Student Opinion: The Fear Is Real: Policing In America Post-Floyd

(The New York Times)

By Jacob Derin

As the Derek Chauvin trial is wrapping up, the nation is already turning its eyes to the Daunte Wright shooting and drawing the familiar political battle lines. Following George Floyd’s death last summer, lethal encounters between African Americans and the police have been the subject of intense political scrutiny and debate.

Floyd’s drug use provided fodder for some of these debates, as did Wright’s criminal background. I do not want to rehash these here; instead, I’d like to consider the psychological consequences of these highly publicized incidents.

I think that there’s a tremendous lack of empathy involved in this debate. Black Americans are saying, very clearly, that they do not trust the police to treat them fairly. By some accounts, as much as two-thirds of African Americans report distrusting the police. And it’s not difficult to understand why in the wake of the constant coverage of this sort of lethal interaction. 

Oftentimes, they are met with statistics, facts about the backgrounds of police shooting victims or other data. But the very fact that such deep mistrust exists is enough to indicate that we have a serious problem. At a minimum, we have dangerously strained relations between the police and the communities they serve.

This not only makes it very difficult for the police to do their jobs effectively, but it also sows fear and tangible psychological harm. An entire generation of Black Americans lives with this fear on a daily basis, and no amount of rationalizing or statistical arguments will ease that fear. When the consequences of interaction are as potentially serious as loss of life, it’s not unreasonable to worry, “Am I going to be tomorrow’s headline?”

When the violence broke out after George Floyd’s death, a quote from Martin Luther King had been frequently invoked in defense of the rioters: “A riot is the language of the unheard.”

I think this is true in a descriptive sense, even if it’s not a justification for violence in and of itself. Rioting may be morally wrong, particularly when many of the targets of those riots are businesses owned by Black people, even while the riots tell us something useful about what’s wrong in our society.

In a broader sense, people are losing their faith in American institutions, with the police being perhaps just the most visible example. Again, it’s not difficult to see why people feel this way. After a disastrous presidency, which left the nation’s economy in worse financial straits than it had experienced since the great depression amid the worst public health disaster in 100 years, it might be reasonable to conclude that the institutions don’t deserve our faith.

However, we need to get away from the “we have to break it to fix it” mentality that gave us four years of Trump and the political violence that followed George Floyd’s death. We have to fix it to fix it.

People need to put aside their perfectly justified cynicism towards American institutions and become part of the solution. To do this, we need to work together, and that’s impossible if we remain so staunchly identified with tribal identities. The core of any relationship is understanding, and that holds true at the national level.

Unless we make a real effort to understand each other, we’ll never be able to fix what’s been broken.

Jacob Derin is a third-year English and Philosophy major at UC Davis.

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  1. Chris Griffith

    I’d like to consider the psychological consequences of these highly publicized incidents.

    Blacks and Latinos have been pigeonholed by liberal policies as victims. The more you call someone a victim, the more they believe it and the more they become one. When you’re told you’re a victim, you stop believing the choices you make can make a difference. That’s the problem. White liberals have failed blacks. They’ve sucked the dignity and aspirations out of many. We need to stop calling people victims and putting them in buckets of oppressed, protected classes and treat them like the people they are. People that are more than capable of improving their lives without liberals making special policies just for them. Give people hope rather than doom and gloom.
    I just one conservative persons opinion. 🙂

    1. Tia Will


      I would like to offer a different perspective. Before I was nine, we were working poor. We didn’t feel poor because my dad had a full-time job as a ship fitter and supplemented our diets by hunting, fishing, and exchanging with neighbors for what they had in surplus. And then, he died. That left my mom who followed all the rules of her time, but had never held an outside the home job, never learned to drive with two kids to raise. No one had to “tell us we were victims”. We knew what we did and did not have. And that was enough of almost everything. If it had not been for multiple government-sponsored programs to tide us over until my mom got on her feet, and later youth programs that gave me my first job, and public education, scholarships and ultimately the payback stipend that got me through medical school, I would not have had the opportunity to get out of poverty. Those programs you see as “holding me down” were precisely what helped me climb out of poverty. Do you honestly think it would have been better for me not to have had that help supplied by legislators & taxpayers who could envision a better future for kids like me?

      1. Edgar Wai

        No one had to “tell us we were victims”. 

        What you described did not make you a victim. Your family was in needs. Being in needs and being a victim are different.

        Your anecdote did not contradict what Chris was saying. You were not being called a victim, AND you end up doing fine. That was the outcome Chris postulated.

        1. Tia Will

          Being in needs and being a victim are different.”

          I agree they are different. But what you seem to be missing is that “being told they are victims” is a conservative trope that often is used to berate liberals, or truly anyone who believes a society does have a responsibility to help those who are at the bottom rung of the society.

          You also seem to have missed the point that I did not “do fine” on my own. I did fine with the help of multiple government programs. A conservative who no longer posts here told me ” You did a fine job of pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps.” But this is not accurate. I did a fine job of pulling myself up by grasping and climbing the safety ladder that our then more generous society had lowered for me.


        2. Edgar Wai


          Your replies are showing your bias in replying. You were replying to what you assume a person implies instead of what what a person actually said.

          being told they are victims” is a conservative trope that often is used to berate liberals

          You should treat each threat as separate, so that you don’t make biased assumptions about what a commenter did not say. That is making strawman arguments.

          When I say being in need is different from claiming to be a victim, I never suggested that government program should not exist or suggested that you got out of poverty all by yourself. So in this case, I become a victim of your bias and assumptions because you did not respond to what a comment actually said.

          A government can create a safety net for people in need. The justification need not be based on helping a “victim”. A person could be in need to no fault of anyone. They are in need, but not a victim.

    2. Eric Gelber

      Chris would apparently put the entire onus of addressing racially discriminatory  policies and practices on those who are harmed by those systemic issues. In other words, no accountability or responsibility on society as a whole to remedy ongoing inequities and injustices that disadvantage significant segments of the population. If that’s conservatism, I’ll stick with liberalism.

    3. Hiram Jackson

      Chris Griffith: “We need to stop calling people victims and putting them in buckets of oppressed, protected classes and treat them like the people they are. People that are more than capable of improving their lives without liberals making special policies just for them. Give people hope rather than doom and gloom.”

      Among developed nations, the U.S. is #1 in its police killing people.  Canada is a distant second.  This is a phenomenon that in a broad way affects all of us, and we all can be potential victims.  From a more conservative perspective, even Ammon Bundy sees this as excessive police force.  Do you think something needs to be fixed here?  Or you recommend not focusing on it?

      1. Edgar Wai

        If you want to reduce police killing, what you need is a break down of why those killing happens.

        Statistical comparison is not a root cause analysis.

        1. Hiram Jackson

          Edgar Wai: “Statistical comparison is not a root cause analysis.”

          Much as a high temperature reading on a thermometer doesn’t tell you what the ailment is, but that there is something worth looking into.

        2. Edgar Wai

          Yes, I am saying to find a fix, the process needed is root cause analysis.

          For each issue that you see, it doesn’t matter how minor, how statistically insignificant, or how its occurrence compares to competitors statistically. To “fix it” you need to do a root cause analysis.

          You could focus on a single incidence and find the fix for that. If it is easy to fix, then it is a low-hanging fruit. There is no point dwelling on statistical comparison because even if you are the best in the industry, you can still improve.

          If you want to just get something that works without doing a root cause analysis, you could turn the situation into a competition. You can simply keep the better team and get rid of the worse one. You may not know why the better team is better, but you get better results. To do this you should have two teams working under the same setting (for example, comparing the performance of two officers in the same department) so that the comparison is relevant and fair.

        3. Ron Oertel

          Yes, I am saying to find a fix, the process needed is root cause analysis.

          Some have claimed to have already done that:

          Systemic racism, created by white people.  Which somehow only keeps one race/skin color down (on average, not on an individual basis). Don’t ask me to define it, beyond that.

          (Semi-sarcastic comment, not directed at anyone in particular.)

        4. Edgar Wai

          Re: Systemic Racism

          (This reply is not particularly for Ron.)

          From the perspective of a police department, if the apparent racial disparity of their actions and record is attributed to System Racism, it actually means that the police department is not at fault.

          It is like if there is no fresh produce, then a chef can’t cook a fresh meal.

          To pinpoint the fault at the police department, you would need to show it is a departmental racism (Does the Davis PD have a protocol that creates more racial disparity than what they are dealt with?) or personnel racism (Is there a particular officer(s) who should be replaced?)

          If the PD is not adding to the racial disparity, but merely reflect the existing disparity among the people the deal with, then they are being asked the shoulder the solution to an issue that they did not cause. And THAT was the original intention of the meaning of the term Systemic Racism: “Yes, we know that you didn’t cause this, but we are asking you to help fix it because you are at a position that can do something to revert it.”

          It was not about blaming. It was a plead for voluntary action to revert an issue that was not caused by the person being asked to do something. While this plead is totally fine if you talk to individuals, if you ask the POLICE to do it, you run into a rather unique issue because CHECK AND BALANCE specifies that the POLICE should follow protocol. The police is not supposed to change “voluntarily change their behavior to revert an issue they didn’t cause.” You have to order them to do so by making it a law.

    4. Jacob Derin

      This is a legitimate criticism of what I’m saying here, and I want to be clear about what I’m trying to do. I absolutely do not want to dehumanize African Americans as mere victims or statistics. I want to do the opposite. I want to emphasize that these are real people with valid fears. The quantitative debate forgets this.

  2. Ron Oertel

    It is interesting that news reports claim that the “black community” also has a more-pronounced lack of trust in vaccines.  (Presumably referring to those who live in primarily-black communities, not all black people.)

    Ultimately, the ones with sufficient interest and power to change policing (or issues such as beliefs regarding vaccines) arise from those within a community, itself.

  3. Don Shor

    You know, when I leave my home, when I leave my apartment, I know that, when I am no longer at home, I’m viewed with some level of suspicion, even as a threat, simply because I’m Black, and certainly because I’m a Black male. And that is something that I have to deal with.

    And I have said often and I will keep saying it, there’s no such thing as a routine traffic stop when you’re African American, and particularly when you’re an African American man.

    — Jonathan Capehart

  4. Alan Miller

    The core of any relationship is understanding, and that holds true at the national level.

    Thank you for saying that, and a well-done job of laying out what could called the ‘black perspective’ in a compassionate way.  I was hoping you would also lay out what those who are concerned about ‘too much reform, too fast’ are concerned about and reconcile at the end — but that wasn’t a requirement, and well done nonetheless, especially with the line above, which is the core of finding common ground (rather than polar-opposite approaches).

    1. Jacob Derin

      I would like to be able to do that, but I don’t know what kind of reforms are justified or likely to work. There are several plausible possibilities, but I’m not fully committed to any of them. For instance, in a previous article I wrote here, I pointed out the strong correlation between lethal encounters with the police and arrest rates. And there’s good evidence that income inequality causes crime. It seems like income inequality causes a certain subset of the population to get so fed up with the lack of comparative opportunities that they react with criminal behavior, prompting a greater police presence and raising the likelihood of lethal encounters. Anything we could do to promote economic opportunities for people in lower income classes would probably go a long way to alleviating the problem. But how do you do that? If we knew how to do it we’d already have done it.

      It also seems like the likelihood of being killed by the police drops dramatically when the suspect is unarmed. Maybe some kind of gun control would help to solve the problem. However, these data may be misleading or incomplete because police departments aren’t required to compile them and the definition of “weapon” is kind of loose. (A car is sometimes considered a “weapon” for the purposes of these data for instance).

      These are the tricky quantitative questions I didn’t want to talk about because they take away from the important human perspective. Statistics are important, but are often too cold and rational.

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