The Psychology of Policing
An interview with Dr. Ed Reed
Posted Nov 02, 2015
Recently, I had the privilege of interviewing my friend and colleague, Dr. Ed Reed about the relationship between policing, poverty, and African American culture today. The interview was for my new podcast where I speak with a variety of experts on the wide-ranging subjects of psychology, philosophy, and contemporary issues.
Dr. Reed is an African American professor at Seattle University and author of Politics of Community Policing. He has spent the last 20 years researching and teaching about the relationship between police and society.
Over the course of our conversation, Dr. Reed brings his in-depth experience to bear on a wide array of issues, from the state of police accountability in this new Civil Rights era, to the criminalization of poverty, to the growing feeling among African Americans that they are “over-policed and under-protected.”
Or you can read the transcript below:
Jay Richards: Hello everybody. My name is Jay Richards. I am the author of a new novel called the “Silhouette of Virtue,” which has to do with many of the issues that emerged in the 1970s having to do with African-Americans and the new civil rights era.
Today, I'm going to be interviewing Dr. Ed Reed. The podcast that I'm creating will explore a wide variety of topics on the spectrum of psychology, philosophy and fiction.
Today, we're going to be talking with Dr. Reed about the psychology of policing, and how that's being worked out in our society today.
My guest is a professor at Seattle University, and he is also the author of the “Politics of Community Policing.” He has spent the last 20 years researching and teaching about the relationship between police and society. He's also taught about African-American culture, and poverty in America, and other relevant social topics. Dr. Reed is African-American, as I am, and I think that gives us a perspective on things, at least a background perspective on some of the things that we are dealing with.
Good morning, Dr. Reed. How are you doing? You and I are on a first name basis so feel free to use first names, okay.
One of the ways to get into this topic is by way of the tweeted messages, and the chanted messages, that we hear what, and what is the significance of those. The things that I'm talking about are, “Black Lives Matter” and “I can't breathe.” Those sort of things that we hear that have become a call to some sort of action. I saw the other day that there is a tweet that said, “My blackness is not a weapon.” My black skin is not a weapon. What are the messages there, and how do they fit in wherever we are, and what they are calling the new civil rights era in this issue of police accountability?
Dr. Ed Reed: Well, based on everything I've been able to observe, there are two elements that stand out, and they both have historical dimensions. Number one, African-Americans feel that they are over-policed and under-protected. Generally straight across the spectrum, if you talk to most people nation-wide, most African-American men, say, from 15-years-old to 55-years-old to 60 and 70-years-old, they all have an experience with the police. There is this idea that we are over-policed and under-protected.
Secondly, there is this idea out there, and I think it has quite a bit of credibility, that behaviors of all types are being criminalized. Most importantly, we see the criminalization of poverty. So, disproportionately, African-Americans are stopped. They are fined. They are detained. They are arrested. And they spend more time in jails and in prison than any other group in our society based on their numbers in the population.
JR: There are two things that you said that really strike me as important. One is that the experience of African-American people, and particularly black men, is very different from other members of American society. Most of us have direct encounters with the police, which we perceive as having been unfair, not properly handled, or even downright criminal. So, I think that's one of the first issues is that people who don't have that experience see the police differently.
You also tie that in with the feeling of being under-protected. For example, if you have a domestic situation in your home where most Americans say, well, this has gotten to the point where someone should call the police – the people next door are raising so much hell that you think that you should call the police – but, as an African-American, you think that if you call the police you wonder whether that will provide protection or whether that will provide an even more dangerous situation.
ER: Yes, you and I have been part of an African-American group for years, whether it’s a support group, or an African-American breakfast group, or an African-American football group for the last 16 years; every one of those men has a story to tell about some experience with the police. And they've left that experience feeling like, geez, I'm a tax payer; why am I experiencing that? I am a free man. Why am I experiencing that?
JR: Well, let's talk about some of those experiences. We don't want to leave it in the abstract. This is not a third-hand thing that we are talking about.
ER: As a 64-year-old African-American I have never been arrested. I have had, maybe, 5 or 10 stops where the police have stopped me. I once lived in an apartment where the police came to the apartment when someone called and said, “There's too much noise at the apartment next door.” My roommate at the time was from Watts California. The police came and banged on the door and I recall saying, “Officers, can I help you?” The police said, “There's too much noise here. If we have to come to this residence again, someone is going to go down to the bucket,” or something to that effect. My friend said, “We already live in Watts! We live in the bucket. What do you mean we're going to the bucket. We already live in the bucket! And I said, “Man be cool.”
I remember four or five experiences – I was talking to my girlfriend about them this morning - where I have been stopped, and, because of my social skills, I have been able to negotiate the situation.
JR: Even as you're describing it, you're using humor to take the edge off of it.
ER: Exactly. I am using humor to take the edge off of it. I can recall teaching at Texas Christian University, and driving from Texas to Vicksburg, Mississippi, and getting stopped in Louisiana. The police officer stops me, and I decided to do something funny to add something humorous to the situation. He said, “Get out of the car.” I got out of the car and spread-eagle on my hood. He came up the car and said, “You're trying to be funny, aren't you.” I said, “I'm not trying to be funny. I want everyone to see what's going on here.” He said, “This is not funny.” I said, “I know this is not funny.” I said, “Why are you stopping me?” There are cars running around all over out here. And he said, “This is like fishing. We can only catch one fish at a time, and I've caught you.”
JR: That puts it in a different light. It makes it sound a lot more benign.
ER: Yes. You notice that I have not used the phrase “racial profiling. There are all kinds of books out there on this topic. David Harris is one of the major consultants on policing. He has a whole box that chronicles African-American and people of color experiences with stops. This stuff is not just a problem in-of-itself. It's the detainment, and then the opportunity for the person who has been stopped to comport themselves in one way or another. The police call this “attitude adjustment.” Your attitude towards the stop. Do you know why I have stopped you? At that point, you have to articulate all kinds of middle-class values, like, “I have no idea why you stopped me.” Or, you could say to the officer, “Maybe you didn't get enough sleep last night,” or something like that. But, if the officer has dark glasses on, and he's a bit menacing, some people respond differently to that. And, I think young people – 16-year-olds, 14-year-olds - responds differently.
JR: I think the age of the person is interesting. I'm thinking about my own experience living in the Washington DC area. A close friend of mine, a close to 80-year-old black psychiatrist, was driving his Jaguar to his house in Bethesda, Maryland in a neighborhood of houses worth over a million dollars. It was 11 o'clock at night when he was stopped by the police. He was told to get out of the vehicle and to lie face down in the mud. He was told that he resembled a suspect who was burglarizing houses. The police had already called in the license place, and the plates showed that it was registered to him, and that his home was only a very short distance away. He had his driver's license, and, yet, all those things didn’t add up for the police officer. He was forced to lie in the mud in the cold weather. That stop was later judged – and everything the officer did, including making him lay down in the mud after having seen his driver’s license – as being an appropriate stop by the Bethesda police. I think it was a scar on us realizing that here is an esteemed black psychologist forced to do this.
And, I have one other story. And I'm talking about older men for a reason. The only time I've seen my father cry about something that happened in public, not a family issue or from a personal loss. He came home one day and told me that he had been stopped by the police downtown where we lived in this little town in Illinois. The police officer stops him, and told him to get over, and get out of his car. And, when he got out he called him a name, and I'm not going to repeat the famous N-word. My father asked what he had done. The officer said he had stopped him because he wanted to. And my father said, “I understood then that if I did anything about it I'm going to jail or prison. And he will accomplish what he wanted to do.” And he had to deal with that in the most controlled way. He had to accept the ticket. He had to be humiliated. And it was so overwhelming that he actually had to come home and talk about it, and it was the only time I saw him cry. And, it's because he's not a passive man. He was somewhat of an aggressive man. But, here, he is, a law-abiding, hard-working man who knew that there were so many factors that pushed black men toward prison. He wouldn't let that happen to him and his family.
I can bring up things that have happened to me. I have to admit that they have slowed-down as I have gotten older. The police look at me and they think I'm pretty harmless. But, here's the most esteemed members in our society, people who we know who aren't prone to violence or any other crime. Certain teenagers of all descriptions who we can guess are out there at midnight driving around fast, you're probably pretty close to being right. But, these kind of experiences, I don't think six degrees of separation - I don't think you need two degrees of separation - in black society to know someone who has been treated that way.
ER: That’s right. What you're saying is that it’s very painful. And we talk about them at a family reunion. We talk about them at churches. We talk about them at bars. I think we do a pretty good job. I thought we were doing a pretty good job of self-policing for years around many of these issues. These recent shootings, the beatings all the way back to Rodney King. Our parents have told us, look, in no uncertain terms, be careful out there in the streets. It seems like no matter what you do, you can end up like Professor Henry Louis Gates, who is a friend of President Obama. You can go on an international trip to come back with your entourage, and be at your door and be unable to find your key, and some neighbor calls and says that there is some strange looking black man close to a million dollar home.
JR: You mention the historical aspect of this. Can you say something about the historical development of police behavior with African-Americans. I think there are things that we are often acting out today in our society, in our own lives, things that were put in place decades and generations ago.
ER: Yes, that's right. I can tell you this, I find it quite amazing that we are still using the word “paddy wagon.” I’ve read 200 or 300 books on the police. There is a history to the paddy wagon that during slavery, runaway slaves were picked up by people, white males, who were legally sanctioned to go out and pick up runaway black slaves, and to bring them back in paddy wagons. Just the word itself resonates today. I had a student who used that word just last week. This is about power. This is about authority. This is about social control. If we look at the history of the slave community, able-bodied white men were sworn to protect property and property arrangements, which was the slave community. One of the foremost experts on this was named Wintersmith.
JR: The property that you're talking about is the slaves themselves.
ER: I'm talking about the runaway slaves. White males were asked to be the first police, the first militia in the states, South Carolina and North Carolina, and in the colonies, specifically in the white plantation societies. Even individuals who were not sworn law enforcement, they were sworn to protect the power arrangements in that community.
JR: My understanding is that, originally, that the patrol - that word “patrol” - were white men who would get together, and patrol the highways and the trails in search of blacks who didn’t have their papers, free blacks and Indians, determining what they were doing at-large. The idea was that those three categories of persons had no right to be on the streets; they had no essential right to be at-large, especially at night, and therefore, that their existence, presenting themselves at those places, had to be approved by a white man.
ER: That's right. Well, I think it's quite interesting that we look at apartheid in South Africa, and we didn't use the word “apart-hate” here in our colonies and in southern societies. This stuff is socially constructed to control people's movement. I know we still have this word “paddy wagon” in the dictionary, in our lexicon, and in our contemporary language that symbolizes something of the young man in Baltimore who was thrown into a van. Was it a van or a paddy wagon? There were three or four stops along the way.
I will tell the story of a young woman briefly who was in my class years and years ago. They were getting ready to go off to a picnic, which is another word that we can interrogate at another point. All of them separated. She happens to be a white female, and her boyfriend happens to be a black American and his grandfather, of course was an African-American. Somewhere along the way, her boyfriend stops to pick up some chicken, and they were all to meet at the grandfather’s house. Somewhere along the way, she passed her boyfriend and he was spread-eagle on the front of a car. And this thing that she felt most sad about was that she did not stop. She loved him but she did not want to have that relationship with the police. Here is the man that she loves. She saw him spread-eagle. And she went on to the party. And she is telling us this story years and years later.
We can unpack that story three or four ways. Most people don't know of the experiences that black people have had historically with the police. Most people, generally speaking, are indifferent to that. As long as they don't have to experience some of this. As long as they can walk away from it. Or, drive by it. I don't think that they are perfectly willing to let it slide. But I think that the new technology is shining light on something that black people have been talking about historically for years and years. The beauty of the technology now is that people are able to see the pictures all the way back to Rodney King. Now, we are able to hear, “I can’t breathe.” We are able to see what has been hidden behind closed doors. I think that is what is sparking the protest nationwide, and African-Americans are gaining allies in the struggle today.
JR: Well, I think it's fascinating that these images have released something because we have seen these things portrayed since the sixties – the different aspects of violence due to racial conflict.
For example the film “Crash” from 2004 showed a scene that put a black man in total humiliation. He was being totally manhandled by a police officer. I think people saw that. There were conversations about it. But it didn't lead to any sense that things have to change.
We've seen “12 Years a Slave.” I think one of the problems was the pornographic beating of some of the black woman and some of the black man, especially the black women being humiliated and beaten, and animalizing people. The moral was supposed to be that, “This is horrible and inhumane and that we wouldn't do it.” But, I think that often the sub-consciousness and the subliminal message is that this is the way black people can be treated.
You mentioned class, and I think that we are in a reality where race is a caste, not just a class. Race determines what you can do. How safe you can be. Because of the recent killings by the police, the shootings, we conceptualize this as race. Obviously, the poverty issues are there as well. Interesting enough, the Sunday's New York Times had two editorials. One was Orlando Patterson saying that the issue in Baltimore was not racism, that the issue is poverty. Whereas, the New York Times’ editorial was saying that it was racism that doomed Baltimore. It was a structural, systemic, institutional racism across the city that doomed Baltimore.
ER: I think that we need to unpack “Crash.” A friend of mine who does a bunch of stuff on white privilege, his name is Eddie Moore, Jr. He called the movie “Trash.” With those kind of movies, the movie needs to take that central theme throughout the movie. Instead, that movie focused on a bunch of stuff, and mixed-up apples with oranges. If you had shown the viewer what tension that brought into that family, that actual stop, and teased that out. What are the implications for his job? For her job? For their relationship? In the future, what impact will that have on their children? If we had seen those people as real human beings, and teased that out. Instead, it focused on a whole bunch of things. It was a good movie as a start. You probably needed to have little parties and conversations about it. Reading groups and viewing groups, and the like.
I think that this is the crazy issue about this race, class, gender continuum that obfuscates so much because very few people seem to understand the developers in these communities, the businesses in these communities. We don't look at the wider business economic perspective that is long-range and short-ranged in these communities. Instead, we end up looking at those guys over there who went and burnt down the CVS store. We don't get a chance to look at all of the taxpayers money that went into building up Camden yard. Look at all of the homes that were torn down to build Camden yard.
JR: Those people were moved from fairly suitable homes to the ghetto.
ER: Exactly. So, when I talk about structural stuff in my classroom, I don't think that most of my students – and they come from quite privileged backgrounds – understand the structural relationship of how things end up happening in our society. I think we have spent an enormous amount of time focusing on individual acts of racism, class, social, gender, homophobic issues, but we haven't helped people understand business relationships. Banks. How these developers do business. Very few people are saying, geez, we gave tax breaks for the Baltimore Ravens to have that beautiful stadium.
JR. Dr. Reed, I think that's why so often we see police killings or police misconduct leading to violence in the cities, and you hear black leaders – they tend to be ministers – saying, “This is not the problem.” Racism, that is. It’s jobs. I think this is a change in the conversation. Once people are alive, we can talk about their employment. But, you can't get employed, if you have 15 bullets in you. I think “Black Lives Matter” is important. It's the demand that the killing has to stop.
There has to be accountability, and that accountability has to be criminal penalties. It’s not just saying that we are going to demote the person, or that we are going to ask them to resign. There has to be criminal penalties.
But, one issue that I want to get to with you is that a lot of people say that the police are racist. Maybe all police aren’t racist. But the policemen who do these racist things, did they start off being that way? Do they come from families and neighborhood where this sort of malicious racism is part of their family culture, or is there some other process going on?
I want to limit the discussion to the cops who are actually racist. The cops who express racist ideas on Facebook. There was the case in Seattle where a female police officer stopped an older black man because he had a golf club, which she considered a weapon. He later found out that she had all of this racist commentary prior to this event. So, we know that she had this racist attitude. But where does this come from? Is it their initial background?
ER: Yes, this is very complicated. There is a recent article out there about the police and the communities that they serve. It is about 15 or 20 cities nationwide where the officers are disproportionately white and the communities that they police are disproportionately African-American or people of color. The problem with this racism stuff is that it is hard to prove until there is an action.
Generally speaking, we are talking about seven to ten percent of a department. If you want to call it “bad apples.” You're talking about 10 percent of a department who are racist. The problem is trying to understand that 10 percent. What are these men and woman going through? Is it a lack of training? One joke is that cosmetologist tend to have a higher level of training then police officers. Some departments have up to 16 months of training, other departments only require the officer to have a high school degree. You know and I know how far you can make it with a high school degree in our society. The core of this thing is that there are few racist officers, generally speaking.
The culture itself has institutional racism. There is no doubt that there is institutional racism in the culture. Now, what happens with that. There are very few departments that will come out and admit it – we have institutional racism within this organization.
Let me speak to the acculturation. There are two dynamics here. Does the officer come in with a set of values, or does the subculture cultivate those values? Generally speaking, we have not had pre-and-post testing of police officers. What did you come into this police department with? On average, the department spends about $100,000 to get the police officer from the academy onto the street. I find it hard to believe that the department will spend $100,000 on each officer to be faced with five-million-dollar lawsuit in the future. I think they want to believe that this person is able to manage handle herself out there on the street. The problem is that we place officers with very little experience in high-crime, low-income neighborhoods.
The author Peter Moskos came out of Harvard, spent a year policing the streets of Baltimore and now he sees himself as an expert. Moskos admitted that the rookies are placed in high-crime, low-income neighborhoods where they do not know the people that they police. I think that that is the major problem. I think in Ferguson the officer who shot and killed Michael Brown admitted that he did not like the people in the community. Was that racial animus? Was there sickness on his part? I think the problem here is limited job and living at opportunities. These rookies find themselves in these communities. These communities really don't like these police officers because of the history of the behavior of the police station, and, correspondingly, the police officer does not want to be in that low-income, crime neighborhood.
JR: There is this issue of police training. Training is formal and informal. There's a formal training where there is an academy, a short-term academy, where the people are taught what the rules and procedures are. Then there's the informal apprenticeship. The training that you get out of the attitudes and beliefs from the people who have been there for a long time. The various cliques and ingroups in any profession and in any job. I have observed this myself in watching and in participating in mental health training for the police. There's a certain subgroup of police who will make fun of the training – it’s almost like high school – in the middle of the training. During the diversity training, they will mock the situation. In other words, it’s very much like a rebellious high school. You expect your police to be mature but, unfortunately, there is a subgroup of police that is like a juvenile gang on the street with weapons. But they are adults, and they reinforce this behavior for decades. The gangs in the inner cities see this with great clarity. They see the police as another gang with better weapons.
ER: Most of the formal training is spent on driving, and the weapons, and the like. I found that the Seattle police department touted itself as a model for community policing back in that eighties. There was less than 50 hours spent on community policing. That's where I want to come in. True community policing would involve the community the criminal element, and the community and the non-criminal element in the community. See each person as a human being. They should be treated as human beings. One of the problems is the lack of training around community issues.
JR: When was the last time you interacted with an employer, and you had to tell them they should treat their employees as human beings.
Henry, there are two or three things that we need to look. Sir Robert Peel wrote about the police in 1827 through 1828. He said about the bobbies that the only difference between the police and the people who they are policing is that the police are getting paid. If we take any part of those nine principles of Sir Robert Peel, the number one aspect is that we all should be doing some forms of community protection. On any given day in Seattle, there are 1 million people on the streets and there is less than 500 police. The rub is these relationships. Do we police differently in these communities based on the level of income, and the housing prices in those communities?
JR. Dr. Reed, I think we probably agree on the answer to that question. Can you tell us what the ideal community policing would look like? Or, one viable concept.
ER: Really, the simplest form is that the police get out of their cars, and establish meaningful relationship with the people in the community. The police would be on bikes. They would be on walking patrols. They would be talking to people. There would be talking about the problems that people face in the community. The police would work with city government to help solve those problems. They would be in teams, or they were to work from a central spot. They would get to know people, and to talk to people. The best kind of police would be the person who would say to a young man, “If you don't have anything to do this weekend, come on down to the station, and we'll play some ball.” It would be relationship building. They would be talking to each other. There would be some understanding of the sociology of the community. There would be some understanding of the kids who have dropped out.
JR: I agree. But there is a racial difference between the police and the people who they police. Is that relationship impossible? Does the black cop have the same obstacles to overcome?
ER: Well, for the last 10 years, I have been invited into a group of African-American officers, and the name of that group is “Blue.” It's an off-shoot of black law enforcement nationwide. I found that these officers, like many women officers, felt, generally speaking, that they come from those communities, that they are part of those communities. They don't want to be associated with the brutality. They seem to care. They are more likely to buy into a humanitarian perspective than some of the other officers.
JR: From my interactions with that group – I've attended some of those trainings – it's interesting that the training they most want from me is about how to deal with stress. The pressures of being a cop, whether you're black or white.
ER: That does make a lot of sense. Generally speaking, the police officers tell me that you see things differently during the day then you do at night. You see things differently if you live in that community than if you live in the suburbs, and you only come into that community at night.
I would like to speak about former police chief Norm Stamper. I've spent years around Norm. He was the police chief of the Seattle department. I met him first in San Diego and interviewed him there. He said, “Look, I admit it, when I got into this, I was a racist. I admit that when I got into this I was afraid of black men.” He admitted that there is a fear factor there. I think what we need to do is to figure out how is it possible for the police officers to get to know the people in the neighborhood they police.
JR: You know, the officer who shot Michael Brown did a press interview the day after the decision not to indict him. In that interview, he described Michael Brown as though he was the mighty Hulk. He basically described him as some great superhuman bundle of strength. Like he was a bear. Or, the Hulk. In pretty blatantly racist terms. Even the interviewer had to say, “Do you see that this could be seen as racist?” The police officer said that he couldn't see it. My hope is that his attorney coached him to say those things, and that was not the way he saw it, but, he came out and said it. He saw nothing wrong about verbalizing it. I think we're dealing with this fear that a black man has super powers. That the black man wants to perpetrate violence against the law, and against society, because of the history of slavery and Jim Crow and incarceration. So, there’s this fear. And, you’re saying that Stamper admitted to it.
ER: Yes, Stamper admitted to it in his book. He's part of a decriminalization movement. He said for years that the war on drugs has been a war on black males. The war on drugs has been going on for 60 or 75 years. It’s a billion dollar industry. It's a business now. It's the criminalization of our communities. Where we have tanks rolling down the streets in our communities. I'm at a loss when I looked at that shooting in North Charleston where the officer shot the man five times or eight times. How can you explain that kind of behavior? The officers that I know said they can’t relate to that kind of behavior at all. There is need for a national conference at the highest level to penetrate all of our communities nationwide.
I suggest that we look at the writings of Dr. Lee P. Brown on community policing. He published a book in 2012. He was a police chief in New York, in Houston and in Atlanta. He was a two-time mayor of Houston, Texas. This is a Bible-sized book. I think there is a need for a national conversation where all kinds of people are invited to the table, the gang members, everybody. What kind of society do we want to live in? There is a great need for employment opportunities. I think there is a need for people to feel that they are part of this American dream. Jobs would be the most important part of that. And access to quality education would be a part of that also.
JR: There’s a sort of a modest proposal that I would like to run by you based on current research and psychology about prejudice. You are probably aware that now there are methods to measure a person's preference for a racial group, and it can be measured outside their awareness. They can't control it. In fact, Tony Greenwald, a psychologist at the University of Washington, said he's lost his own test. His test indicated that he preferred white people strongly over black people. He was angry at himself. His co-author, who is from an Indian background, found the same thing. She found that she prefers white people. Malcolm Gladwell, who is a light-skinned Jamaican, took the test, and he admitted that he failed the test. He prefers whites. For years, these researchers have been trying to say that these preferences are prejudices. After that case research, they are saying that there is a link between these preferences and prejudices. These are automatic prejudices. These are things that automatically affect you, immediately and unconsciously.
They have done this with police officers, which has shown that police officers are much more likely to shoot a black individual, in a simulation, than a white person. They are much more likely to perceive any object on a black person as a weapon. The cops have a better ability to figure that out. If we let the average person on the street, which is a white person, do the shooting, you would have even more black people being shot.
So, here's my proposal, if we accept that we can show people that they are in fact prejudice, meaning that they prefer white people, and that they associate black people with bad things, and black people with violence, and black people with weapons, and black people with less value. If you can demonstrate that to the police officers, and give them the understanding that this is useful knowledge to have it. That the results of a police officer’s test would confidential. We are not going to give your results to your supervisor. But, if you have this knowledge, there are things you can do to counteract it. There are things that you can do to frame it differently.
One thing that you can do, research has shown us, is to have positive experiences with people who you perceive so negatively. If you have positive experiences with the people who you have prejudices against, your prejudice will start to decline significantly. Like your idea of people getting together and playing basketball is a good idea. But the training department could actually structure it. So you could have some positive, low-stress interactions with people of a color that you might later on be involved with in a police situation. So, we have the knowledge now where we can say that it's pretty easy to prove prejudice. Racism is a more complicated matter. Prejudice means that you have an automatic reaction where you see a certain type of people negatively. Do you think that that proposal would make it anywhere in police training?
ER: If in fact, the department was under federal decree to end racial conflict, I think it would be an opportunity even if the department was facing some of those potential conflicts. The leader of the department would be very important. The mayor, the city council are important. Where people have a buy-in. These police chiefs are appointed. Someone in the government structure would have to say, “We want a department where we have a good relationship with people out in the community of every social, economic class.”
I think it makes tons of stuff sense to me. I've lived in Flagstaff Arizona, Albany, New York, Denton Texas. I know that it is totally possible to create a community where people look to the police as someone who they can respect, and talk to. I believe that is possible. The sad thing today is that we are seeing side-by-side a movement for change with an uptick in police shootings. I am from Mississippi, and the most recent one is the Hattiesburg shooting.
JR: We had this horrible situation about 5 years ago in Pierce County in a coffee shop where four police officers were killed by a mentally-ill black man who had a vendetta with the police. Usually, it is the mentally-ill who express these things early. They are the canaries in the mine. They show the pressure first. You are seeing people willing to assault the police because they are being identified with that lower 10 percent that you talked about.
ER: These problems are very complicated, and we have to have the will to change these problems. I think you have to have the will. I have my students read the police Code of Ethics about prejudice reduction. I will do my job. I will try not to bring my prejudices into my job. Well, I think that is a need for all of us not to bring are prejudices into our profession. What kind of life do we want to live? We want to live in livable cities. We want to work on prejudice reduction. We pay a terrible cost in our society for all these lawsuits, and if people knew the amount of their taxes going into the criminalization of the poor, the criminalization of the homeless. If you could satisfactorily explain it to people, most people would say I don't think I want to live in a society where we are picking on people who don't have anything.
JR: There is a tendency to change the conversation. Some people will change the conversation to responsibility, and say that these people, who are being picked-on, are responsible. And, then they will move the conversation to parenting. I saw this in Baltimore in which a woman saw her son on the protest line. He was getting ready to throw a rock. There is footage of her beating him. (Stereotypically, he is wearing a hoodie too.) I saw him and his mother on Charlie Rose being praised, and talking about making her mother-of-the-year. I have heard white commentators say they love this. I have also heard black commentators say they love this. What is your perception of that idea? Of saying we should talk more about black responsibility and black parenting responsibility?
ER: Well, somewhere there is a daddy. I would like to see that daddy be part of the picture.
As a father with a 16-year-old son, I think there's always the other side of the coin here. There's another side of it. I don't think that's good for their relationship. I can see why people would grab ahold of that, and take it into another arena. That way you can let off the hook all these major developers developing in downtown, and turning these places into a tale of two cities. You can fix it all on individuals. If you would only clean up your act, all of these problems would go away.
JR: One way to widen the focus of that is to look at the history of this. I would tend to say that that situation - that mother beating her son - being taken as so important and representative. The psychological message is that black people should be beaten. When they do something wrong, they deserve to be beaten. Observing the media, the last thing I want to see is a person of color being beaten and brutalized. Sometimes, it's just important because of the reality that people have to deal with. My feeling is that that mother is repeating that trauma of the helplessness that has come out of racism. And, resorting to the violence of the racism over the centuries.
ER: I am really embarrassed by it. I understand the visceral reaction to it, and thinking that the gentlemen running for president, Dr. Ben Carson, that that is a good thing. That we should have more of that. I would say that having someone slapping someone, and having that looked upon as love; I don't see that as a problem solver. And, as this young man grows, I see him being laughed at by his friends. He has to return to the school;, he has to return to an environment where he is, and negotiate this stuff. If your mama beats you, maybe it's okay for the classmates to slap you upside the head. I think that sends the wrong message out there. I saw a bumper sticker the other day that said, “Show Love.” That does not look like love to me. Especially, a mom slapping her kid around in public.
JR: Well, this slogan, “Black Lives Matter.” I think the slogan literally means staying alive and not being killed. Every time a black person does something or is in a situation, it doesn't have to be a referendum on the value of their life.
ER: My temptation is to switch that around just a little bit and say that all of our lives matter. All of our lives matter as human beings. We pay taxes. We live in a democracy, purportedly. I shouldn't be looked upon as the exception to the rule because I have a PhD. I shouldn’t be treated differently because I have a home and other people are homeless. We confuse a lot of stuff, and the media helps perpetuate this kind of stuff. CNN tries to come off as a positive reality to Fox. But, some people call it constant negative news. When the problems go away, when the fire goes down, the media goes away, and people are left there to pick up the pieces in places like Philly or North Baltimore or North Savannah or wherever.
JR: The media has a huge role in this. “Black Lives Matter.” YouTube – which is mainly seen as a white society phenomenon. But I think the young black people are involved in this function pretty seamlessly with the rest of their generation.
ER: That's right. Well, the technology now is extremely widespread. Almost everyone has some access to some technology these days.
In the inner cities, the people who were able to get out of these environments moved to the suburbs years ago. And we're left with the proletarian standing there in the cities having to deal with the public policing conflict there.
I just think that you have to look at these issues in a multi-faceted way, and in a multi-disciplinary way. If you only get it on one angle, you miss it. It has to be triangulated to really be understood. It's very complex.
JR: One aspect of these complicated situations is that you have to put down your bucket where you are, and you have to start doing something.
What do you think about police oversight, civilian oversight, as a place to start? In other words, I think it is a fair observation that civilian oversight of the police is being compromised almost everywhere where it supposedly exists. What would improved accountability and civilian oversight look like?
ER: I have been on those boards. They place a band-aid over a complicated problem. They don't solve the historical and contemporary problems in our society. They are very good for the media. They are very good for the worst of the worst in the police department. But, generally speaking, sitting around talking and talking and talking – I don't know if it solves the problem at the grassroots level where the problem exists. I don't think it gets to the core of the problem.
I always find it interesting to think about, “Where are the meetings being held?” If the meetings are being held down at city hall, people are going to comport themselves in a different manner than if the meetings are being held at the Eisenhower community center, or the Malcolm X community center. I think it furthers the top-down, aspect of policing rather than a communitarian kind of perspective. We are we are having these meetings at the Seattle center where they are open for everyone to see. The meetings are not monitored. They're open and everyone can get involved in these conversations. I understand that it can lead to chaos.
Another question is, “Who selects these people to these committees, and these commissions – the Blue Ribbon commissions?” I think it's a band-aid for solving complicated problems.
JR: How about offices that actually have some power over ruling on police conduct? We've seen how indictments are so difficult to come by. Just administrative penalties are usually lacking. I think one of the problems that leads to violence and uproar on the street is the impunity with which people see law enforcement acting. If people sit through the violent act, or are aware of the police conduct, without violence, but if they find out that there is no accountability, that it has been done with impunity, that's when you see the reaction that it is so harmful to even the people involved in it. So, what about police accountability? We know that police departments protect their unions and guilds. The members are always right. Is there a way to make oversight of police conduct function?
ER: Well, I've been told, and I've been really close to the Seattle Police Department for a number of years, that we don't see enough research on police unions. I've been part of three or four political science departments over the years, and I'm always amused and fascinated by the lack of discussion about police unions. It would seem that the political science department would be the ideal place to study police unions. I've been researching the stuff for years. I can only point to less than five books about police unions. And police unions are extremely powerful.
Even reading today, the Marshall project, which is an honor of Thurgood Marshall, which comes out every day and people should have that newsletter as part of their news reading every day. Even in places like Baltimore, the police now are thinking about something like the Blue Flu – of not policing some communities as vigorously as other communities. There is some talk of a national Blue Flu movement. Of police not serving some communities. Because the police were saying they don't want to be looked upon as racist or shooters.
What I have observed is that the unions have enormous veto power. After a shooting, the first person called on to the scene is the union rep or the union lawyer. Most police unions have enormous power. We hear about a little change from time-to-time. But, what we hear is the police unions saying that the officers were following the letter-of-the-law, and that most of the blame – and the media takes part in this – that most of the blame lies in the behavior of the person who was shot. If Rodney King had just laid down, things would have been different.
JR: One of the topics that we haven't really gone into is the officer conduct in the situation where violence ensues, and the officer conduct creates that situation. The decision to pursue someone with full force for picking an orange off-the-cart, or something like that. It's a decision to create a situation. We've been here talking for a while, and I want to ask if there is some issue that you were hoping we would get to that we haven't really addressed, or gotten to?
ER: I'm really impressed with the level of the conversation. I want to thank you for the opportunity to speak on these issues. I would love to follow-up with you another time. We could discuss a specific angle. We could just talk about the lack of understanding of the sociology of some of these problems in our community.
JR: Maybe a place to start is to talk about poverty in America.
ER: I would be totally open to have that conversation about situational poverty, and generational poverty, and how I grew up, and how I have dealt with the economic status in my own life. I have had to navigate this with four degrees. And even to this day, I have student loans out, and I'm 64-years-old. If I am having those problems as someone with who is 64-years-old with four degrees, what kind of problems are young people having out there who don't have a high school degree?
JR: Well, thank you for devoting so much time and energy to this.
ED: Thank you, Henry. Have a wonderful day now.