I’ll admit it, I did not watch the debates last night and, to be frank, I haven’t watched a single debate this pre-primary season. However, as I was reading through my Facebook feed late last night, I came upon a post from a former law enforcement official, who had a few years ago run for Sacramento County Sheriff.
His comment got my attention: “Hilary can kiss my (hindpart) and any cop that votes for her is a sellout to the profession. I can’t believe what she said.”
What did Hillary Clinton say?
The question at the debate held in Charleston, South Carolina, was, “Secretary Clinton, this is a community that has suffered a lot of heartache in the last year. Of course, as you mentioned, the church shootings. We won’t forget the video of Walter Scott being shot in the back while running from police.
“We understand that a jury will decide whether that police officer was justified, but it plays straight to the fears of many African American men that their lives are cheap. Is that perception, or in your view, is it reality?”
Ms. Clinton responded, “Well, sadly it’s reality, and it has been heartbreaking, and incredibly outraging to see the constant stories of young men like Walter Scott, as you said, who have been killed by police officers. There needs to be a concerted effort to address the systemic racism in our criminal justice system.
“And, that requires a very clear agenda for retraining police officers, looking at ways to end racial profiling, finding more ways to really bring the disparities that stalk our country into high relief.
“One out of three African-American men may well end up going to prison. That’s the statistic. I want people here to think what we would be doing if it was one out of three white men, and very often, the black men are arrested, convicted and incarcerated … for offenses that do not lead to the same results for white men.
“So, we have a very serious problem that we can no longer ignore.”
The bolded line was the line that drew this former sheriff’s deputy’s ire, and he interpreted the comment to mean, “She basically said that racism is systemic in the law enforcement profession.” The actual quote refers to the criminal justice system as a whole, but I can see why he might have interpreted the comment as he did.
My immediate reaction to his comment was that it is scary that this kind of comment would draw such a visceral knee-jerk reaction as it did. That it would from people who hold a badge and a gun, with the ability to take people’s liberty and even their lives, has to give one pause with the caveat that hopefully this is one man’s view rather than a general reaction from the law enforcement community.
The thing about Ms. Clinton’s quote is twofold. First, it is really unremarkable in and of itself. We have heard so many stories like Walter Scott in the last 18 months since the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson.
Her response was actually quite measured – we do need to make a concerted effort to address the systematic racism in our criminal justice system, from the implicit bias of stop and frisk to the disproportionate police contact in minority communities, to the racial disparities in arrests, convictions and imprisonment.
Ms. Clinton points out how many African-American men end up going to prison, with the disparity in charging, prosecuting, convicting and imprisoning black men over others. She brings up the fact that we would have a very different reaction if that rate were as high for white people.
In short, I think she nails it. The only amazing thing about it is that it was Hillary Clinton who said it. Ms. Clinton is far from leading the way on this issue. What is remarkable is that it is an issue that her campaign team – which tends to push her to the center and play things safe – felt safe enough to allow her to address in such an honest and forthright way. That is how far the political landscape on this issue has moved.
Hillary Clinton never would have felt comfortable saying this even two years ago, let alone eight years ago when she was last a candidate.
What concerns me most is that a former law enforcement officer has such a knee-jerk and deep-seated reaction to a comment which, in the context of the times, is really quite mundane.
If you don’t think people get treated differently based on things like race and ethnicity, we don’t have to go far back in time or far away in location to see an example. Imagine it is back in the spring of 2009, and Luis Gutierrez is walking from the Woodland DMV to his home along Gum Avenue. It is the middle of the day.
Three plainclothes Yolo County Sheriff’s Deputies see the man minding his own business, whip their car around and pursue him. They claim they thought they recognized him, but, by all records, they didn’t. Luis Gutierrez, 25, spoke little English, but had experienced a long history of what amounted to racial profiling, where he was stopped by police but he had no significant criminal history outside of some moving violations.
However, when the unmarked sedan turned around, he ran, and ended up in a confrontation where the deputies say he pulled a knife and they were forced to shoot and kill him.
A federal jury would rule in favor of the deputies, but there can be no doubt that, had Luis Gutierrez been white, he never would have been pursued on that day. Apparently that wasn’t enough for a jury to find for a wrongful death.
San Francisco police this year were accused of sending racially biased text messages. When the racist text messages sent by at least ten members of the San Francisco Police Department came to light, Sergeant Yulanda Williams was one of the officers of color personally targeted – by name.
At an event in San Francisco, Sgt. Williams was asked how deep this goes. She replied, “We know that this is not an isolated incident. This problem is systemic within the San Francisco Police Department and unfortunately there have been some who have chosen to turn a blind eye.”
She added, “I stand before you as a woman who was called… a NIGGER BITCH… I’m going to tell you something. First of all, it’s offensive to any female that has risked their lives on a daily basis for the citizens of this city. We entered into this position considering it a noble one and that is why we gave our lives and we committed ourselves to serve and protect the citizens of San Francisco.
“These rogue cops have been disrespectful. They have brought discredit to our uniform. It is outright bigotry and hatredness. And as a victim, the thing that hurts me the most is the outright betrayal of this department,” she said forcefully.
But I guess Ms. Clinton is the one in the wrong to believe that there is systematic racism in the criminal justice system. After all, it was not just members of the public treated with disparity, it was minority officers within a department. Are we to believe that San Francisco is an outlier here?
So yes, in the end, I think the visceral reaction by the former deputy was because he recognized that Ms. Clinton hit too close to an uncomfortable truth.
I do not believe that all people in the law enforcement system are racist. But systematic racism does not require that they be. In fact, as we have discussed throughout the year, a far bigger problem is less about overt racism and more about unconscious bias and institutional racism.
—David M. Greenwald reporting