By Deborah Foster
Jul 13, 2016
No matter where you turn you will run into people saying, “It’s just a few bad apples in the police force, you can’t stereotype or blame the rest of the officers.” This is both true and not true. If you follow the tragic deaths of black people at the hands of the police, you see police forces do have racist, incompetent, or poorly trained individual people. After all, in the past few days, several police officers have either been fired, demoted, or put on administrative leave for racist or threatening things they have put online. We’re lucky these people are slowly weeding themselves out. There remain too many of those who are silent.
Of course, I have to do the usual disclaimer that I agree most police officers are doing the best job they possibly can under stressful circumstances. They are being forced to deal with every social issue the government and voters refuse to address from mental illness to poverty. So, in this way, it is true that there are only a few bad apples.
Here is where the theory breaks down. A review of the officers who have been shooting, or otherwise killing, unarmed black citizens finds that many of them were/are not considered “bad apples.” Some of the officers have or are going back at work.
Officer Yanez, who shot, Philando Castile, in Minnesota, earned highest honors in his four-year university law enforcement program, has his college professors vouching for him as a man who is not racist, and he’s never had a complaint against him. We can’t be sure what was in his mind, but the officer seemed stunned by the whole situation in the recording made by the calm, courageous Diamond Reynolds.
In other words, Officer Yanez, was a “good apple.” An awful lot of these unreasonable deaths have been caused by police officers that the Lord and everybody swears is a good guy.
So, what if black people are actually dying at the hands of good apples more often than people want to believe. What if grand juries and juries have kept letting officers off the hook, because they judge the offending officers to be “good apples,” who must therefore have made a mistake?
Why would there be ANY good guys committing these blatant acts of injustice? How dare I suggest such an awful thing?
The answer is implicit racism. All of those good guys, like Officer Yanez, may believe in equality of the races. They may believe they like black people just as much as white people. But, their subconscious is influenced by daily bombardments of other messages and associations about black people. Everywhere you turn, you are indoctrinated to the idea that black men are dangerous. Our news. Our entertainment. Our conversations between friends, family, online, and out in the casual, passerby world.
This video shows the power of those associations in the behavior of the police:
If you can’t see this video, which is an experiment carried out by citizens, it shows a white men walking around with AR-15s in Oregon (which is an open-carry state). They draw the attention of a policeman who stops and questions them. He asks for their IDs. They refuse, explaining that the law allows them that right. The officer asks them why they are carrying the semi-automatic weapons. They say it is to exercise their 2nd Amendment rights. The police officer gives the white men a friendly smile, an “all right, then,” and moves on.
In part two of the video, a black man does exactly the same thing. Walks down the street with an AR-15 in the same location. Soon, a police man arrives, gets out of his car, but behind his door, with his weapon drawn. He tells the black man to get on the ground. The black man complies, as he tries to explain he was only exercising the right every citizen has in Oregon to open carry. The officer tries to make the man’s filming crew person get on the ground as well, but she is pregnant. Within seconds, three-to-four squad cars and SUVs are on the scene, some with siren blaring, most just lights. The black man is handcuffed.
Are all of these officers in part two of the video “bad apples?” Hopefully, not. But, they are perpetuating the overuse of force against black men that the black community and allies have been protesting so vehemently. Why were they overreacting to the black man with the gun in the video? Again, implicit racism. This consists of the automatic associations our brain makes between two or more things. No one can avoid the truth that we have connected black men and women — and then many other groups such as people with mental illness — with the word, dangerous. (You can test your own race associations here).
Once the connection is made between black and dangerous, “any good apple” has the potential to subconsciously overreact to their perceived threat. A racist perception. A perception they didn’t even know they had. Police reform will require education on unconscious biases, how to fight them, and how they are getting reinforced.