From the perspective of a retired law enforcement official, the videotaped savagery of a police officer knocking a man senseless and violently pummeling him into submission on a Baltimore sidewalk evoked a visceral reaction. Seemingly unconstrained by the law, departmental procedures, and personal self-control, the police officer, in the blink of an eye, needlessly escalates a street scene, and then commits a violent assault — under the color of authority — while his unblinking partner stands idly by.
And while the offending officer has resigned and his complicit, non-interventionist-witness of a partner has been placed on administrative assignment pending an internal investigation, as tweeted by the Baltimore Police Department, the outrage has been muted.
Why is this? Well, the mainstream media, for one, has been far more focused on a pathetic group of beta male white supremacist losers who descended on our nation’s capital yesterday afternoon. The 25 or so pitiable loons armed with placards and a less-than-anodyne racist message from a bygone era were met with hundreds of mobilized and much more voluble counter-demonstrators from Antifa — the anti-fascist group spawned to counter Hitler and Mussolini in Europe during the 1920’s and 1930’s.
When Antifa — described by an enamored press as an “anti-hate group” — began assaulting police and members of the news media, well, the press moved along smartly. No story to see here, as the criminal activities that included slinging water bottles, fireworks, and eggs at cops and cutting broadcaster cables were all perpetrated by leftists.
And why the less-than-enthusiastic coverage of the Baltimore police officer beatdown of an unarmed black man? Well, the offending officer and partner were both African-Americans.
Imagine the breathless, wall-to-wall news coverage if the two officers had been white.
Well, we don’t have to. We’re barraged daily with any and every instance of questionable police action. And while law enforcement — as armed instruments of the state — undeniably deserve intense scrutiny and civilian oversight, the false narratives and tropes that abound are foisted upon us by a mainstream media that seemingly only takes the side of law enforcement institutions when they are criticized by the current president or congressional Republicans.
And while we can certainly acknowledge historical instances of police forces being wielded to advance immoral causes — think Theophilus Eugene “Bull” Connor and his fire hoses and attack dogs in Birmingham, Alabama, during the Civil Rights Era — is anyone pretending that our nation’s diversified law enforcement ranks are still constituted with racists?
The fact that the two aforementioned Baltimore cops were black raises yet another defense to the trope that is “racist white cops” proliferate. The ever-opportunistic “grievance industry” seeks to race-bait by highlighting the over-hyped and one-sided news coverage of the rare instances of police brutality meted out by demonstrably racist Caucasians.
But, in reality, as chronicled by Tom Jacobs in the Pacific Standard, in a piece entitled, “Black Cops are just as likely as White Cops to Kill Black Suspects,” new research indicates that it may be a “culture of bias” within the police ranks itself — essentially speaking, black and white cops respond similarly to perceived threats. Most shockingly, due to the underreported nature of these findings, are the determinations from quoted researchers who found “white police officers actually kill black and other minority suspects at lower rates than we would expect if killings were randomly distributed among officers of all races.”
While making the point that bias isn’t race-driven — firmly dispelling Trope #1 — the author does quote statistics that highlight that African-Americans comprise only 13 percent of the population, yet make up some 28 percent of people killed by police. Jacobs assesses that if black motorists are unfairly pulled over more often than whites, it stands to reason there would more be more opportunities for a fatal interaction with police.
But he ignores what Michael Tonry asserted in 1995’s "Malign Neglect: Race, Crime, and Punishment in America," while pointing out that black incarceration rates were higher than white rates — not due to some sinister institutional racism — but instead to “patterns of offending.”
And those “patterns of offending” — uncomfortable as this topic may be to some — must be included in any candid conversations on race and criminality in America. Therefore, Trope #2 is the misguided notion that we should only view police shootings as a product of a particular demographic group’s population percentage. This can also easily be dispelled. If the black community is ultimately responsible for an astoundingly disproportionate percentage of criminality in this country — between 1980 and 2008, blacks committed some 52 percent of all homicides — would it not stand to reason that there would be more potential for increased police interactions?
Increased interactions lead to more potentially violent ones. In the vast majority of these instances, it is the suspect who initiates or escalates the confrontation. But as in the instance of the Baltimore police officers, sometimes law enforcement officers tarnish their badges and defy their oaths to protect and serve. Let’s acknowledge that there are some bad cops within the ranks. And they need to be identified and removed.
But if we are to ever have that honest conversation about the issues of police brutality and racial disparities in the application of American justice, let’s at least begin with the facts.
James A. Gagliano is a 1987 graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point. Following his service as an Infantry Officer in the U.S. Army, he entered the FBI, serving in a myriad of positions in the investigative, tactical resolution (SWAT), undercover, diplomatic and executive management realms. He was a member of the FBI’s elite Hostage Rescue Team (HRT) and has posted to assignments in Afghanistan, Mexico City, and parts of Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. He retired in December of 2015 from the FBI’s New York City Office. He currently serves as a Law Enforcement Analyst for CNN, provides Leadership consultation for corporate clients of the Thayer Leader Development Group (TLDG) at his alma mater, and instructs undergraduates at St. John’s University in Queens, New York, where he earned an M.P.S. in Homeland Security and Criminal Justice Leadership in 2016. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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