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Very good paper. Well written, well researched and very thorough and timely.
Grade A
Too Far From a Civilized System:
Police Brutality Against African Americans
Miriam Holbrook
SW 620: University of Michigan
Many of us are trying to understand the seeming upsurge in police
brutality, due to the recent media coverage of police killings against unarmed
African Americans in New York, Cleveland, and St. Louis. Often the timing of the
coverage in the news will guide the focus of the media- so depending, most
incidents don’t go on to become a national media outcry- it really just depends on
the timing of what the media needs at any given time. (Bernasconi, 2014). But
the truth is that these cases present nothing new for African Americans, who live
this everyday, media coverage or not, which explains why much of the shock and
outrage against such events seems to come from the white population. But even
for them, if we go back 25 years since the say, “white-awareness” of these
events began, at least for my generation, little has been gained for African
American civil rights involving the excessive use of force by law enforcement
officials.
Actually, since the brutal beating of Rodney King by LA Police officers in
1988, incidents of police brutality have increased. We seemed to have learned
nothing from our past (Chaney & Robertson, 2014). According to the Malcolm X
Grassroots Movement Organization’s findings, 313 African Americans were killed
at the hands of law enforcement during 2012 (Bernasconi, 2014); of those killed,
69% of were aged 13-31; 46% were unarmed (Chaney & Robertson, 2014). This
amounts to one death every 28 hours (Martinot, 2014).
Finding consistent statistics can be difficult, as there is no
nationaldatabase on the police killings of African Americans. Data is most often
collected from news reports. The Department of Justice has investigated over 17
police departments throughout the US since 2010. In Houston there have been
an excessive number of recent shootings involving mostly unarmed African
Americans. Two of the cases are particularly striking. Brian Claunch, a 45 year
old one armed, one-legged mentally ill African American was killed for apparently
threatening police with a pen. In the other case involving the killing of Rufino Lara,
several witnesses reported that he was unarmed and holding his hands up in the
air while being shot several times. (Chaney & Robertson, 2014). The same type
of reporting came from 16 of the 18 witnesses in the recent Michael Brown case
(PBS.org).
The cases presented here, all involving unarmed African American men,
represent some of the 2012 cases listed in the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement
report, many of which received limited national media coverage.
Jamaal Moore, was a 23 year old unarmed who was shot by police during
the day, at a gas station near a busy Chicago intersection in 2012. This shooting
was videotaped by the station surveillance. Police confiscated the tape and it
was never seen again. The officer reported that Jamaal was “charging at her.”
Lying on the ground in
handcuffs, no one
attended to Jamaal after
he was shot- it was simply
assumed he was dead.
When Jamaal’s Mother
arrived at scene, one
police officer said to her:
“just another nigger dead.” Witnesses rioted and were arrested. However, no
arrests for the shooting death or for confiscation of evidence were made.
(Bernasconi, 2014).
Kenneth Chamberlain was a war veteran with a bad heart. One night, his
emergency heart monitor accidentally went off, sending a signal out to the
medical alert dispatcher. At the time, there were no doctors to call, so the worker
called police instead. Several officers arrived at Kenneth’s home and demanded
he open the door, but Kenneth told them he was all right and to go away; instead,
police down the door in and killed him. (Martinot, 2014).
When police suspected Kenneth Harding of planning to run out after his
bus ride without paying the 2.00 fare, they forced him off of the bus and shoved
him to the ground. Kenneth ran from police and was shot in the back. Police
claimed they shot him in the leg and that Kenneth shot himself in the head (killing
himself) despite that no gun was found (Martinot, 2014).
Martinot argues that it is far easier for white men to surrender without
incident than it is for black men. In 20012, DeJuan Colbert robbed a dollar store
in Wichita. When police came to his door, DeJuan dropped the knife he was
carrying and said, “I give up.” At that time police shot him 13 times (2014).
Hyunseok et al. (2010) argues that police’s excessive use of force, occurs
disproportionately in lower socioeconomic neighborhoods. Rejecting critical race
theory, the study found that resistance to police as the most predictive factor in
how much force is used. Police are three times more likely to use force when
faced with resistance, particularly male resistance. Typically, police are met with
more resistance in higher poverty areas. Hyunseok found that lower
unemployment rates correlated with police’s use of higher levels of force. The
authors argued that higher use of force is associated more with socioeconomic
status rather than race, explaining that when police work in these areas, they are
more often met with resistance.
Clemons (2014) has argued that higher violent crimes and crimes against
property do correlate with socioeconomic status- so disadvantaged
neighborhoods will experience higher rates of crime regardless of racial
composition. But why the huge disproportion in excessive force and incarceration
specifically to race? Clemons believes it the way the system is administered:
“one of the primary sources of the disparity is internal, residing within each key
actor in the criminal justice system from police officers and prosecutor to judges
and juries.” Implicit racial bias has plagued and permeated every level of the
justice system, much as it does “even the best intentioned among us.” 691.
Clemons argues that most Americans harbor negative implicit
associations about black Americans. We are all victim to these stereotypes when
dealing with police officers. Since officials often state that they rely on their “gut
instincts” or “hunches,” these racial biases influence police decisions about
whether to use deadly force as well. In a study of “shooter bias,” researchers
pattered a simulation test based on the Implicit Attitude Test and found that in
every study, “the threshold of the certainty of danger that participants required to
shoot a black man was significantly lower than the threshold required to shoot a
white man.” (Clemons, 2014: 695).
So what’s the missing variable here? The war on drugs permitted more
latitude for law enforcement to search and stop. It added the element that could
explode into a grab bag of ambiguous reasons for police officers to use in order
to detain people of their choosing. If police officers and other law enforcement
officials are allowed to act on racist attitudes, then the rates of arrest would
certainly end up disproportionate- as they would reflect those racist biases.
Perhaps this lends some understanding as to why prison rates of African
Americans are higher than 40 percent, while they make up only 13 percent of the
population.
If we assume our criminal laws to operate under neutrality, as so many
people to day do, when looking at crime statistics, we would assume that African
Americans commit a hugely disproportionate share of the crimes committed.
However, research has shown that since the war on drugs began in 1980, the
black drug arrest rate has more than quadrupled- while the white arrest rate has
remained the same, despite that drug use and sales among both are no different
(Clemons, 2014).
The problem is systemic because it is so deeply entrenched in our history:
As early as 1693, court officials in Philadelphia instructed police to arrest any
“‘negro’ seen ‘gadding about’ without a pass from his or her master.” This did not
make any “distinction between those who were free or slave (Staples, 2011, 32.)
The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 punished law enforcement and regular citizens if
they did not help capture suspected runaway slaves. Blacks (free or slave) did
not have the right to defend themselves in court against these claims (Staples,
2011).
So, this “new Jim Crow” is really not new at all, but has continued since
slavery ended. Indeed, today, more black Americans are under the control of
corrections than were enslaved in 1850 (Clemons, 2014). At the beginning of
reconstruction, just after the Civil War ended, The Black Codes were created to
keep recently freed slaves under continued white control. The system worked like
this: basically, business owners who still needed free labor would provide the
names of black people to the sheriff- these were names of mostly young, black
men (and often children as young as four years old) who would be ideal for the
labor they needed. The sheriff would then go out and arrest these people and the
business owner would pay a certain amount for each one. Charges, of course,
were usually vague and sentencing terms would often range according to how
long the labor was needed. To be sure, some of the parallels from our past are
eerily similar.
The Black Scholar
A review of data from the Illinois Department of Transportation revealed
that from 2004-20011, police stopped African Americans 48% more often than
Oh, I wish I was an Alabama trooper
That is what I’d truly like to be
‘Cause if I was an Alabama trooper
Than I could shoot the niggers legally
(taunt used by white citizens in Bridgeport,
Chicago, 1965. Fikes, 2012, 41).
whites (Sundiata Keita Cha-Jua, 2014). The review also showed that in 2011,
88% of the 744 people arrested for jaywalking in Champaign, Illinois were African
American. These arrests serve several purposes besides providing a fair amount
of revenue (jaywalking citations cost 120.00), they operate as a device of social
control. But more importantly, this profiling helps to incorporate black youth into
the criminal justice system when they might otherwise escape it- so it while also
providing police records disproportionately of the black male youth population.
Understanding these skewed numbers, it comes as no surprise that Michael
Brown was initially stopped by officer Darren Wilson for jaywalking only 90
seconds before he was shot to death.
Often working class African
American neighborhoods are targeted
by police to randomly stop youth-
check ID, run background checks on
simple code violations or “trespassing”
through a park (hanging out after
“close.”) It is often cases like these
that somehow manage to escalate into
beatings or killings. These are all
examples of what Sundiata Keita Cha-
Jua calls “crimes of control” (2014).
Former pro athlete and
businessman, Earl Graves Jr- recalled
being stopped and searched one
morning in 1996 as he arrived at Grand Central in New York City. Apparently he
“fit a description of a suspect.” Graves was dressed in a suite and carrying a
briefcase. The suspect was 5 10 with a mustache; Graves was 6 4 and clean
shaven. “I’m black,” he said, “and that’s all they saw.” (Fikes, 2012, 52).
Philosophy professor Cornel West recalled an incident from his college
days 2006. He was stopped because he fit the description provided by a
neighbor who’d recently been attacked. Despite her trying to explain to the police
that they had the wrong person, the police tried to convince her that she was
wrong. West explained that if this woman had not been completely convinced,
he’d have gone to jail (Fikes, 2012).
Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr., a professor in Cambridge Massachusetts was
having problems getting into his house after returning from the airport with his
driver (in a limousine). The officer, after hearing his description from a neighbor
who called police, assumed he may need “back up,” so more and more officers
started to arrive on the scene. Gates was deemed “uncooperative” when police
tried to question him (he was in his home at this point). This creates a build-up of
hostility on both sides- the victim feeling more harassed and getting angrier and
police seeing them as becoming more hostile and thus, affirming their
stereotypes and the feeling that something could break – so need further
protection and show of force. These are the things that escalate into killings. It’s
a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Staples argues that The Civil Rights Act of 1964 “may have reduced the
possibility that entire racial groups could be sanctioned for mistreatment, but in
reality, law enforcement can still” legally profile anyone based on their affiliation
to a particular ethnic group- as long as police provide a reason for the it- which
includes simply having a “hunch” about the person (32). And despite police
perceptions of threats- whether they stop someone for walking with their hands in
their pockets, or if they are carrying a power drill, their perceptions are not based
on facts or even experience, but by learned stereotypes. And as Clemons
explains, implicit racial bias functions independently of explicit racial attitudes and
these tendencies are not checked at the courtroom door (2011).
A study completed by Center for Constitutional Rights showed that white
suspects, when stopped, are 70 percent more likely than black suspects to have
a weapon (Staples, 2011). Yet, Studies conducted when participants are asked
to push “shoot” or “don’t shoot” shown images of people with ambiguous objects
(which could or could not be a weapon), subjects tend to unconsciously
associate violent objects with black people and neutral objects with white people
(James, Klinger, & Vila, 2014). White people working in law enforcement and in
the court system, including judges have shown to consistently associate African
Americans with crime (Staples, 2011). They will often “think” they see a weapon
because these stereotypes/schemas are already entrenched in their neurological
patterns of thinking. The brain plays tricks on people based on their previous
learning- it is a survival instinct that does not serve them- or in these cases, their
victims, well when attempting to recall what they saw/what happened or even
what they actually see as things occur in the present.
Another issue is the
discrepancy in the ratio of white
officers to black residents in
some communities. In southern
cities with higher percentages
of African Americans, the
difference is considerable. New
Orleans did not have African
American officers on their force
at all until 1950. By 1981, 23 percent of the officers were African American,
though the population represented 46 percent, with only 2.4 percent of African
Americans serving as police supervisors. And the police brutality seems to
correlate- with significant incidents of police violence occurring through the 1940s
through the 90s (Moore, 2010).
Clemons argues that since the Civil Rights Act of 1964, our court systems
have not changed the way they determine racism, since it is based solely on
intent-based (explicit) standard for racism, but is impotent against fighting
discrimination on the most important (implicit) level- since implicit racial
bias is not considered in court decisions The view of racial discrimination held by
most justices of the US Supreme court is basically “that the only racial
discrimination that exists- or at least the only kind that matters under the
constitution- is explicit and susceptible to conscious control. Decades of
psychological research has demonstrated that the most insidious form of racial
bias is actually implicit and subconscious, however.” (Clemons, 2011, 689).
Clemons explains how these implicit biases affects those working at all
levels of our court system. Federal sentencing outcomes present some disturbing
trends on the impact of implicit racial bias- particularly in the area of prosecutorial
discretion when considering a departure from the mandatory minimum sentences,
for some defendants that may seem “salvageable” or “sympathetic.” While
prosecutors may have more time to make decisions than police in the field, they
have very high caseloads, and often must make snap judgments on a case, with
little info on the suspect other than a short description. In a study of over 77,000
cases, prosecutors were found to be significantly less likely to request shorter
sentences for black and Hispanic male defendants than for white male
defendants, accounting for 56% of the total racial disparity in length of sentencing
(Clemons, 2011).
Public defenders also have high caseloads and must determine where to
allocate their time and effort. They are also well aware of being up against a
system stacked against their African American clients to begin with, which may
also influence their putting less effort in providing the best defense for them. The
Implicit racial biases of trial judges have been shown to be as high as those in
the general population. Research has repeatedly demonstrated that jurors treat
defendants unlike themselves more harshly than those they perceive as a
member of their own identities. Since the majority of juries are predominantly
white, this “out-group bias” disproportionately disadvantages minority defendants.”
(Clemons, 2011, 699). A study analyzing jury decisions in criminal cases
demonstrated that 33% of convicted whites received a prison sentence
compared to 51% of African Americans.
Studies have shown that when judging
white or black defendants, all other things
being equal, white jurors were more
empathetic and thus more lenient toward
white defendants than black defendants
(Chaney & Robertson, 2014).
So why aren’t more people
outraged? Perhaps the most concerning
and most obstructing statistic in all of this
is that whites have a very different view of
our justice system. Thirty eight percent of whites believe the system is biased
against African Americans, with 56% believing it is fair. However, 89% African
Americans believe the system is biased against them, with only 8% believing the
system treats them fairly. (Chaney & Robertson, 2014).
Since white people are not subjected to the same side of the system as
African Americans, they will usually only respond to what they see in the media.
Martinot agues however, that the media treat each case individually, not showing
the trend of multiple murders or tying them in to show a trend in the structure.
So, it spreads throughout communities, but ceases to make news (2014).
It is also important to understand that the mainstream media gets its
reports from the police- and rarely are those accounts questioned. If the victims
of the police shootings or brutality have any former criminal record, the media is
sure to mention this in detail, regardless of its relevance to the incident, and any
thing in the police version of events is reported first without question, even when
there are other conflicting reports from witnesses or even medical records, and
despite how ridiculous the police side of the story is.
Interestingly, Martinot argues, the Media often grants humanity and
personhood to white people only. When white people are the targets of shootings,
The media will go into depth about the lives and families of the victims.
Conversely, when white people are the actual shooters and the victims are black
citizens, the focus becomes the lives and family of the shooters (2011).
Men are also often portrayed as prototypes of criminal suspects. Black
males in particular are seen as aggressive and criminal, fitting into the stereotype
of perpetrator. Studies have shown the more Afrocentric the African American’s
facial features, the more prone he or she is to be perceived as deviant in some
way (Martinot, 2011). Officer Darren Wilson described Michael Brown as some
sort of non-human “demon” who seemed to “bulk-up” and get angrier the more
he was shot, even referring to Brown as “it” at one time during testimony. When
one compares the manner in which the media has portrayed black men, perhaps
this explains why the majority of white Americans seemed to accept this
description as justification for the shooting.
Without a change in the awareness and attitudes of the dominant culture,
which are driven by strong learned implicit biases, significant changes may still
be generations away. Body cameras and more training cannot wipe these biases
away. Hyunseok et al. maintained that white people in positions of power may
react aggressively because they perceive minorities as a threat to their
dominance (2010). Considering the projections showing the white numerical a
way toward that change ourselves.
Works Cited/Bibliography/Notes:
Bernasconi, R. (2014). When police violence is more than violent policing. The
New Centennial Review. 14(2). 145-152.
Chaney, C. and Robertson, R.V. (2014). Can we all get along? Blacks' historical
and contemporary (in) justice with law enforcement. 
 Western Journal of
Black Studies. 38(2) 122-108.
Sean Bell- shot at 50 times; Amadou Diallo shot at 40 times, Devin Brown (13 years old); Adolf
Grimes- shot 12 times in the back; Timothy Thomas- shooting in Detroit.
Chaney, C. and Robertson, R. (2013). Racism and police brutality in America.
Journal of African American Studies. 17(4). 480-505.
Clemons, J. T. (2014). Blind injustice: The supreme court, implicit racial bias, and
the racial disparity in the criminal justice system. American Criminal Law
Review. 51(3). 689-713.
“The cumulative influence of implicit racial bias on the various decisions made by the” actors
within the criminal justice system “creates a wave of racial disparity that swells from the moment
a police officer decides to stop an individual to the final bang of the judge’s gavel” in the
sentencing hearing. “At each decision point along the way, the disparity grows. Blacks are more
likely to be stopped,” arrested, charged, charged with harsher charges, “and less likely to receive
effective defense counsel,” “more likely to be convicted and more likely to receive harsher
sentences.”
Fikes, R. (2012). Breathing while black: Rude and frightful encounters with
the police recalled by distinguished African Americans, 1860-2012. The
Journal of Pan African Studies. 5(5). 41-65.
James, L., Klinger, D., and Vila, B. (2014). Racial and ethnic bias in decisions to
shoot seen through a stronger lens: experimental results from high-fidelity
laboratory simulations. Journal of Experimental Criminology. 10(3) 323-
340.
Lee, H. Hyunseok, J., Yun, I., Lim, H., Tushaus, D.W. (2010). An examination of
police use of force utilizing police training and neighborhood contextual
factors: A multilevel analysis. Policing: An International Journal of Police
Strategies & Management. 33 (4). 681-702.
Martinot, S. (2014). On the epidemic of police killings. Social Justice. 39(4). 52-
75.
Alan Blueford killed in 2012 when Oakland police stopped him on a street corner where he was
hanging with his friends. He ran- but didn’t do anything. Unarmed. Upward trajectory shows
officer was standing over him when shot three times. Fourth shot actually hit the officer’s foot.
Officer was “exonerated” Blueford- lying on his back with hands up- lied on the ground for four
hours (familiar?), the assumption being that he was dead.
Parallel this with George Zimmerman, a citizen who followed Trayvon Martin as he talked on his
cell phone. Zimmerman called police, who told him not to take any action as they headed that
way- then when police arrived, Trayvon was dead with a bullet through his chest; Zimmerman
claimed self defense; Trayvon was unarmed. Again, Exonerated. – “honor?”
Ramarley Graham- 2012 a teenager who went inside his apartment when he saw police stop in
front of it- Police came and ordered him to open the door, graham refused, so they forced it open
and shot him (he was in the bathroom).
Gary King- street corner with friends, officer drove by and stopped, walked over to him and his
friends. The officer claimed he saw King reach for his waistband and felt threatened.
Chavis Carter, 21 years old shot while sitting handcuffed in the back of a police car in Jonesboro,
Arkansas. The police said he shot himself.
Hayward police (2012)- killed California resident, Edgar Alvarez as he sat in his car. He fit the
description of a suspect from a bar shooting several blocks away. As Alvarez put his car in
reverse, he was shot and killed.
Moore, L. N. (2010). Black Rage in New Orleans: Police Brutality and
African American Activism from World War II to Hurricane Katrina.
Baton Rough: Louisiana State UP.
Public Broadcasting Corporation. (2014). Witness interviews from the Michael
Brown shooting investigation (Chart). Retrieved from
http://www.pbs.org/newshour/updates/newly-released-witness-testimony-
tell-us-michael-brown-shooting/
Sundiata Keita Cha-Jua. (2014). We believe it was murder: Mobilizing black
resistance to police brutality in Champaign, Illinois. The Black
Scholar. 44(1). 58-85.
Case 2009- Kiwane A Carrington. 1:30 afternoon- on the porch of aunt’s house with a friend-
police acting on reports of burglary- police stated they asked the boys to get down- they sat- but
police state Kiwane continued walking toward him (what does this sound like?) shooting killed
the15 -year old- ruled accidental though took less than a minute.
Staples, R. (2011). White power, black crime, and racial politics. The Black
Scholar, 41(4). 31-41.
Many brutal cases of African American killings by white police in NYC- perhaps the most
revealing fact is that twenty black officers, working off duty or undercover, have been shot by their
white colleagues. (p 35).
620 Police Brutality

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620 Police Brutality

  • 1. Very good paper. Well written, well researched and very thorough and timely. Grade A Too Far From a Civilized System: Police Brutality Against African Americans Miriam Holbrook SW 620: University of Michigan
  • 2. Many of us are trying to understand the seeming upsurge in police brutality, due to the recent media coverage of police killings against unarmed African Americans in New York, Cleveland, and St. Louis. Often the timing of the coverage in the news will guide the focus of the media- so depending, most incidents don’t go on to become a national media outcry- it really just depends on the timing of what the media needs at any given time. (Bernasconi, 2014). But the truth is that these cases present nothing new for African Americans, who live this everyday, media coverage or not, which explains why much of the shock and outrage against such events seems to come from the white population. But even for them, if we go back 25 years since the say, “white-awareness” of these events began, at least for my generation, little has been gained for African American civil rights involving the excessive use of force by law enforcement officials. Actually, since the brutal beating of Rodney King by LA Police officers in 1988, incidents of police brutality have increased. We seemed to have learned nothing from our past (Chaney & Robertson, 2014). According to the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement Organization’s findings, 313 African Americans were killed at the hands of law enforcement during 2012 (Bernasconi, 2014); of those killed, 69% of were aged 13-31; 46% were unarmed (Chaney & Robertson, 2014). This amounts to one death every 28 hours (Martinot, 2014). Finding consistent statistics can be difficult, as there is no nationaldatabase on the police killings of African Americans. Data is most often collected from news reports. The Department of Justice has investigated over 17
  • 3. police departments throughout the US since 2010. In Houston there have been an excessive number of recent shootings involving mostly unarmed African Americans. Two of the cases are particularly striking. Brian Claunch, a 45 year old one armed, one-legged mentally ill African American was killed for apparently threatening police with a pen. In the other case involving the killing of Rufino Lara, several witnesses reported that he was unarmed and holding his hands up in the air while being shot several times. (Chaney & Robertson, 2014). The same type of reporting came from 16 of the 18 witnesses in the recent Michael Brown case (PBS.org). The cases presented here, all involving unarmed African American men, represent some of the 2012 cases listed in the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement report, many of which received limited national media coverage. Jamaal Moore, was a 23 year old unarmed who was shot by police during the day, at a gas station near a busy Chicago intersection in 2012. This shooting was videotaped by the station surveillance. Police confiscated the tape and it was never seen again. The officer reported that Jamaal was “charging at her.” Lying on the ground in handcuffs, no one attended to Jamaal after he was shot- it was simply assumed he was dead. When Jamaal’s Mother arrived at scene, one police officer said to her: “just another nigger dead.” Witnesses rioted and were arrested. However, no arrests for the shooting death or for confiscation of evidence were made. (Bernasconi, 2014). Kenneth Chamberlain was a war veteran with a bad heart. One night, his emergency heart monitor accidentally went off, sending a signal out to the medical alert dispatcher. At the time, there were no doctors to call, so the worker called police instead. Several officers arrived at Kenneth’s home and demanded he open the door, but Kenneth told them he was all right and to go away; instead,
  • 4. police down the door in and killed him. (Martinot, 2014). When police suspected Kenneth Harding of planning to run out after his bus ride without paying the 2.00 fare, they forced him off of the bus and shoved him to the ground. Kenneth ran from police and was shot in the back. Police claimed they shot him in the leg and that Kenneth shot himself in the head (killing himself) despite that no gun was found (Martinot, 2014). Martinot argues that it is far easier for white men to surrender without incident than it is for black men. In 20012, DeJuan Colbert robbed a dollar store in Wichita. When police came to his door, DeJuan dropped the knife he was carrying and said, “I give up.” At that time police shot him 13 times (2014). Hyunseok et al. (2010) argues that police’s excessive use of force, occurs disproportionately in lower socioeconomic neighborhoods. Rejecting critical race theory, the study found that resistance to police as the most predictive factor in how much force is used. Police are three times more likely to use force when faced with resistance, particularly male resistance. Typically, police are met with more resistance in higher poverty areas. Hyunseok found that lower unemployment rates correlated with police’s use of higher levels of force. The authors argued that higher use of force is associated more with socioeconomic status rather than race, explaining that when police work in these areas, they are more often met with resistance. Clemons (2014) has argued that higher violent crimes and crimes against property do correlate with socioeconomic status- so disadvantaged neighborhoods will experience higher rates of crime regardless of racial composition. But why the huge disproportion in excessive force and incarceration specifically to race? Clemons believes it the way the system is administered: “one of the primary sources of the disparity is internal, residing within each key actor in the criminal justice system from police officers and prosecutor to judges and juries.” Implicit racial bias has plagued and permeated every level of the justice system, much as it does “even the best intentioned among us.” 691. Clemons argues that most Americans harbor negative implicit associations about black Americans. We are all victim to these stereotypes when
  • 5. dealing with police officers. Since officials often state that they rely on their “gut instincts” or “hunches,” these racial biases influence police decisions about whether to use deadly force as well. In a study of “shooter bias,” researchers pattered a simulation test based on the Implicit Attitude Test and found that in every study, “the threshold of the certainty of danger that participants required to shoot a black man was significantly lower than the threshold required to shoot a white man.” (Clemons, 2014: 695). So what’s the missing variable here? The war on drugs permitted more latitude for law enforcement to search and stop. It added the element that could explode into a grab bag of ambiguous reasons for police officers to use in order to detain people of their choosing. If police officers and other law enforcement officials are allowed to act on racist attitudes, then the rates of arrest would certainly end up disproportionate- as they would reflect those racist biases. Perhaps this lends some understanding as to why prison rates of African Americans are higher than 40 percent, while they make up only 13 percent of the population. If we assume our criminal laws to operate under neutrality, as so many people to day do, when looking at crime statistics, we would assume that African Americans commit a hugely disproportionate share of the crimes committed. However, research has shown that since the war on drugs began in 1980, the black drug arrest rate has more than quadrupled- while the white arrest rate has remained the same, despite that drug use and sales among both are no different (Clemons, 2014). The problem is systemic because it is so deeply entrenched in our history: As early as 1693, court officials in Philadelphia instructed police to arrest any “‘negro’ seen ‘gadding about’ without a pass from his or her master.” This did not make any “distinction between those who were free or slave (Staples, 2011, 32.) The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 punished law enforcement and regular citizens if they did not help capture suspected runaway slaves. Blacks (free or slave) did not have the right to defend themselves in court against these claims (Staples, 2011).
  • 6. So, this “new Jim Crow” is really not new at all, but has continued since slavery ended. Indeed, today, more black Americans are under the control of corrections than were enslaved in 1850 (Clemons, 2014). At the beginning of reconstruction, just after the Civil War ended, The Black Codes were created to keep recently freed slaves under continued white control. The system worked like this: basically, business owners who still needed free labor would provide the names of black people to the sheriff- these were names of mostly young, black men (and often children as young as four years old) who would be ideal for the labor they needed. The sheriff would then go out and arrest these people and the business owner would pay a certain amount for each one. Charges, of course, were usually vague and sentencing terms would often range according to how long the labor was needed. To be sure, some of the parallels from our past are eerily similar. The Black Scholar A review of data from the Illinois Department of Transportation revealed that from 2004-20011, police stopped African Americans 48% more often than Oh, I wish I was an Alabama trooper That is what I’d truly like to be ‘Cause if I was an Alabama trooper Than I could shoot the niggers legally (taunt used by white citizens in Bridgeport, Chicago, 1965. Fikes, 2012, 41).
  • 7. whites (Sundiata Keita Cha-Jua, 2014). The review also showed that in 2011, 88% of the 744 people arrested for jaywalking in Champaign, Illinois were African American. These arrests serve several purposes besides providing a fair amount of revenue (jaywalking citations cost 120.00), they operate as a device of social control. But more importantly, this profiling helps to incorporate black youth into the criminal justice system when they might otherwise escape it- so it while also providing police records disproportionately of the black male youth population. Understanding these skewed numbers, it comes as no surprise that Michael Brown was initially stopped by officer Darren Wilson for jaywalking only 90 seconds before he was shot to death. Often working class African American neighborhoods are targeted by police to randomly stop youth- check ID, run background checks on simple code violations or “trespassing” through a park (hanging out after “close.”) It is often cases like these that somehow manage to escalate into beatings or killings. These are all examples of what Sundiata Keita Cha- Jua calls “crimes of control” (2014). Former pro athlete and businessman, Earl Graves Jr- recalled being stopped and searched one morning in 1996 as he arrived at Grand Central in New York City. Apparently he “fit a description of a suspect.” Graves was dressed in a suite and carrying a briefcase. The suspect was 5 10 with a mustache; Graves was 6 4 and clean shaven. “I’m black,” he said, “and that’s all they saw.” (Fikes, 2012, 52). Philosophy professor Cornel West recalled an incident from his college days 2006. He was stopped because he fit the description provided by a neighbor who’d recently been attacked. Despite her trying to explain to the police that they had the wrong person, the police tried to convince her that she was
  • 8. wrong. West explained that if this woman had not been completely convinced, he’d have gone to jail (Fikes, 2012). Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr., a professor in Cambridge Massachusetts was having problems getting into his house after returning from the airport with his driver (in a limousine). The officer, after hearing his description from a neighbor who called police, assumed he may need “back up,” so more and more officers started to arrive on the scene. Gates was deemed “uncooperative” when police tried to question him (he was in his home at this point). This creates a build-up of hostility on both sides- the victim feeling more harassed and getting angrier and police seeing them as becoming more hostile and thus, affirming their stereotypes and the feeling that something could break – so need further protection and show of force. These are the things that escalate into killings. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. Staples argues that The Civil Rights Act of 1964 “may have reduced the possibility that entire racial groups could be sanctioned for mistreatment, but in reality, law enforcement can still” legally profile anyone based on their affiliation to a particular ethnic group- as long as police provide a reason for the it- which includes simply having a “hunch” about the person (32). And despite police perceptions of threats- whether they stop someone for walking with their hands in their pockets, or if they are carrying a power drill, their perceptions are not based on facts or even experience, but by learned stereotypes. And as Clemons explains, implicit racial bias functions independently of explicit racial attitudes and these tendencies are not checked at the courtroom door (2011). A study completed by Center for Constitutional Rights showed that white suspects, when stopped, are 70 percent more likely than black suspects to have a weapon (Staples, 2011). Yet, Studies conducted when participants are asked to push “shoot” or “don’t shoot” shown images of people with ambiguous objects (which could or could not be a weapon), subjects tend to unconsciously associate violent objects with black people and neutral objects with white people (James, Klinger, & Vila, 2014). White people working in law enforcement and in the court system, including judges have shown to consistently associate African Americans with crime (Staples, 2011). They will often “think” they see a weapon
  • 9. because these stereotypes/schemas are already entrenched in their neurological patterns of thinking. The brain plays tricks on people based on their previous learning- it is a survival instinct that does not serve them- or in these cases, their victims, well when attempting to recall what they saw/what happened or even what they actually see as things occur in the present. Another issue is the discrepancy in the ratio of white officers to black residents in some communities. In southern cities with higher percentages of African Americans, the difference is considerable. New Orleans did not have African American officers on their force at all until 1950. By 1981, 23 percent of the officers were African American, though the population represented 46 percent, with only 2.4 percent of African Americans serving as police supervisors. And the police brutality seems to correlate- with significant incidents of police violence occurring through the 1940s through the 90s (Moore, 2010). Clemons argues that since the Civil Rights Act of 1964, our court systems have not changed the way they determine racism, since it is based solely on intent-based (explicit) standard for racism, but is impotent against fighting discrimination on the most important (implicit) level- since implicit racial bias is not considered in court decisions The view of racial discrimination held by most justices of the US Supreme court is basically “that the only racial discrimination that exists- or at least the only kind that matters under the constitution- is explicit and susceptible to conscious control. Decades of psychological research has demonstrated that the most insidious form of racial bias is actually implicit and subconscious, however.” (Clemons, 2011, 689). Clemons explains how these implicit biases affects those working at all levels of our court system. Federal sentencing outcomes present some disturbing trends on the impact of implicit racial bias- particularly in the area of prosecutorial
  • 10. discretion when considering a departure from the mandatory minimum sentences, for some defendants that may seem “salvageable” or “sympathetic.” While prosecutors may have more time to make decisions than police in the field, they have very high caseloads, and often must make snap judgments on a case, with little info on the suspect other than a short description. In a study of over 77,000 cases, prosecutors were found to be significantly less likely to request shorter sentences for black and Hispanic male defendants than for white male defendants, accounting for 56% of the total racial disparity in length of sentencing (Clemons, 2011). Public defenders also have high caseloads and must determine where to allocate their time and effort. They are also well aware of being up against a system stacked against their African American clients to begin with, which may also influence their putting less effort in providing the best defense for them. The Implicit racial biases of trial judges have been shown to be as high as those in the general population. Research has repeatedly demonstrated that jurors treat defendants unlike themselves more harshly than those they perceive as a member of their own identities. Since the majority of juries are predominantly white, this “out-group bias” disproportionately disadvantages minority defendants.” (Clemons, 2011, 699). A study analyzing jury decisions in criminal cases demonstrated that 33% of convicted whites received a prison sentence compared to 51% of African Americans. Studies have shown that when judging white or black defendants, all other things being equal, white jurors were more empathetic and thus more lenient toward white defendants than black defendants (Chaney & Robertson, 2014). So why aren’t more people outraged? Perhaps the most concerning and most obstructing statistic in all of this is that whites have a very different view of
  • 11. our justice system. Thirty eight percent of whites believe the system is biased against African Americans, with 56% believing it is fair. However, 89% African Americans believe the system is biased against them, with only 8% believing the system treats them fairly. (Chaney & Robertson, 2014). Since white people are not subjected to the same side of the system as African Americans, they will usually only respond to what they see in the media. Martinot agues however, that the media treat each case individually, not showing the trend of multiple murders or tying them in to show a trend in the structure. So, it spreads throughout communities, but ceases to make news (2014). It is also important to understand that the mainstream media gets its reports from the police- and rarely are those accounts questioned. If the victims of the police shootings or brutality have any former criminal record, the media is sure to mention this in detail, regardless of its relevance to the incident, and any thing in the police version of events is reported first without question, even when there are other conflicting reports from witnesses or even medical records, and despite how ridiculous the police side of the story is. Interestingly, Martinot argues, the Media often grants humanity and personhood to white people only. When white people are the targets of shootings, The media will go into depth about the lives and families of the victims. Conversely, when white people are the actual shooters and the victims are black citizens, the focus becomes the lives and family of the shooters (2011). Men are also often portrayed as prototypes of criminal suspects. Black males in particular are seen as aggressive and criminal, fitting into the stereotype of perpetrator. Studies have shown the more Afrocentric the African American’s facial features, the more prone he or she is to be perceived as deviant in some way (Martinot, 2011). Officer Darren Wilson described Michael Brown as some sort of non-human “demon” who seemed to “bulk-up” and get angrier the more he was shot, even referring to Brown as “it” at one time during testimony. When one compares the manner in which the media has portrayed black men, perhaps this explains why the majority of white Americans seemed to accept this description as justification for the shooting.
  • 12. Without a change in the awareness and attitudes of the dominant culture, which are driven by strong learned implicit biases, significant changes may still be generations away. Body cameras and more training cannot wipe these biases away. Hyunseok et al. maintained that white people in positions of power may react aggressively because they perceive minorities as a threat to their dominance (2010). Considering the projections showing the white numerical a way toward that change ourselves.
  • 13. Works Cited/Bibliography/Notes: Bernasconi, R. (2014). When police violence is more than violent policing. The New Centennial Review. 14(2). 145-152. Chaney, C. and Robertson, R.V. (2014). Can we all get along? Blacks' historical and contemporary (in) justice with law enforcement. 
 Western Journal of Black Studies. 38(2) 122-108. Sean Bell- shot at 50 times; Amadou Diallo shot at 40 times, Devin Brown (13 years old); Adolf Grimes- shot 12 times in the back; Timothy Thomas- shooting in Detroit. Chaney, C. and Robertson, R. (2013). Racism and police brutality in America. Journal of African American Studies. 17(4). 480-505. Clemons, J. T. (2014). Blind injustice: The supreme court, implicit racial bias, and the racial disparity in the criminal justice system. American Criminal Law Review. 51(3). 689-713. “The cumulative influence of implicit racial bias on the various decisions made by the” actors within the criminal justice system “creates a wave of racial disparity that swells from the moment a police officer decides to stop an individual to the final bang of the judge’s gavel” in the sentencing hearing. “At each decision point along the way, the disparity grows. Blacks are more likely to be stopped,” arrested, charged, charged with harsher charges, “and less likely to receive effective defense counsel,” “more likely to be convicted and more likely to receive harsher sentences.” Fikes, R. (2012). Breathing while black: Rude and frightful encounters with the police recalled by distinguished African Americans, 1860-2012. The Journal of Pan African Studies. 5(5). 41-65. James, L., Klinger, D., and Vila, B. (2014). Racial and ethnic bias in decisions to shoot seen through a stronger lens: experimental results from high-fidelity laboratory simulations. Journal of Experimental Criminology. 10(3) 323- 340. Lee, H. Hyunseok, J., Yun, I., Lim, H., Tushaus, D.W. (2010). An examination of police use of force utilizing police training and neighborhood contextual factors: A multilevel analysis. Policing: An International Journal of Police Strategies & Management. 33 (4). 681-702. Martinot, S. (2014). On the epidemic of police killings. Social Justice. 39(4). 52- 75. Alan Blueford killed in 2012 when Oakland police stopped him on a street corner where he was hanging with his friends. He ran- but didn’t do anything. Unarmed. Upward trajectory shows
  • 14. officer was standing over him when shot three times. Fourth shot actually hit the officer’s foot. Officer was “exonerated” Blueford- lying on his back with hands up- lied on the ground for four hours (familiar?), the assumption being that he was dead. Parallel this with George Zimmerman, a citizen who followed Trayvon Martin as he talked on his cell phone. Zimmerman called police, who told him not to take any action as they headed that way- then when police arrived, Trayvon was dead with a bullet through his chest; Zimmerman claimed self defense; Trayvon was unarmed. Again, Exonerated. – “honor?” Ramarley Graham- 2012 a teenager who went inside his apartment when he saw police stop in front of it- Police came and ordered him to open the door, graham refused, so they forced it open and shot him (he was in the bathroom). Gary King- street corner with friends, officer drove by and stopped, walked over to him and his friends. The officer claimed he saw King reach for his waistband and felt threatened. Chavis Carter, 21 years old shot while sitting handcuffed in the back of a police car in Jonesboro, Arkansas. The police said he shot himself. Hayward police (2012)- killed California resident, Edgar Alvarez as he sat in his car. He fit the description of a suspect from a bar shooting several blocks away. As Alvarez put his car in reverse, he was shot and killed. Moore, L. N. (2010). Black Rage in New Orleans: Police Brutality and African American Activism from World War II to Hurricane Katrina. Baton Rough: Louisiana State UP. Public Broadcasting Corporation. (2014). Witness interviews from the Michael Brown shooting investigation (Chart). Retrieved from http://www.pbs.org/newshour/updates/newly-released-witness-testimony- tell-us-michael-brown-shooting/ Sundiata Keita Cha-Jua. (2014). We believe it was murder: Mobilizing black resistance to police brutality in Champaign, Illinois. The Black Scholar. 44(1). 58-85. Case 2009- Kiwane A Carrington. 1:30 afternoon- on the porch of aunt’s house with a friend- police acting on reports of burglary- police stated they asked the boys to get down- they sat- but police state Kiwane continued walking toward him (what does this sound like?) shooting killed the15 -year old- ruled accidental though took less than a minute. Staples, R. (2011). White power, black crime, and racial politics. The Black Scholar, 41(4). 31-41. Many brutal cases of African American killings by white police in NYC- perhaps the most revealing fact is that twenty black officers, working off duty or undercover, have been shot by their white colleagues. (p 35).