Hide   Volume
The Communicator NEWS & POLITICS

____ Lives Matter Series: FBI Director, Professor Focus on Context in Police and Minority Conflicts

Written by: Zachary D. ElickNovember 10, 2016

FBI Director James Comey refuted a commonly held belief among Black Lives Matter activists and supporters while speaking last month to the International Association of Chiefs of Police in San Diego.

Comey pushed back against the claim of widespread institutional racism in our nation’s law enforcement, specifically the view that “biased police are killing black men at epidemic rates,” he said.

According to Comey, the perception of bias in policing is primarily driven by the emotional effect of graphic video images of police officers shooting black suspects, rather than by the actual facts on the ground.

“In a nation of almost a million law enforcement officers and tens of millions of police encounters each year, a small group of videos serve as proof of an epidemic,” he said, derisively. “And that sense by good people that the police are doing terrible things has real costs.”

Comey decried our nation’s need for the collection of accurate data on police interactions nationwide, a measure he said our government has neglected to do. A week before his speech, the Justice Department announced a new plan to compile exactly this sort of information. This plan may have been inspired by The Washington Post’s unprecedented database, detailing all fatal shootings by police from the start of 2015 to now, mentioned in the first installment of this series last September.

Comey also advocated for police leaders to understand the troubled relationship that has existed between the black community and law enforcement.

“(Leaders should) know the history of law enforcement’s interaction with black America, because black people of America know it and remember it for reasons that make good sense,” he said.

disproportionate number of confrontations between the police and racial minorities, especially black Americans, over the years has had some devastating consequences for minority communities. One consequence is an overabundance of minorities in prison, which has lead to dysfunctional family dynamics and an increase in crime, according to Jospeter Mbuba, associate professor of public policy at IPFW.

“The net effect of disproportionate incarceration of minorities over the years was that their families were overly disorganized and many children were left both unsupervised and without support for conventional pursuits, including education,” Mbuba said. “With low or no education comes poverty, unemployment and idleness. These are the main factors in the causation of street crime.”

Demonstrations held during the Civil Rights Movement of the ‘50s and ‘60s led to “large scale incarceration” of black advocates. President Richard Nixon’s “War on Drugs,” which expanded the power of law enforcement to crack down on drug users in the early ‘70s, had a similar negative effect on the black community, Mbuba said.

Early this year, Harper’s magazine published portions of a previously unreleased 1994 interview with Nixon’s former aide, John Ehrlichman, that confirms Nixon’s drug policies were intended to target black Americans, as well as anti-war leftists.

“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 black with heroin, and then by criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities,” Ehrlichman, who served as Nixon’s domestic policy chief, said to journalist Dan Baum in the interview.

As hinted at by Comey, the “disrupting” of minority communities has led these communities to view the police as a threat, inciting feelings of hopelessness.

“Studies show that teenagers who have multiple family member in custody lose faith in the law. They tend to believe that it is a matter of time before they, too, get arrested,” Mbuba said. “As a result, they give up the pursuit of conventional life goals and simply wait for their day.”

Some attempts to repair the relationship between police and minority communities, such as recruiting more minorities into the police force, have had mixed results, according to Mbuba. Research suggests black and latino officers tend to over-arrest black and latino suspects in an effort to show they are not favorably biased toward their own race. White officers have been shown to exhibit similar behavior — a phenomenon known as “inverted racism,” he said.

Mbuba stressed the importance of understanding the “contextual circumstances” leading to crime, instead of simply relying on “the stricter enforcement of the law.”

“So far, there are no decisive steps that have been proven to break the cycle,” Mbuba said. “But community education and appropriate police training may yield significant success in the relations between the police and minority communities.”