A search for answers after watching hours of Sunday news coverage of the riots after the death of George Floyd.
Seventy-five protests across the country are telling us something. Something profound is happening.
Regardless of race, the American people are collectively giving the finger to the COVID epidemiologists. They have rebelled.
We may need to reinvent a police-community partnership that mandates that communities and cities “solve” their issues.
Quotes are direct but edited for brevity
If you are looking for support for one ideology or another, this article will undoubtedly make you queasy. You may want to move on to your favorite echo chamber and stop reading. I will “try” to see both sides of the issue knowing full well that neither will see my critique favorably.
I’m searching for answers after watching hours of Sunday (May 31, 2020) news coverage of the riots after the death of George Floyd.
No one disputes that the death of Floyd was unnecessary and criminal. People in law enforcement and police unions are falling over themselves to say this. The officers involved will be charged and prosecuted.
But it’s obvious that the 75 protests and riots (per CBS News) across the country this weekend means that something profound is happening that, quite frankly, no one can explain or unravel it to my satisfaction.
There is a protest movement unfolding that is ostensibly unexplainable beyond the label of institutional racism.
People state that the justice system (especially law enforcement) is inherently racist and most television hosts seemed satisfied with this observation. But if you accept this as true, what happens? How do you fix this?
How do you make a biased cop change? We have spent decades investigating and polygraphing people who want to become cops to weed out those who will create problems and cost cities hundreds of millions of dollars in lawsuits. How did that system fail?
After watching CBS News on Monday, endless African American leaders interviewed went overboard to portray cops as mostly fair and decent people.
The last two law enforcement and justice agencies I worked for were managed and mostly staffed by African Americans yet there was never a hint that we were purposely or accidentally recruiting intolerant people or fostering a disparate system, yet the statistics were the same as any other justice agency. Why?
Most of the mayors of cities interviewed by the media were black. They are in charge. If an inherently racist system exists, they take no responsibility for fostering it?
If the African American leaders interviewed are correct that the great majority of police officers are good and fair people, then is it the problem systemic? If it’s a matter of bad cops, and if it’s a small minority, is the problem institutional?
Police officers see themselves as protectors. They understand the strained relationships and the history of race relations, yet they became cops. Within this environment, why would a purposely racist person join the ranks of law enforcement?
Most will state that they are simply carrying out the will of communities they serve to create safe environments. There is a long history of community leadership demanding aggressive action to clear communities of troublesome or dangerous people, Community Demands.
There is a long history of “liberal” leadership calling for more arrests. Joe Biden (and endless others) strongly supported harsh law enforcement and incarceration in the past. Per the former Vice President, “Give me the crime issue … and you’ll never have trouble with it in an election.”
If any of this is remotely true, and if everyone, including African American political and social leadership supported (demanded?) arrests and incarcerations, then why is the issues a matter of police officers gone bad?
The Baltimore State’s Attorney, who unsuccessfully charged multiple police officers with homicide after the death of Freddie Gray, asked the city police to take action regarding drug use in the neighborhood Freddie Gray was operating in, NY Times.
In the Eric Garner case, community and business members complained and asked for the removal of people creating problems. Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg apologized for his controversial “stop and frisk” policy that sowed distrust of police in black and Latino communities during his administration. There are endless additional examples,
While black leadership asks all to listen, cops say the same. They are tired of endless, unreasonable demands of politicians and community leaders creating arrests that will inevitably go wrong at some point (i.e., Coronavirus enforcement).
Police officers are quitting the job as impossible and recruitment is rapidly diminishing. There are plenty of cities where the number of police officers is declining. Unless something is done, there won’t be enough officers to protect society.
What part of our society is not inherently racist? What part of our society is not inherently sexist?
COVID is impacting people of color or low-income groups disproportionately. Now there are a multitude of charges that the medical system is structurally racist. Those suggesting (i.e., the country’s black Surgeon General) that many of those affected contribute to their own illnesses or deaths via self-imposed health problems are drowned out by critics suggesting that such remarks are bigoted.
So are we supposed to protest at hospitals? Should we set fires to medical clinics (it happened in Minneapolis)? Are doctors and nurses guilty of systematic racism?
What about the media? There are endless charges over decades regarding a lack of minority reporters and news managers. The coverage of sexism and assaults against women media employees are legendary. Is that why the CNN building in Atlanta was attacked? Is that why reporters covering the riots were threatened or assaulted?
What part of our society is not inherently racist? Acknowledging this, what can and should be done? How do you fundamentally change mankind?
I ask these questions because television hosts eagerly nod their heads in agreement when the charge is made and I’m still puzzled as to what to do with this information. It’s obvious that the black leaders I saw interviewed are equally unaware as to solutions.
The Pandemic-Running Roughshod Over Individual Liberties
Seventy-five protests across the country are telling us something. Does it have something to do with COVID?
Yes, I understand that critics will suggest that I’m delusional (or worse) for bringing COVID into the conversation, but we are going through one of the most impactful and life-altering moments of our lives. It can’t be ignored.
“The Shutdown Backlash Is Coming Soon-With A Vengence” is the title of an article in Politico but there isn’t a word about crime and justice; it focuses on politics and civil liberties.
“The pandemic response arguably could represent a caricature of what critics disdain about liberalism. Government, responding in a panicky way to headlines and hysteria, ran roughshod over individual freedom and the private sector, a problem whose only remedy was even more remorseless expansion of government.”
There were dozens of articles warning us that that the pandemic was so fundamentally disrupting that society was going to change significantly. We collectively understand that our national and world society and economies are undergoing profound alterations.
There were multiple reports that increasing crime (or worse) was tied to emergence from quarantine.
Every expert from every article I’ve read about the Coronavirus and crime flatly stated that violence, crime and disruption would return to previous or heightened levels. This is after significant increases in violent crime since 2015. There were endless warnings that illegal drug supplies were compromised and that it will have a profound impact on behavior.
The court systems around the country are running at twenty-five percent and offenders are routinely being let go before trial. Jails and prisons are releasing people. Does this influence potential criminals and their decision to engage in criminality? Is there anyone willing to tell me that all or most looters carrying a television or invading a medical office for drugs or committing arson were doing so in the name of George Floyd?
Jobs were lost at rates exceeding the Great Depression, which may be the most important dynamic in this discussion.
It’s obvious that few are paying attention to social distancing and wearing masks. Regardless of race, the American people are collectively giving the finger to the epidemiologists. They have rebelled.
Did assigning law enforcement to epidemic enforcement (more charges of disproportionate efforts) fuel the flames of discontent? Forcing Cops To Be Coronavirus Enforcers
It seems obvious the overwhelming dynamics of the pandemic has something to do with the unrest. But given the fundamental charge of an inherently biased justice system, where does this lead us?
Baltimore-Is Your City Is Next?
The five years since the death of Freddie Gray (six police officers charged-all exonerated) led the city of Baltimore to be one of the most dangerous and violent cities in America. The riots and looting and negativity produced a police force that cannot recruit police officers and the ones remaining are not being proactive thus leading to massive violent crime. There are endless charges of criminals running roughshod and that cops are not doing anything about it.
Why bring up Baltimore? The city is massively hemorrhaging residents, visitors, tourism, jobs, and investments. Who wants to be associated with a dangerous city?
See “Who Wants to Run the Deadliest Big City in America?” Politico.
“It was a striking echo of the language in the Department of Justice report and the activists’ condemnations of the police following Gray’s death. Back then, the claims were of overly aggressive policing; now residents were pleading for police officers to get out of their cars, to earn their pay — to protect them,” NY Times.
It will take decades to overcome the Baltimore riot and looting of five years ago. Every city in the country where riots are taking place will face the same economic and social circumstances to some degree.
Is disenfranchisement systematic racism or an understandable reaction to avoiding danger?
As stated, Baltimore can’t recruit cops in sufficient numbers to overcome those leaving. City police report it hired 147 officers in 2019. That contrasts with the 177 officers who left per a local television station.
There is a national 63 percent decrease in police recruitment. Police agencies across the country are having trouble keeping and hiring police officers, according to a new survey obtained by ABC News. Produced by the Police Executive Research Forum, the survey shows a “triple threat” for police departments: there is a decrease in applications, early exits and higher rates of retirement. Departments are also having trouble hiring non-white/minority applicants the most, followed by female officers, according to the survey. The rate of full-time police officers decreased by 11 percent from 1997 to 2016, Declining Cops.
Police initiated contacts are down by huge numbers, Proactive Contacts. Arrests are also down considerably, Arrests. Is the immense negativity thrown at cops causing them to pull back? Per Pew, 72% say officers in their department are now less willing to stop and question suspicious persons. Overall, more than eight-in-ten (86%) say police work is harder today as a result of high-profile, negative incidents. About nine-in-ten officers (93%) say their colleagues worry more about their personal safety – a level of concern recorded even before a total of eight officers died in separate ambush-style attacks in Dallas and Baton Rouge, Cops Holding Back?
The data on police PTSD, suicides, drug and alcohol use and general stress is well documented, see Police Stress. Is policing becoming too hard, too emotionally draining? Is that why recruitment and retention are problems?
There are endless references as to how being a cop changes your personality. “How many domestic violence calls can you handle? How many people shot? How much blood? How many abused children? How much violence can you process?” Crime in America.
More police officers have died from the Coronavirus than doctors and nurses, Cops Dying. Thousands of police officers are assaulted or killed on a yearly basis.
Families see the danger. They see endless negative media coverage. They are insisting that cops leave the profession. They are telling them to get out, and to get out now.
Is Police Racism A Matter of White Male Cops?
There are 700,000 cops and 300,000 civilian police employees. About 1 in 4 officers, and 1 in 5 first-line supervisors, were black or Hispanic. About 1 in 8 full-time sworn officers, and about 1 in 10 first-line supervisors, were female, Bureau Of Justice Statistics.
As previously stated, most of the mayors experiencing protests and riots interviewed after the death of George Floyd were black and many of the police chiefs were also black. My final federal agency consisted of a workforce that was 85 percent African American and was black led. My previous agency was African American administered with a large percentage of the workforce being black.
Yet our data produced the same results of any other criminal justice agency. Disparity seems to then be institutionalized rather than a factor of the race of enforcement officers.
Two Percent Of Police Contacts Involve Force Or the Threat Of Force
An estimated 40 million U.S. residents age 16 or older, or about 17 percent of the population, had a face-to-face contact with a police officer in one year. Among people who had face-to-face contacts, about nine out of 10 residents felt the police were respectful or acted properly, Bureau of Justice Statistics.
Having said this, it’s inevitable that out of 40 million yearly encounters, some will go bad. It’s a statistical reality. Per the Bureau of Justice Statistics study, police used or threatened to use force in less than two percent of contacts, yet there are endless charges of police excessive force.
Cops Rated Highly?
Even in fragile communities (i.e., high unemployment), a study finds that 74% of fragile-community residents vs. 87% of Americans overall think people like themselves are treated “very fairly” or “fairly” by their local police. The results vary by racial group: Black (65%) and Hispanic (72%) residents of fragile communities are considerably less likely than white residents (87%) to say people like themselves are treated fairly by police, Gallup.
Most people view federal law enforcement favorably regardless as to political affiliation, Pew. When it comes to ethical behavior, cops rank higher than members of Congress, journalists, religious leaders and heads of tech companies, Pew. Gallup’s 2018 Global Law and Order report state that US and Canadian police are the world’s most trusted law enforcement officers based on a measure of confidence, Gallup.
It’s not my place to tell anyone how to feel about law enforcement or any other matter. There are centuries of animosity between blacks, minorities and law enforcement. Yes, police officers have an unfortunate history that will impact anyone currently a cop.
Are there bad cops? Are there bad priests, doctors, reporters, and business people? A former reporter friend once told me that the first thing to understand about cops is that they all lie. That’s quite a generalization. There are plenty of people saying the same thing about the media.
Are cops inherently racist? Are there any institutions that are not inherently biased? By the way, is condemning one million cops and civilian employees under the banner of bigotry inherently prejudiced? If you are capable of such a stereotype, does it indicate your own intolerance?
Are there decent cops that make bad choices? Again, does that apply to any profession?
Do Donald Trump’s remarks have an impact? After months of profound economic and medical upheaval and centuries of institutional racism, do you really believe that anything the President says has an impact on those shooting police officers or each other (seven were shot during a protest in Louisville-police did not discharge their weapons) or looting or setting fires?
“…Saturday night’s unrest in Detroit ultimately seemed little to do with racial justice and more about anarchy and malicious property destruction, according to a team of Detroit Free Press reporters and photographers. The story was much the same in dozens of American cities, including Grand Rapids, where buildings and a row of parked cars burned out of control Saturday night, Free Press.
Mayors insist that outside agitators were causing the bulk of serious problems but 80 percent of the arrests in Minneapolis were residents of the area. Mayors and governors always say that outside people were responsible for their unrest. This includes the US Attorney General, Justice.Gov. I guess it’s possible, but I’m still waiting for firm evidence that it’s true, see Associated Press.
It’s obvious that no one has a clue as to what’s going on and people are simply making it up as they go along.
The question is what to do about institutional bigotry and I don’t have an answer. The justice system does it’s best to find and exclude bigots simply because it costs too much to recruit them and end up in massive lawsuits. As yes, no one likes a jerk, including other cops. Everyone knows that they will create problems.
But institutional racism is so complex that I don’t have an answer. I have met few cops (none within the last three decades) who openly or subtlety professed bigotry. Yes, there are butthole cops who should just leave the profession.
Blacks have every right to be suspicious of police stops and leary of encounters. African Americans and the members of any minority have every right to protest and hold cops accountable. Cops are there as servants and protectors, nothing more and nothing less.
But the 75 protests and riots after the death of George Floyd are astounding and are telling us something. You can say that it’s obvious all day long, but it’s not.
I have yet to listen to anyone who can tell me what those lessons are and how to fix them or to give me cogent reasons for what’s happening. Blame and easy generalizations or stereotypes are the order of the day.
The answer may be that there are no easy answers and “fixing” cops may be a small part of the solution.
We may need to reinvent a police-community partnership that mandates that communities and cities “solve” their problems, Community Solutions. Why are the solutions solely the providence of law enforcement? Communities may have to do the heavy lifting and figure out what it wants and needs as to enforcement. But beware, communities in Baltimore demanded that cops back down from aggressive policing. Now, they beg for it due to high levels of violence.
Communities may need to empower the police by owning their problems, not the other way around.
Leonard Adam Sipes, Jr. – Retired federal senior spokesperson. Thirty-five years of award-winning public relations for national and state criminal justice agencies. Interviewed multiple times by every national news outlet. Former Senior Specialist for Crime Prevention for the Department of Justice’s clearinghouse. Former Director of Information Services, National Crime Prevention Council. Former Adjunct Associate Professor of criminology and public affairs-University of Maryland, University College. Former advisor to presidential and gubernatorial campaigns. Former advisor to the “McGruff-Take a Bite Out of Crime” national media campaign. Certificate of Advanced Study-Johns Hopkins University. Aspiring drummer.
Contact: [email protected]
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