Tags: MidPoint | Jameca Falconer | Laurence Miller | African-Americans | police

Psychologist: African-Americans See 'Danger' in Police Stops

By    |   Thursday, 09 April 2015 03:52 PM

A psychologist who has worked with residents of Ferguson, Mo., since the death of Michael Brown says it's reasonable to believe that for many people — and especially for young African-American men — being detained by police under any circumstance has become a frightening experience.

"I would think that most people, most youths, most African-American men at this point feel like it's a danger to be stopped by a cop for anything," Jameca Falconer, a psychologist and faculty member at Logan University in Chesterfield, Mo., told "MidPoint" host Ed Berliner on Newsmax TV Thursday. "So that situation in and of itself is going to initiate fear."

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Falconer was joined on air by Dr. Laurence Miller, psychologist for the West Palm Beach, Fla., Police Department to discuss policing and community relations in the wake of Ferguson, where an unarmed young black man, Brown, was shot and killed by a white police officer, Darren Wilson, last August.

Brown's death spurred local upheaval, national protests and a Justice Department probe that ultimately corroborated Wilson's account of the shooting but found systematic racial bias in the city's administration of justice.

The "MidPoint" panelists also discussed more recent incidents including this week's murder charge for a white South Carolina policeman who was videotaped shooting a black man in the back after a traffic stop.

"Every citizen wants to believe that the people we put our trust in to protect us are indeed going to protect us," said Miller, who works closely with law enforcement in Florida and elsewhere as an educator, trainer, consultant and forensic psychological examiner.

"I cannot speak from personal experience, but it must be a terrible feeling to realize that the people who you may depend on to save your life may in fact take your life," said Miller.

Miller said that police departments already have access to proven methods for de-escalating tensions with communities they patrol and protect and reducing the likelihood of deadly-force incidents.

"The irony is we kind of already know what works," he said. "We know that better selection and training of police officers works. We know that a better educated police force tends to have a lower rate of excessive force. We know that … outreach programs to members of the community work so that the first time a citizen meets a police officer isn't during a stop."

Miller said getting these police practices adopted on a more widespread basis "boils down to two things: will and money."

"The will part is the people who are in the higher echelons of law enforcement — the police managers, the captains, the chiefs, the assistant chiefs of lieutenants — have to believe that this is something that's important," he said. "Because if the upper echelon believes it's important, then the rank and file will follow."

Without buy-in at the top, he said, great ideas on improved policing have a way of becoming unfunded mandates.

"The other irony is many of these things are not that difficult and not that expensive," said Miller, who cited as one example improved training for police encounters with mentally unstable people that draws on the experience of mental health professionals who specialize in crisis interventions.

Miller also said that skills possessed by hostage negotiators can be incorporated into everyday policing to help defuse confrontations.

"If you look at every one of these events that's happened, almost every single one you'll see there's a tipping point," he said, "a tipping point in which talking became physical interaction which became excessive force or deadly force."

"Not every situation can be talked down," he said. "Not every situation can be negotiated down. But … you have individuals who are trained to do this in life-and-death situations: hostage negotiators. Take some of that training and teach it to the rank-and-file, so when someone is yelled at, spit at, cursed at, the immediate reaction is not to react with force, it's to react with a step procedure."

Falconer said that in Ferguson, local elections this week gave African-American residents more say in their city's management, and for Ferguson and other places, she advocated more community policing — in which cops and residents become more closely connected and, ideally, more cooperative and trusting of one another.

"The policemen should be living in these communities," she said. "They should be shopping with their community, they should be worshiping, playing, everything within in this community so that the members of the community feel like they are a part of the community."

Miller also addressed recent concerns about the culture of policing in different departments, and the idea of a "code of silence" in which officers cover for one another.

"What you find in communities where police are being accused of excessive force is what's often worse is the opposite: When there is a need, when the police are called to an emergency, there's often a lag, there's often a delay," he said. "So you get a double whammy: You have police departments that don't respond to real emergencies and then on minor types of situations they overreact."

But he also said, "Every cop that I know that's a good cop is not going to protect a cop that he or she thinks is a bad cop. One, for reason of ethics. Two, for reasons of reflection on their own self."

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A psychologist who has worked with residents of Ferguson, Mo., since the death of Michael Brown says it's reasonable to believe that for many people — and especially for young African-American men — being detained by police under any circumstance has become a frightening experience.
Jameca Falconer, Laurence Miller, African-Americans, police
Thursday, 09 April 2015 03:52 PM
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