In America is it police vs Afroamericans?

E.g. only in Missouri, according to some statistics, African Americans were 66 percent more likely than whites to be stopped by police in 2013. According to Bureau of Justice Statistics blacks were more likely than whites or Hispanics to experience use or threat of force during their most recent contact with police (available statistics from 2008). With Michael Brown’s case in Ferguson, what is behind similar statistics, in your opinion? Could it be somehow justified, or is it simply discriminatory, or even racist?

Robert Smith, Professor of Political Science, San Francisco State University

The issue is complex and complicated, young black men are  disproportionately likely to commit crimes therefore they are disproportionately likely to be stopped by police. The police consider this simply good police work.Inexorably this, however, results in institutionalized racially discriminatory behavior by police against innocence persons. I should add that much of the crime in black America is poverty  induced; blacks are also disproportionately jobless and poor.

Kenneth Warren, Professor of Political Science and Public Policy, St. Louis University

I do not think that only in Missouri are African Americans (blacks) stopped by police more often than whites. Unfortunately, this is a phenomenon very common in America from Boston to San Francisco. That does not mean that DWB (driving while black) is not more common in certain states such as Texas and Missouri.

Racism still plays a role in America, as unfortunate as this is. However, I think the good news is that it is declining. Studies, including my own, show that racist attitudes are expressed the most by older Americans. In fact, statistically, a perfect pattern is seen in practically every survey/poll — the older the the age category, the more racist attitudes are expressed.

I just completed a chapter for a book where I looked at the role racist voting played in the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections. Scholars have found in their studies, including my own, that racism played a definite role in these elections, costing Obama many votes and even causing him to lose in Missouri, at least in 2008. Blatant racist voting accounts for about 5-6% of the total vote. Blatant racist voting is when a respondent to a survey says that they voted against, e.g., Obama, because of his race. Symbolic racism, difficult to measure, accounts for much more.

Regarding Ferguson, of course racism played a role in the whole episode from the shooting of Brown to the handling of the whole situation. The problem is that racism is difficult to prove. In other words, you know it played a role, but can you prove it, since, as studies in symbolic racism (Google it) point out, the racist reasons for the action will be hidden.  Symbolic racism is when a people say, for example, that they voted against the black candidate, not because the candidate is black, but because of a certain issue the candidate holds, even though these voters are really voting against the candidate because the candidate is black. Few Americans are going to admit to blatant racist behavior, so scholars are confronted with the problem of proving that the behavior is really rooted in racism. There have been many studies that show that symbolic racism exists and is responsible for racist actions.

Naturally, the white police officer, as well as the Ferguson police department, will argue that the police officer did not kill Brown because he was black, but for other reasons. But is this really the truth? This is a very complex situation. Maybe consciously the police officer did not kill Brown because he was black, but subconsciously maybe he did. The very fact that so many more blacks are stopped and arrested than whites certainly suggests that racial profiling is a reality and police just have a natural tendency to stop and arrest more blacks than whites. Of course, many more blacks also get the death penalty than whites. Why? There is no reasonable reason for it. Can the discriminatory practices against blacks be justified? Absolutely not. If these same teenagers were white, would the cop have acted like he did, killing one of them. Probably not, but this cannot be proven either way.

The bottom line is this. Racism likely played and is continuing to play some role in the Ferguson situation. Racist attitudes/prejudices will eventually die out in America, but today they still play a role, although this role is a lot less than the role racist attitudes played when George Wallace ran for president in 1968 when he ran on a blatantly racist ticket and  won the south and about 14% of the vote nationwide.

 Samuel Walker, Expert on issues of civil liberties, policing and criminal justice policy

This incident involves several major failings on the part of the Ferguson police department. It all started with the initial encounter when the officer told Mr. Brown, “get the F on the sidewalk.” That kind of disrespect is routine in this country and it happens day in-day-out to young men of color. The department failed to train its officers on courteous and respectful policing. He should have said, “Excuse me sir, I want to ask you to walk on the sidewalk. You are violating the law and creating a danger to yourself and others.

Second, there was no threat to life (which is the standard for the use of deadly force). This means the department did not adequately train and supervise the officer.

The disrespect build a reservoir of anger and distrust of the police, which is the reason for the explosion in the streets.



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