Monday Morning Thoughts: Police and Race on MLK Day

Police Blue
Share:

Police Blue

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

Share:

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

Related posts

36 thoughts on “Monday Morning Thoughts: Police and Race on MLK Day”

  1. Tia Will

    I would like to expand a little further on the extent of excusing or downplaying racist comments and attitudes within our criminal justice system. I am referring to the current sexual molestation case currently being reported on by the Vanguard Court Watch. What we have is prosecutors who are trying to minimize the clear of evidence of racial bias on the part of the accuser as “joking”.

    There frequently seems to be some ready made, glib way of making racism somehow not racism. It can be written off as “blowing off steam” or “just a joke amongst friends” or a “private communication” or just someone getting their “feelings hurt”. I think of this differently. Sometimes police work is frankly very dangerous. I believe that there is a concept of “unit cohesiveness” that is used to portray the importance that every member of a team, in order to do their job optimally should feel that all members of the team will have their back when things get tough. I am wondering if any of us believe that  Sgt. Williams could reasonably feel supported after having been called a “Nigger Bitch” by her coworkers ?

    These attitudes exist in how citizens are treated by the police, how they are treated in court, how they are treated in our prisons and by parole boards, and how justifications for actions of both the accused and accusers are spun by lawyers in front of juries. These are clear illustrations of the systemic nature of the problem.  I think that the comment from the former law enforcement official is a basic misunderstanding of what systemic means. It does not mean that it applies to him, or even to anyone he knows or has worked with. It means that it applies to the system, and that I believe is undeniable.

    1. SODA

      Tia, thanks for the last 2 sentences. I have been struggling after reading the article, wanting, not to defend the sheriff David quotes, but to say I somewhat identify with how he took the comment by Hillary and made it personal to him. I believe you Tia,  in your profession, as would I in mine and I dare say the Sheriff in his, would be sensitive and defensive and even angry if someone made a generalized comment about our professions.

      To dissect the comment into systemic vs individual makes it more process oriented and able to accept and therefore improve. Do you agree?

    2. Frankly

      It is really sad and heartbreaking how many people are killed by the clear patient bias and the many mistakes made by the medical profession that also pays doctors, nurses and almost all other healthcare industry employee more than any other country. Having had the misfortune of having to advocate for sick family members, it is clear that the old and poor get the least attention and least care because they generally also lack the family that can advocate for them to prevent mistakes and lack of adequate attention.

      We need a national effort to turn this around as no patient should be made to feel like their life is worth less than another.

      The reason we won’t hear anything like this is because there is no voting block to be enflamed and captured for political power.

      Hillary Clinton is disgusting.  She is a proven liar and is also proving that she will continue to be as racially divisive to this country as is Barack Obama.

       

      1. Tia Will

        Frankly

        We need a national effort to turn this around as no patient should be made to feel like their life is worth less than another.”

        On this point we are in complete agreement. Where we do not agree is on thee best way to achieve this goal. From 30 years in medicine, I believe that the best way is to adopt a single party payer, non fee for service, universal health care system. There are many models in comparably wealth countries to choose from. We would not have to re-invent the wheel. What we need is to have the will to accept that all lives are of equal value and that medical care should be a right. We have a national precedent for including all of our citizens in a given benefit. It is called protection by our military from foreign harm. I am truly baffled why we cannot have the same dedication to protecting our citizenry from the much more statistically likely harm of illness.

  2. Tia Will

    SODA

    I strongly agree that the statement that Hillary made was process oriented. I also agree with you that as human beings, we tend not to like changes that are suggested from the outside of our in-group. Many of us do not even like changes suggested by insiders. But one fundamental step in improvement in any system is the willingness to look at both strengths and weaknesses of that system. We all like the pats on the individual and organizational back. But those are not what tend to spur the most productive changes. It is the question, “what could we be doing better?” that drives improvement and we should be willing to look at the question regardless of its source.

    I only take exception to one part of your comment. I learned very quickly during my ten years in administration that becoming angry or defensive over a criticism is totally counter productive. What is needed is an objective assessment of whether or not the criticism has merit. Over time, I experienced these feelings less and less and when they did arise was able to overcome them much more rapidly. What these negative emotions do is to prevent us from looking at the situation objectively and to reflexively defend the status quo even to our own detriment.

  3. sisterhood

    Hello Tia,

    Here’s an article that cheered me up, gave me reason to hope all is not lost in our criminal justice system in America. Bravo to this cop. Happy MLK Jr. day to you.

    https://www.facebook.com/FresnoPoliceDepartment/photos/
    On 1-15-16 at about 8:09 PM. Ofcs. Sanders and Craig were dispatched to the 2300 block of S. Fairview in regard to a suicidal subject. Upon arrival, they located a male and noted that he was a fairly large individual who was extremely confrontational and highly agitated. He was shouting at officers and refused to comply with officer’s request to go with EMS for a mental health evaluation. A request for emergency assistance was made and numerous officers began to head their way. After a few officers arrived, Ofc. Craig wisely cancelled the other officers, realizing additional officers would likely make the situation worse. The subject was shouting about how hungry he was and that he was not getting enough to eat at his group home. Ofc. Sanders then offered the subject his lunch and the subject immediately began to calm down. He was given the food and later willingly went with EMS for the evaluation. The officer’s common sense in this incident prevented a likely situation that would have required officers to use force to gain compliance on a person in crisis. The officer’s compassion is greatly appreciated and truly helped to bring a potentially violent confrontation to a peaceful resolution. These officers have represented the best qualities of a Fresno Police Officer.

    1. Tia Will

      sisterhood

      Thanks for sharing this story. It really highlights what can be accomplished when compassion is operative as opposed to defaulting to force.

       

  4. skeptical

     
    The retired deputy is correct on Hilary on too many issues to list here.  Hilary was lying, condescending, and pandering throughout the “debate.”  The portion that you highlight – There needs to be a concerted effort to address the systemic racism in our criminal justice system – is false and offensive.  To say that something is systemic DOES impugn the character of every participant in the system because it implies that everyone is aware of or going along with the “racism” of the system. 
     
    Why can’t we return to a conversation where words have meaning and are used according to their actual definitions?  Our societal institutions have a lot of problems and racial bias may be a factor in some instances but it is not the overriding issue.  By definition, if racial prejudice is a problem and it is present in the criminal system; then the criminal system is not a justice system.  What we have is a legal system that needs to be transformed into a justice system.  Such a transformation would root out all of the problems with the current system, not just the politically correct soup du jour. 
     

    1. Tia Will

      skeptical

      To say that something is systemic DOES impugn the character of every participant in the system because it implies that everyone is aware of or going along with the “racism” of the system.  “

      I appreciate the point that you are making, but strongly disagree with it. I do not believe that “systemic” means that everyone is culpable. Using the commonplace rather than the medical definition “Systemic refers to something that is spread throughout, system-wide, affecting a group or system, such as a body, economy, market or society as a whole.” I see no implication that every single member of the system has to be involved but rather that the condition is widespread.

      I do believe however, that this feeling that one is personally being indicted thus inducing feelings of defensiveness is a common response.

      By definition, if racial prejudice is a problem and it is present in the criminal system; then the criminal system is not a justice system.  What we have is a legal system that needs to be transformed into a justice system.  Such a transformation would root out all of the problems with the current system”

      With this portion of your post, I am in complete agreement. And, this is where I believe that we are today. 

  5. Frankly

    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.

    Where you and Hillary Clinton are absolutley wrong is to jump to “racism” because of race-based outcomes.  There are positive and negative race-base outcomes.  For example, more blacks are professional athletes.  More Asians have high GPAs and get into top schools and have higher incomes.  Are these too examples of racism?  Are the professional sports teams demonstrating racial preference for blacks?  Since there are few Asians in American professional sports they must be rasist against Asians, right?   And the schools… they must be racist against blacks since they are so poorly represented in academic achievement.

    This crap has got to stop.  Hillary Clinton is disgusting.  A proven liar and now we get to see that she will be as racially divisive for this country just to maintain her hold on the black vote.

    Disgusting.

    1. Tia Will

       

      “Disgusting”

      It seems that you and I are disgusted by different things. You find lying offensive and disgusting when it is Hillary doing the “lying”. And yet you seem to have no problem with lies coming from those who claim that their obviously disparaging comments such as “Nigger Bitch” are just private communications between individuals just “letting off steam”. I find the denial of the obvious disgusting. Or do you find nothing racist in the term “Nigger Bitch” or better yet in the Fox News talking heads who tried valiantly to make the words ” I want to kill black people” as spoken by Dylan Storm into something other than a race based attack.

        1. Tia Will

          BP

          I frequently watch clips from Fox just to be sure that I understand what was actually said as opposed to how someone spun what was said.

          I understand that neither side of the partisan political spectrum is objective and that it pays to source check.

  6. Biddlin

     

    What’s disgusting is the nod and wink you give to racism, at every opportunity. The San Francisco PD had so many well publicized uses of racial epithets, in 2015 that it is hard to choose one, for illustrative purposes, but here’s a simple one for the uncomplicated mind.

    http://www.sfgate.com/crime/article/Officers-linked-to-racist-texts-were-all-veterans-6134489.php

    But they will not be punished or  possibly even disciplined:

    http://www.sfexaminer.com/cops-who-sent-racist-texts-will-not-be-punished/

    The police are out of order and out of control.

    1. Barack Palin

      The police are out of order and out of control.

      Some small percentage of police officers are but it’s not the rule.  Is that uncomplicated enough for you to understand?

  7. Tia Will

    BP

    Some small percentage of police officers are but it’s not the rule.  Is that uncomplicated enough for you to understand?”

    What percentage would not constitute a “systemic problem” for you ? For me, when there are multiple reports of incidents, coming from multiple cities across the country, this constitutes a “systemic problem”. Perhaps you would define this differently ?

    1. zaqzaq

      Tia,

      How about the hospital that had the black woman arrested for not leaving when she still felt sick and then collapsed in police custody in the hospital parking lot.  You could hear the white nurse telling her there was nothing wrong with her.  And then she died.  The medical profession is not different than the police when dealing with racism in the ranks.

      1. Barack Palin

        Yes zaqzaq, exactly.  If my memory serves me right I can remember Tia Will saying she doesn’t like blanket accusations.  So Tia, are blanket accusations okay if law enforcement is involved?

        1. Tia Will

          BP

          If you cannot differentiate between a “blanket accusation” and a “systemic problem” I do not know how to further the conversation since I just made clear that using the definition that I posted, a systemic issue need not apply to all or even most individuals within the system while a  blanket accusation clearly does.

        2. Barack Palin

          systemic
          [sistem′ik]
          Etymology: Gk, systema

           

          pertaining to the whole body rather than to a localized area or regional part of the body.

      2. Tia Will

        zaqzaq

        The medical profession is not different than the police when dealing with racism in the ranks.”

        I have already addressed this issue with both of you on several occasions. Systemic problems should be addressed wherever and whenever they are encountered. The type of system is irrelevant to the need to address the issues. I think that if you two will go back and check my previous posts, you will find that I have been very consistent in my position.

  8. Tia Will

    BP

    There are plenty of bad doctors too all over the country.  Would you define this as a “systemic problem?”  I think not, as I wouldn’t either.”

    Yes. If this statement is true, I certainly would see it as a systemic problem.. The implication of your statement is that there would be no systemic need to improve our training if there were incompetent physicians “all over the country”. If this is demonstrated to be the case, I would advocate for an immediate national assessment of the training locations of doctors geared towards determining which medical schools or residency programs had the highest proportion of “bad doctor” graduates, compare their training practices with those of the training programs with the “best doctor” graduates and work on having the lowest performers adopt the practices of the highest performers. That would be an important step in improving health care for everyone, and who would not see that as a desirable outcome ?

      1. Tia Will

        DP

        I realize that this is a distraction, however, I do think it is important to point out the I am completely egalitarian in my attitude towards systemic issues. A systemic issue requires a systemic approach regardless of the nature of the system.

         

    1. Davis Progressive

      hilary doesn’t go far enough for my taste here.  she’s using general statements rather than concrete proposals.  so however promising legislation for a uniform body camera policy?  how about provisions for police oversight?  how about provisions for an independent prosecutor in all officer involved shootings?  how about reducing federal drug charges to misdemeanors and legalize marijuana, transfer money to federal drug treatment programs for offenders rather than prisons?  those are things that can help.

      1. Don Shor

        “… how about provisions for an independent prosecutor in all officer involved shootings?”
        I guess that would put you closer to Sanders position.

        HOLT: Prosecutors — “I believe there’s a huge conflict of interest when local prosecutors investigate cases of police violence within their communities. Most recently, we saw this with a non- indictment of the officers involved in the case of 12-year-old Tamir Rice. How would your presidency ensure incidents of police violence are investigated and prosecuted fairly?”
        SANDERS: Absolutely. This is a responsibility for the U.S. Justice Department to get involved. Whenever anybody in this country is killed while in police custody, it should automatically trigger a U.S. attorney general’s investigation.
        (APPLAUSE)
        Second of all, and I speak as a mayor who worked very closely and well with police officers, the vast majority of whom are honest, hard- working people trying to do a difficult job, but let us be clear.
        If a police officer breaks the law, like any public official, that officer must be held accountable.
        (APPLAUSE)
        And thirdly, we have got to de-militarize our police departments so they don’t look like occupying armies. We’ve got to move toward community policing.
        And fourthly, we have got to make our police departments look like the communities they serve in their diversity.

  9. Don Shor

    I would like to point out that Clinton said ‘systemic’ but in his analysis David repeatedly used the word ‘systematic’. There’s a difference.

    Systemic would mean that racism is spread throughout the criminal justice system. Systemic doesn’t say anything about degree or intention. It is just a way of saying that racism is not isolated or unique to certain police departments, regions, or court systems. It exists everywhere.

    Systematic means “done or acting according to a fixed plan or system; methodical.” That means intentional.

Leave a Reply

X Close

Newsletter Sign-Up

X Close

Monthly Subscriber Sign-Up

Enter the maximum amount you want to pay each month
$ USD
Sign up for