have a problem understanding where people are coming from, ask yourself this question. Would you think it is okay to tell an 8-year-old how to react when he, and it is chiefly he, comes in contact with the police? Is it normal that you would have to fear that when he walks out to school in the morning, you might get a call from the coroner? Or for that matter, get a call from the school resource officer because your son was put in handcuffs? Or that he will be expelled at higher rates than his white counterparts? This comes from federal data. This is not just happening in places like North of the 8 in El Cajon. This also happens in Rancho Bernardo. If we are going to solve these issues, and they are structural, we first have to confront our biases and preconceptions.