Saturday, August 16, 2014

Police Diversity Essential in Stemming Police Brutality

Public outcry and protests, giving way to chaos and looting, at Ferguson, Missouri this past week invite one to take a serious look at the state of diversity in the police force and its essential role in stemming police brutality.

The governor of Missouri declared a state of emergency and imposed an overnight curfew in Ferguson on Saturday, in an attempt to quell disturbances that have rocked the city since police shot dead an unarmed teenager a week ago. “We must have – and maintain – peace,” said the governor, Jay Nixon. “The eyes of the world are watching.” The curfew was scheduled to start at midnight and be lifted at 5am, local time.
See Timeline of events regarding the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson.
Reverend Al Sharpton has called for an anti-police rally at Staten Island next week, and the United Federation of Teachers sent an “action alert” e-mail that even promised free transportation to Sharpton’s Aug. 23 demonstration that is billed as a march for justice for “victims of police brutality.” However, Mayor de Blasio personally pleaded with Rev. Al Sharpton to cancel a threatened Staten Island march that the mayor feared “would tear the city apart,” The Post has learned.
Aggravating the situation further is the report the Brown family cried foul after Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson revealed that the doomed teenager had been suspected of stealing a box of cigars just 20 minutes before he was killed last Saturday. Sharpton said Jackson was trying to take the onus off Wilson when he released video and a police report that names Brown as a “strong-arm” robbery suspect.
Racial Disparity  
In the wake of last weekend's fatal police shooting of 18-year old Michael Brown, Ferguson Mayor James Knowles was asked about the diversity of his police department: 53 officers, just three of them African-American in a community that's 67 percent African-American, according to 2010 Census data. The mayor says it's difficult to hire black officers. See more here 

Perhaps in a town where its demographic diversity is seen to change faster than that of its police force, cases of police brutality are bound to happen, which should not be, even then. Racial imbalance is in fact the norm in police departments across the country and in other local government agencies.

Friction Due to Racial Change
Once predominantly white, the city became overwhelmingly black as white families moved out during the racial integration of public schools. At the same time, many African-American families started to move to Ferguson from St. Louis and surrounding communities.
"This whole situation has been boiling for a while," said Antonio French, a St. Louis alderman who lives five miles from Ferguson. "It's not just the death of Michael Brown but the way it's been handled by the local government and the response to the community's outrage that forced this to boil over." - Read more at:
Still, it does not justify at all the police reaction in the Brown case, echoed by many as an overkill, racially-motivated, and cowardly. Indeed, if witnesses accounts are to be proven true, many ask, what can be more cowardly than gunning down someone unarmed? The rule of law should always prevail, and followed strictly by law enforcers.

Racial disparity does not justify any kind of police brutality. On the other hand, it is also unfair to always blame racial disparity in minority communities as the reason behind incidences of violence by police forces.
Improving Police Diversity
An in-depth analysis in the Washington Post, states Even the best intentions by police departments won't automatically create perfect equality because city demographics shift over time — in some places more rapidly than others. The Department of Justice, which has filed hundreds of lawsuits against discriminatory local agencies since the 1970s, has historically looked at demographic data like this, along with hiring and recruiting practices.

Yet, it is essential to increase diversity in police forces so they can reflect the demographic makeup of the community they serve.

"Diversity is particularly important in law enforcement. Police depend on the support and assistance of the public, yet members of racial and ethnic minorities tend to view police less favorably than their white counterparts. Because of the visibility of police officers in American communities, a diverse agency publicly displays its commitment to equal treatment in law enforcement. Diversity in the ranks can also help make police personnel more sensitive to the use of racially or ethnically offensive language in casual as well as public conversations. These are advantages even in communities where residents are overwhelmingly of a single race or ethnicity. Diversity matters everywhere." -

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