POLICE BRUTALITY: JIM CROW REVISITED
Emmaleigh Moriniti, first year writing UNC Asheville student
The sculpture I chose to write about is “The Last supper”. I was initially drawn to this piece due it’s size and how much it has going on. The sculpture itself is a standard sized table with a black mannequin splayed out across the table in a similar fashion to Jesus on the cross, hence the name “The Last Supper”. The table is surrounded by a set of folding chairs but as you look closer, each seat has a name and picture assigned to it. Each name is that of a person of colour that had his or her life wrongfully taken well before it should have ended at the hands of police officer. Outside of the table, there are several rows of broken televisions, each assigned a mass shooting. Finally, linking the rows of TV’s, is a string littered with little sheets of paper. From a distance you can’t make out what the papers say but as you move closer it becomes apparent that each paper has the last recorded words or a victim of unnecessary police violence. The linking factor in each case being that the victims were mostly minorities.
Police brutality is something that is sadly something that has become more or less a part of everyday life, but that’s not how it should be. By looking at the science and psychology behind why police brutality and violence occurs, there are things we can do to change this reality. Things such as tainted implicit biases and other forms of instilled racism are the core reason for unnecessary police violence.
Implicit bias is a pretty basic term used in many, if not all sociology classes. The term itself is simply refers to your unconscious response to situations based off of previous experiences in your life that have shaped you as a person (Understanding Implicit Bias). In other words, your implicit bias is the equivalent to a psychological “knee jerk reaction”. Harvard has in recent years created a non-profit organization – known as Project Implicit – that has put together a series of tests that determine which way one’s implicit bias leans on a variety of topics. They have tests that cover everything from gender, race, and even one that specifically determines if one corelates race with the threat of a weapon. This being closely related to my topic, I decided to take it for myself (Project Implicit). Through this test I learned that I personally don’t corelate the possibility of a threat with a person’s race, but this may not be the case for some police officers. As they work in a field that relies on them thinking and reacting quickly in a multitude of situations, you would think that there would be more thought put into the concept of implicit bias.
Going hand in hand with implicit bias, one’s explicit bias is based off of the ideals and feelings one creates for themselves “on a conscious level” (Explicit Bias Explained). This is equally as important as implicit since your explicit bias is typically your response or reaction to your implicit bias. In cases like police brutality against minority groups, it is clear that the explicit bias of many police mimics that of their implicit due to the required speed of their responses. Since one’s personal beliefs can be easily altered and one’s implicit bias can easily be ignored, having a tainted explicit bias is just as bad – if not worse - than having a tainted implicit.
In recent years there have actually been a series of studies that were dedicated to finding whether police violence was tied to that of implicit bias or other forces. The studies looked into two different perspectives on bias, one being that of implicit and the other counter. The counter-bias perspective stated simply that police, when faced with a person of colour, would have a counter bias – aka an explicit bias – that would override the initial racist implicit bias. Throughout each study it was found that the implicit bias perspective outweighed that of the counter bias perspective every time. (Fridell) But how deep rooted are these racist ideals? This terrible implicit bias can’t be shared by any one higher than the lower level police that are at fault for the unnecessary violence, right?
New Jim Crow
These twisted implicit biases are sadly not only limited to the officers that partake in this brutality. These ideals and motives have been shared by many government officials far up the ladder. This is made evident by the implementation of “the new Jim Crow Laws”. The New Jim Crow laws refer to laws put in place by the government during the war on drugs that were used primarily to put people – more specifically minorities - behind bars to increase the income of privately-owned prisons. These laws were fashioned to reduce the amount of opioid, marijuana and cocaine – more specifically crack – use in America (A Brief History of the Drug War). These laws together – in order – were made to reduce the Chinese (opium), Mexican (marijuana), and Black (crack) populations of the US A Brief History of the Drug War). It was made further evident that these laws were directed at specific ethic groups as higher end cocaine – which might I add was typically only able to be obtained by higher income Caucasians – was nowhere near as policed as the cheaper alternative (A Brief History of the Drug War). The final and most compelling evidence that the war on drug was aimed more at controlling the race and ethnicities of the US was a quote by John Ehrlichman, one of Nixon’s aides: “You want to know what this was really all about. The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying. We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.” (A Brief History of the Drug War).
These laws also aided into another tested theory, the conflict theory. This theory states that the more people see one ethnic group doing something they deem as deviant, the more they will want that particular act to be policed (Holmes). This is exactly what was happening with The War on Drugs and the New Jim Crow laws, more minorities were being busted for the use of drugs – deemed deviant by white people – and therefore the more people wanted these laws to be enforced.
But this isn’t something anyone would have to deal with here in Asheville, right? This isn’t affecting me! Well that’s where one would be wrong. This is actually something that is already happening right here in Asheville. On August 25th, 2017, a Mr. Johnnie Jermaine Rush was unjustly beaten, tased, choked and arrested for allegedly jay walking and trespassing on the corner of Biltmore Ave. (Levenson). He was attacked by Senior Police Officer Christopher Hickman for no real reason than the colour of his skin and the amusement of Hickman and his fellow officers when all he wanted was to go home from work. This was made evident for a couple of reasons, the biggest being the attempted cover up of the entire ordeal. The entirety of the encounter was recorded on Hickman’s body cam, but that footage wasn’t reviewed by his supervisor the night of or morning after the assault occurred and was quickly hidden form the public eye (Levenson). The day after the attack, Hickman was also removed from patrol duty and later resigned from his position altogether (Levenson). The video was eventually released via The Asheville Citizens Times bringing more light to the situation (Burgess). Through examining the video, a variety of red flags are visible. From the initial jump from a simple ticket to outright arresting Rush over something that typical would only end in a ticket if anything at all, to Hickman outright stating that he Rush was about to “get f***** up hardcore”, as well as pointing out that he “beat the s*** out of [Rush’s] head” (Levenson). Through watching the video anyone can clearly see that what happened to Johnnie Rush that night was completely uncalled for and would have never occurred if he was a white man. There were other false claims made by Hickman’s overseer, Sgt. Taube, in an attempt to backup Hickman such as suggesting that Rush was intoxicated during the event when he is very clearly not (Levenson). This case drug out all the way into March of this year – 2018 – when Hickman was finally arrested and charged for the assault of Rush (Levenson).
Possible Solutions Moving Forward
Now what do we do with this information? What are we as a society supposed to do to fix an already terribly corrupt system? Taking into consideration what I have previously stated, there are a few things I feel need to be put in place first before any kind of healing is possible. First off, there needs to be a higher demand on education when it comes to topics such as implicit and explicit bias as well as more open thinking all together (Alang). This includes places like schools, the news, and more importantly in the training of future – and the retraining of current – police officers. While there is no real way to completely remove racist ideals from someone else’s mind, there are ways we can at least go about teaching individuals as to at least possibly sway their explicit bias. In addition to a push for better education on topics like these, the entrance exam to become a member of the force should focus more on the background of the potential officer - similar to that of the screening one would go through to purchase a gun- instead of focusing on the personality traits they do now. As of right now, most police entrance exams include the following topics: math, reading comprehension, writing skills, memory, visualization, and personality (Police Written Exam Sample Questions). The fact that they have an entire section dedicated solely to personality sounds like a good thing, that is, until you realize the personality questions are there to determine whether or not an individual can take criticism well (Police Written Exam Sample Questions). While this may be an important trait to have in this field of work, it is equally – if not more – important to determine their personal views on topics such as race as this would save far more lives. This is also not to say that all law enforcement entrance exams neglect as more and more are starting to include stronger and more advanced psychological and background checks, as more and more are starting to implement them (2018 Law Enforcement Entrance Exam Guide with Sample Questions).
Moving on past the initial hiring of new officers, we also need to focus on the training and retraining of officers as well. As of right now most of the efforts of police training are focused on making sure officers can properly handle a gun instead of teaching them the proper situations in which to use it. Their exact curriculum includes “state laws, criminal investigations, patrol procedures, firearms training, traffic control, defensive driving, self-defense, first aid and computer skills” to be exact (Study: Police Officer). This kind of training helps aid the trigger finger most police seem to have – whether its race based or not – and simply altering the basic training would decrease unnecessary police violence by a great deal on its own. Another solution that has already shown to help fairly well is the implementation of new rules and regulations that discourage unjust behaviors of police. In the year 2014, the implementation of body cams – and other video salience – helped settle 53% of allegations as compared to the 49% that were closed without the aid of video evidence. These numbers have continued to rise through the years, increasing to 56% being closed with video in 2015, and even to 57% in 2016 (Wiley). The employment of things like required police body cams has already helped to control both the actions of officers and civilians alike, as seen in the Rush case mentioned earlier. This indicates more precautionary measures like this would be helpful in aiding all parties. By simply exercising these few things we as a whole can drastically reduce the amount of unnecessary police violence as officers will be less inclined to abuse their power.
2018 Law Enforcement Entrance Exam Guide with Sample Questions. (2018, July 26). Retrieved October 28, 2018, from https://golawenforcement.com/articles/2018-law-enforcement-entrance-exam-guide-with-sample-questions/
A Brief History of the Drug War. (n.d.). Retrieved October 28, 2018, from http://www.drugpolicy.org/issues/brief-history-drug-war
Alang, S., & Contributor, O. (2017, May 12). How to dismantle racism and prevent police brutality. Retrieved October 28, 2018, from https://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/policing/2017/05/12/how-dismantle-racism-and-prevent-police-brutality/101481438/
Burgess, J. (2018, March 10). Video shows Asheville police officer beating man suspected of jaywalking, trespassing. Retrieved October 21, 2018, from https://www.citizen-times.com/story/news/local/2018/02/28/video-shows-apd-officer-beating-man-suspected-jaywalking-trespassing/382646002/
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Levenson, E., & Boyette, C. (2018, March 11). North Carolina police officer faces charges after beating, choking and tasing suspected jaywalker. Retrieved October 28, 2018, from https://www.cnn.com/2018/03/09/us/asheville-police-taser-jaywalking/index.html
Levenson, E. (2018, April 03). North Carolina city releases bodycam videos related to beating of jaywalking suspect. Retrieved October 28, 2018, from https://www.cnn.com/2018/04/02/us/asheville-police-body-camera/index.html
Police Written Exam Sample Questions. (n.d.). Retrieved October 28, 2018, from https://www.jobtestprep.com/police-exam-sample-questions
Project Implicit. (n.d.). Retrieved October 25, 2018, from https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/
Study: Police Officer. (n.d.). Retrieved November 2, 2018, from https://study.com/articles/Police_Officer_An_Overview_of_Police_Academy_Training.html
Understanding Implicit Bias. (n.d.). Retrieved November 2, 2018, from http://kirwaninstitute.osu.edu/research/understanding-implicit-bias/
Wiley, M. (2017, May 09). Police Brutality: Body Cameras Help Citizens and Police. Retrieved October 28, 2018, from http://time.com/4771417/jordan-edwards-body-cameras-police/