It’s not a mystery that racism and bigotry are a problem with American Police. We know it from their actions. We know it from who they target. Who know it from who they shoot and who they take in alive. But a brand new study, the first of its kind taking a deep dive into the social media posts of thousands of police officers, confirmed what we knew with hardcore data. American Police are stone cold bigots. They aren’t the exception. Bigots are the norm. And even though a few police departments have started offering what we call implicit bias training, this study proves that implicit bias training won’t work, because hundreds of thousands of American police aren’t implicitly biased, they are explicitly biased. There’s a big difference.
And I am grateful for what I am about to share with you, because journalists and data scientists, and activists, partnering with Buzzfeed, put in the work to make this happen. On Friday, Buzzfeed released a detailed report that they created in partnership with Injustice Watch, a non-profit newsroom that focuses on inequity and injustice in America, and it’s really the first exhaustive study of its kind ever done. And I want to credit Emily Hoerner and Rick Tulsky, the two lead Buzzfeed contributors behind this report.
It’s called “Good Day for a Chokehold” and if you Google those words, Buzzfeed and Good Day for a Chokehold, you’ll find this piece. I want you to find it and read it and understand it for yourself.
Those words, “Good Day For a Chokehold,” were written and posted on Facebook by a police officer from Phoenix, Arizona. And that’s what this study was all about. They studied the Facebook posts from thousands and thousands of police officers and catalogued each one that was racist, bigoted, violent, anti-Muslim, homophobic, anti-woman, and more. What they discovered is what millions of us have always known. American police don’t have a few bad apples. They have hundreds of thousands of bad apples.
Few governments systems have been as deeply resistant to change as America’s police departments. They are resistant to change because they have a mission. It’s not public safety. It’s power. More than anything else, America’s police departments protect white power and do so at all costs. America’s police departments are derivative of slave patrols. And those patrols had a clear mission. And when slavery as we knew it ended, the slave patrols became police departments, but their mission never really changed.
And so when we fight for reform, they fight back. And one of the few reforms that we’ve seen start to talk hold in a few police departments across the country is something called implicit bias training. The thought is this: some police officers, particularly white police officers, are biased in their habits and practices against certain people, particularly Black people, but their bias is not overt. It’s not explicit. It’s implicit and comes out in ways that are subtle, but problematic. An example would be this: when white officers pull white people over, they let them go without a ticket 50% of the time, but when they pull Black people over, they let them go without a ticket just 8% of the time. Or when white people are pulled over, police may only opt to search their cars in the most rare of circumstances, but when Black people are pulled over, searching the car is the norm.
And those police officers, and I’ve seen this, may very well be truly unaware of their habits and how strongly they fall down racial lines. Implicit bias training is designed to help officers be universally fair to all people, across race, class, nationality, sex, etc. I won’t even get into whether or not implicit bias training works, but here is what I do know.
Implicit bias training will not work, ever, with police officers who are explicitly biased. Because think about this for a moment. The study I am about to share with you discovered that 20% of all current officers had been openly bigoted and racist and violent on Facebook and that as soon as they retired, the number doubled to 40%. Think about that for a moment, first off, how racist do you have to be, and how comfortable do you have to be in your racism, and in the reality that you will never be held accountable for it, to post it on Facebook? And what we see is that while 20% of officers are racist while they are active cops, it appears another 20% just holds back from Facebook until they retire, and starts posting as soon they leave the force.
We’re talking about nearly half of all police.
And here’s the thing, if you are a bigot, you can’t be a police officer. If you hate Muslims, you can’t be a police officer. If you hate Black people, or immigrants, or refugees, and hope they die, you can’t be a police officer. That sounds obvious.
I have to close, but the answer to this is simple. City by city, we need to force police departments to have a zero tolerance policy for racism. City councils can make this happen. Mayors can make this happen. We may need city wide votes to make this happen, but this much I know, police departments will not do this on their own.