Why Police Shoot Unarmed Blacks
June 30, 2015
Unarmed black men, some teen-agers, are being killed at three times the rate of unarmed white men, according to a study by the Washington Post. While minorities and the poor have suffered at the hands of police from the beginning of organized policing in 1845, the advent of cell phone recording technologies and social media platforms have highlighted the extent of that suffering.
In their entirety each of these incidents is different from all others. In part, because of the different motivations for discrimination, some observers have argued that each shooting or act of discrimination must be analyzed case by case rather than as an instance of a systemic national problem. Nonetheless, elements of each of the incidents are the same; and the explanations that have been posited for these incidents illustrate systemic issues that have been found to plague policing in the U.S. for years. For example, few, if any, of the psychological tests used as the basis for rejecting candidates have been shown to be an accurate predictor of psychological well-being for length of a career. Some discrimination by police officers is intentional, while other discriminatory acts are due to unconscious bias against minorities.
White Supremacy and Law Enforcement
White supremacists, in turn, hate members of these groups and believe the white race must be saved from them using violence as necessary. From the end of the Civil War these beliefs have been associated with violence against members of these groups, especially African Americans. For example, the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), a white supremacist group established after the Civil War, lynched, assaulted, and intimidated newly freed blacks to ensure the continuation of white political power despite the defeat of the confederate rebellion. The KKK continued to lynch and terrorize African Americans and threaten Catholics and Jews well into 20th century. Although the overt use of terror tactics by the KKK subsided by the end of the 20th century, other hate groups and individuals espousing the beliefs of these hate groups have continued to terrorize these groups.
The subordination and control of African Americans remained one of the principal functions of the southern police agencies that were formed from the slave patrols. Consequently, with respect to African Americans, the distinction between the police and hate groups like the KKK, however, was murky at best until the late 1970s when police agencies became more professional and the Civil Rights Movement had succeeded in eradicating many of the legal statutes that been used to subordinate African Americans.
Hate Group Infiltration of Law Enforcement
White supremacists have once more begun infiltrating law enforcement agencies. According to the FBI and the National Gang Intelligence Center since the early 2000s white supremacist groups have called on their members to blend into the broader community and refrain from obtaining tattoos such as the Celtic Cross, the KKK blood drop, or the Nazi twisted cross. White supremacists’ infiltration of police agencies is worrisome because of the potential it poses for racial violence under the cover of law.
Estimating how many members of white supremacist groups have infiltrated police agencies has been difficult, if not impossible. The discovery of infiltrators has been ad hoc rather than through systematic screening. As a result the number of infiltrators found for the number of police officers screened is unknown.
While the FBI classifies white supremacist infiltrators by membership in groups such as the KKK; the League of the South (LOS); the Council of Conservative Citizens; the American Nazi Party; and the Aryan Nations, membership in these groups may be quite fluid. Some potential infiltrators may have joined a white supremacist group at some point in their life, but quit later. Others, “lone wolves,” may have developed a white supremacist ideology without membership in an actual hate group.
Table 1 shows selected examples of law enforcement officers who have demonstrated a white supremacist ideology. While these examples may not include all the known examples of LEOs who have expressed a white supremacist ideology, several observations can be made for these examples. First, none of the three examples of LEOs found to be members of hate groups were discovered as a result of screening by their agencies. Second, the one expression of beliefs associated with a hate group is the KKK, which is the most enduring of hate groups; membership in this group may not be necessary to absorb its ideology. Third, the expressions of racial slurs include attempts at humor, which can be used devalue the target of the humor while building solidarity with those who share the humor.
Table 1. Selected examples of law enforcement officers (LEO) who have expressed a white supremacist ideology.
The danger to members of groups that are targeted by white supremacist hate ideologies when law enforcement officers subscribe to those ideologies is replete in history. It seems that there is little difference in whether the adoption of those ideologies is due to membership in a hate group or a result of internet driven identification with hate groups by “lone wolves.” While the linkage between the expressions of ad hoc racist slurs by LEOs and violence against targets of white supremacist ideologies is more tenuous than membership in hate groups or the adoption of organized white supremacist ideologies. LEOs who use racist slurs laced with humor may be “ticking time bombs” wired to violently explode because the humor is used to devalue the target of white supremacist ideologies and profess solidarity with whites.
In light of the danger posed from LEOs who are members of white supremacist groups, who have adopted the organized ideology of these groups, or who use ad hoc racist slurs, it is important to know how many of these LEOs there are. Although obtaining an accurate estimate seems to be insurmountable, systematic screening to identify LEOs who subscribe to white supremacist ideologies would be helpful. There are several obstacles to an effective screening process identifying white supremacists in police agencies. First, each police agency is responsible for its own recruitment, screening, selection, and internal monitoring of officer behavior. No national database of officer behavior exists. Second, each police agency is responsible for conducting its own background checks. The rigor of those checks may vary; some may not include hate group affiliation. Third, there is a belief in some police agencies that police officers are entitled to freedom of association—even with hate groups. This belief has not been fully tested in the courts. These obstacles need to be directly confronted if law enforcement agencies are to remove white supremacists and help ensure all citizens that they should not fear the police.
In addition, some recognition of the social context in which LEOs are recruited and serve is important. From 2008 to 2012, there has been an 813 percent increase in the number of white supremacist groups from 149 to 1360 in 2012, although the number fell to 874 in 2014 according to Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). During this same period, there was an increase in the opportunity to join a white supremacist group that the SPLC attributed to the election of a black President, an ailing economy, the increase in the number of non-whites relative to whites, and the legitimization of conspiracy theories a paranoia spread by some pundits and politicians.
LEOs are not immune to the society in which they serve. Pinning on a badge does not eliminate pre-existing beliefs they may have. In some cases training is needed to specifically change those beliefs; in other cases the beliefs are so corrupt, they should disqualify those who seek to serve in the law enforcement agencies.
A detailed description of how a slave regime was publicly regulated in Virginia and the Carolinas from 1700 to 1865.
Provides an overview on the evolution in the US, including the slave South
American Swastika: Inside the White Power Movement's Hidden Spaces of Hate - (Violence and Prevention Policy)
by Pete Simi
Provides an overview of the current white supremacist movements in the US. It includes the role of the Internet and how white supremacists hide their racist leanings
Describes how whites and African Americans responded to the end of slavery and remade the South for the next 100 years