DON'T LET IT BE A BLACK AND A WHITE ONE

Ice Cube, before he became a comic prop in family vacation movies, understood a fundamental truth about race and law enforcement 30 years ago that still has not sunk in with a lot of Americans.

Ready? All of the issues with race and law enforcement apply regardless of the race of a particular officer. Cops use more force against black suspects. White cops. Black cops. Male cops. Female cops. Cops. That's the point – it's a systemic problem, not a "Few bad apples" problem.

And on the other hand, without a gun they can't get none
But don't let it be a black and a white one
Cause they'll slam ya down to the street top
Black police showing out for the white cop

Sure, it would be a good idea (for any number of reasons) for police departments to hire a diverse group of officers. But "We have black cops too" doesn't mean that issues of race and law enforcement go away. It's still there. If cops generally perceive that black male suspects are a threat, that can go as well for non-white cops as for white ones. Three of the cops who beat Freddie Gray to death, to cite just one example, were black. They didn't stand there and watch the three white cops beat him. They didn't say "Hey you know this seems to be an excessive amount of force." They participated. Whether they were "showing out for the white cops" or behaving how they would have behaved if all of the cops involved were black is conjecture. What isn't conjecture is that black cops, like white, Hispanic, Asian, left-handed, and Turkish-Romanian cops, were part of the problem. Because the problem is bigger than cops. The problem is with the system. We repeat the lie that it's just a few bad apples, one or two loose cannons here and there, because it transfers responsibility from the system to the individual. And when the problem is the individual…oh well, what are you gonna do, right? See also: mass shootings.

Cities are racing to appoint black cops to top positions in troubled departments. Chicago recently jumped on the bandwagon, appointing an unknown, inexperienced (administratively) beat cop named Eddie Johnson as Superintendent in response to public uproar that has already taken down the Cook County State's Attorney in the recent Democratic primary. Look, it makes no sense to begrudge the city promoting a beat cop, a black cop, or a black beat cop to a position of authority. It's probably not a bad idea. The problem is that when these appointments are made, it's not hard to picture everyone in the Mayor's office and Police HQ slapping their hands together and exclaiming, "Problem solved!"

It's not a solution. It is, at worst, window dressing and, at best, a red herring. The problem in Chicago is not that there weren't or aren't enough black cops in the upper ranks. The problem in Chicago is that the police department has proven itself totally rotten, corrupt, conspiratorial, and willing to go to any length to protect its own. Top to bottom. The whole thing. Maybe Eddie Johnson will be a good Super, maybe he'll be gone in six months. Who knows. The point is that appointing him, or anyone else, does not solve the problem. And these appointments of black cops to high ranking position at a time when police departments are reeling from being asked to answer for the massive numbers of unarmed black suspects they bring to the morgue feels a lot less like a legitimate effort to bring diversity to leadership positions and a lot more like a cynical PR ploy to allow the old, white, reactionary base on which urban politics still depends to say "We appointed a colored, what more do you want."

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20 Responses to “DON'T LET IT BE A BLACK AND A WHITE ONE”

  1. Isaac Says:

    Kinda reminds me of when struggling fortune 500 type companies appoint women C-suite executives so they can take the fall. http://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2014/aug/05/fortune-500-companies-crisis-woman-ceo-yahoo-xerox-jc-penny-economy

  2. U.S. in the EU Says:

    "And when the problem is the individual…oh well, what are you gonna do, right? See also: mass shootings."

    See financial crisis

  3. Earl Says:

    I think it's well past time to stop taking Rahm Emanuel's advice on fucking anything. It can even be considered a strongly negative signal. I don't know what the answer is, but I do know if Emanuel supports something it's a bad idea.

    (ps — I left a fb note under a nym about learning to code, but this email also works. Email me for advice…)

  4. Mike S. Says:

    "The rank and file is ecstatic about this choice,"

    If the problem is systemic, and those that make up the system are thrilled about this appointment, then this isn't an appointment likely to address the problem.

    something something Nixon/China – something something wrong analogy

  5. Jude Says:

    Shhhh. You're giving away the game.

  6. Nick Says:

    In the UK we call this "institutional racism" after a report by Sir William McPherson into the bungled investigation of the murder of Stephen Lawrence. He concluded that the Metropolitan (London) Police was "institutionally racist," which he defined as:

    "The collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture, or ethnic origin. It can be seen or detected in processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racist stereotyping which disadvantage minority ethnic people."

    As an interesting legal aside, one of the outcomes of the McPherson Report was the abrogation of the Double Jeopardy rule in cases where new and compelling evidence comes to light following an initial acquittal or conviction.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Murder_of_Stephen_Lawrence

  7. Buckyblue Says:

    See also: everything. Because that's how we roll (although, role works here too). Entitlement programs, absolutely. But also entrepreneurs who built a business, and they did it ALL by themselves (remember, "You didn't build that!"). Hell, we even act like the shitty children of rich people who inherited the money some how worked for it and deserve it simply because of who their sperm and egg donor was. Maybe this is why we can't have collective nice things. Why bother working to put an efficient workable system together when it's always up to the individual.

  8. Tim H. Says:

    You know it's in everyone's interest that law enforcement use the minimum force. To ignore excessive force against people who aren't like you is like an old time miner seeing an unconscious canary and laughing that it must suck to be a bird, rather than getting out of the mine, when working class whites are added to the target list the value of restraint may become more understandable.

  9. Dave Dell Says:

    See also pedophile priests/ministers/rabbis.

  10. John Danley Says:

    You're thinking like Foucault. People don't like it when you think like Foucault.

  11. Anthony Fury Says:

    Yo Ed, I got somethin' to say

  12. Alan C Says:

    It's the criminal justice system as a whole that's the problem, but an important aspect is police culture. Some departments are better and some worse in this regard (and some are even WORSE) and new officers, whether white or black or green, get assimilated into the cop culture in their agency. And these days that often means a culture defined by an us-against-them mentality with respect (or disrespect?) to the community they patrol.

  13. drouse Says:

    @Alan C It starts from the second they enter an academy. The various law enforcement agencies merely inoculate the newbies with the attitudes of that organization. There is a saying that is attributed to the Jesuits, "Give me the boy and I'll vouch for the man".

    Also, I've heard the practice of appointing women and people of color to head up troubled organizations called the glass cliff.

  14. JohnR Says:

    Reminds me of the public school system here in the Home of Freddie Gray. For decades, now, with great fanfare we periodically change the Guy in Charge, and then quietly see him off after a couple or three years. Nothing really changes. At some point, you have to ask yourself why. We're getting that way with Presidents, too.

  15. mm Says:

    And just as I'm reading this post I get a bulletin on my phone from The Guardian:

    Jamar Clark shooting: Minneapolis police officers will not face charges in death of unarmed black man.

  16. Beleck Says:

    as long as the Club exists, the rest of us will follow their rules. Power begets power, and absolute power is what we see today. Window dressing for society, when cops hire "tokens" in hope they can "pretend" things are better. "See, we have a woman or black or latino or "whatever" to show we are inclusive and "value" all life.

    New Orleans has done this for years, good "PR" Police Commissioners, and the crime rate is still sky high. only by solving poverty and changing the accepted "way" will anything really change. That's one reason cops can and do act like they are the "law". The Blue Line is there to protect the Rich from any change whatsoever, like Scott Walker did in Wisconsin, destroy all other unions but the Cops and firefighters.

    we have truly moved from a country run by its laws to a country owned and run by Powerful, Rich white men. of course we have to have the "appearance" of inclusion. Hillary Clinton, Obama, and the rest of the "hired help". that's what the Media is for.

    to never focus on the real solutions, just divide one group against the other. and the Media does this with stunning success

  17. Robert Says:

    One of the things that my father taught me:
    The police are on the side of the people with stuff. The more you have, the more on your side they are. The inverse is also true.

  18. RepubAnon Says:

    The police are a tribe, to be successful one must be loyal to the tribe. Show disloyalty, and suddenly your requests for back-up are ignored.

  19. moderateindy Says:

    I am friends with half a dozen Chicago cops, and have hung out with dozens more over the years. (mostly from being on, and in 16 in softball leagues) Their level of racism is beyond the pale, and the fact that they have no problem displaying it in front of casual acquaintances merely speaks to how deeply ingrained it is. I don't think the average person can really comprehend how bad it is.
    As far as my closer friends, that I've known since high school or college, half were racists going in the other half were turned rather quickly. And it doesn't really matter race, or gender the culture is so beyond toxic that I doubt there is actually a solution to the situation. These guys are cops first, and everything takes a back seat to that.

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