Could the strained relationships between police and the Black community improve if there were more African- American cops patrolling predominantly Black neighborhoods?
Civil rights activists have been calling for more Black police officers after the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., the death of Freddie Gray Jr., from Baltimore, who died in police custody on April 19, and so many other cases involving police and dead black men.
In the case of Freddie Gray, it’s not a simple case of racism and policing: Three of the six police officers charged in Gray’s death are Black, which underscores that the pervasive flawed police culture transcends race. The distrust among Black residents toward police of any color has never been more apparent.
And now, there is a broader issue to consider: The Wall Street Journal reported that the percentage of African-Americans in the nation’s police departments has remained stagnant for years, according to a U.S. Department of Justice survey.
The Journal reported that Black police officers make up just 12% of all local police officers and the overall U.S. black population is 13.2%.
“The numbers are not so surprising. We’ve known that this is an issue,” Anne Kringen, a criminal justice scholar at University of New Haven in West Haven, Conn, told The Journal. “Unfortunately, we still haven’t gotten to the multitude of reasons why,” which includes everything from a lack of resources to a lack of training in how to best attract minority candidates,” she said.
The Wall Street Journal reports that the total number of sworn police officers at more than 12,000 local departments across the U.S. in 2013 was 477,000. About 58,000 Black officers were working in the U.S. in 2013, compared to about 55,000 in 2007, but the percentage of Black officers as a share of the total number of police remained flat at about 12%.
Recruitment of Black officers has been increasingly difficult over the years because many Black men harbor such distrust toward cops that they could never see themselves as part of what they perceive as a racist culture in law enforcement.
And then, there are other problems.
“Many departments attract a diverse pool and subjective admission and hiring policies wash them out after the first interview,” Malik Aziz, executive director of the National Black Police Association, told the Wall Street Journal.
I believe community policing and more Black police officers, can slowly rebuild trust in the Black community and reduce police profiling and shootings of unarmed men and women.
Like many Americans, I was filled with anger while watching a graphic video of a white South Carolina police officer shooting an unarmed Black man, Walter Scott, in the back eight times after Scott ran from him after a traffic stop earlier this year.
The officer, Michael T. Slager, 33, a police officer with the North Charleston, South Carolina Police Department, has been fired and charged with murder. I wonder if a Black police officer would have been so fast on the trigger in putting down an unarmed man who was no threat to him.
We’ll never know whether a Black cop would have reacted differently in the Walter Scott or Michael Brown or Eric Garner cases under the same set of circumstances. We do know that three of the six police officers who could have rendered or called for medical assistance for Freddie Gray, Jr., did not, but if the overall police culture included more Black officers and more training about cultural and racial differences, maybe the outcome would have been different.
I believe, all things being equal, that if more Black cops are patrolling Black neighborhoods, tensions in communities of color could be diffused heading into a long, hot summer.
What do you think?