The law enforcement “industry” has a problem

Police in riot gear walking in front of a boarded up whole foods
Photo by  Nour Chamoun  on  Scopio

[This is a post that may get me in trouble from some of my friends. If so, so be it. I am trying to listen and understand more, because I’m finding more and more that the ways I’ve thought about race in America are not always in tune with the reality. May I be ever learning and sympathetic to my brothers and sisters of color.]

If your response to the senseless brutality and killing of George Floyd and other African-Americans at the hands of police or the unexplainable arrests and violence members of the press who are just doing their job have experienced is to say, “There are bad cops, but most are good,” you’re being dismissive. The better question to be asking is, what is it about law enforcement that generates such a wide array of behaviors?

If we think for a moment of law enforcement as an “industry,” why does this industry have so many questionable incidents, particularly toward minorities? Is the problem somewhere in the recruitment and attracting of new officers? Are there lapses in training? Are those in the profession afraid to call out their offending colleagues? Does a profession that is based on power and authority know how to properly wield it?

Consider other industries. My wife works in the long-term care industry. Oftentimes, incidents of negligence or abuse send ripples throughout the entire profession, even to those facilities that were not guilty of bad care.

Back in the 70s and 80s, American car manufacturers were losing the battle to better-made cars from foreign companies. It was widely known that the imports were just better and lasted longer. So the American companies as a whole made some serious commitments to better quality, and the result has been increased confidence in buying a Ford, Chevy, or Chrysler product.

The law enforcement industry is at a similar crossroad. It is not enough to say that most cops are good cops. This is true. But the burden of proof lies with law enforcement to demonstrate that it “gets it” and is willing to take the necessary steps “industry”-wide to hire better, train better, and discipline the ranks better.

The law enforcement profession has a problem. I pray they know this and will take the necessary steps to build trust and confidence.

For the perspective of an African-American friend of mine, see my recent post.

Thoughts from an African-American friend on George Floyd, race in America

Darnell Phillip is a friend of mine, an African-American man. On Tuesday, the day after the murder of George Floyd, he posted these thoughts. This is raw, fresh, and real. At the time, all I could post was the words, “thank you.” His words have stayed with me throughout the week, even as tensions have mounted. I have tried to stay focused in my mind on the single incident, not wanting the unrest and the riots to dilute my sense of shock and horror of that senseless act. His words have further opened my eyes; I truly do not know what it’s like to be a black man in America. I asked if I could share his words, and he agreed. I want all of us to begin to see through the eyes of others.

If you comment, please keep your comments related to his thoughts. If you bring up the riots and how they may or may not discredit or minimize the racial injustice, I will delete your comment. This is not the place to discuss that.


“Today has just been a gut wrenching day. I’m reminded of every time that I have been pulled over by police or questioned by a position in authority. I am reminded that no one had to teach me coping mechanisms of how not to appear to be a threat. I am reminded of how I have changed my body language, altered my tone, dressed differently, or walked to the other side of the street as to give you space and made you comfortable. And why do I do these things? Because this nation has taught black men that the consequences of not doing them can be deadly.

“I think of the ways that we have explained it, the lengths we have gone to demand a voice and a place within this society. When we held back our hand and refused to adopt methods of violence, we were hosed and assassinated. When we decided that we must stand up for ourselves by any means necessary, We were vilified and assassinated. We were ridiculed for kneeling during the star spangled banner when no one else would seek change.

“I remember the ways that my hands gripped the wheel each time I drove through long sections of Southern states anxious that I may have a tail light out and a reason to be pursued. And I could comfort myself with the notion that the South is the only region that I would need to avoid. The South has been the epicenter of black suffering and trauma the effects of which are still prevalent today. But that would only be a delusion. These stories of murder at the hands of those sworn to protect us hail from NYC, Baltimore, Minnesota, as well as New Orleans, Ferguson, Florida and too many other places to name. The fact is that this is an American problem. Not a regional thing. Or a blue or red thing. Or a religious thing.

“The most disheartening thing that I experience is people who claim ‘well, we were not there and it’s easy to make a judgment about a video but you don’t know what he did to provoke that kind of attention.’ Or the way that people will scour a black victims social media to find anything that would suggest that he deserved to die. It sickens me when I think that white supremacists have been arrested after killing in cold blood American citizens while black men have been murdered in broad daylight without resisting arrest. I have no easy answers for those who want to help. There are no convenient ways that we as Americans can begin to set right what is so broken within our own society. It’d be so easy for our conscience to donate to a fund because in our own detached way we could convince ourselves that we were in an active role for seeking change. POC don’t need saviors (in any non-religious sense), but we certainly could use allies. People brace enough to speak up and admit that enough is enough. We won’t have any solutions until we can admit what we as a society have done wrong. Can you see America putting down its pride long enough to make that kind of restitution? Right now to be completely honest it doesn’t seem likely. However, I have been encouraged by the people who have asked I wanted someone to vent to or asked how we can help.”



by Mark Knox

The question of whether opposition to President Obama’s policies and plans constitutes a kind of subtle (or not so subtle) racism has been discussed much in the media of late. Even former President Jimmy Carter has entered the fray. And frankly, I’m getting a little tired of it. The implication (and sometimes outright accusation) that because I strongly object to what President Obama is doing that I therefore must be motivated completely or in part because of racist feelings is really starting to tick me off. In other words, I’M TIRED OF BEING CALLED A RACIST!

I’ve recently read two columns that seriously offer the idea that at least some of the rhetoric is racially motivated. But both columnists are guilty of arguing from the part (i.e., there is racism in the U.S.) to the whole (i.e., therefore, all or most opposition to Obama is racist) when they tar political dissidents with the racist label.

The first column was titled, “Play the Race Card” in Newsweek by Raina Kelly. [] She begins by clearly stating her point, “…some of the protests against President Obama are howls of rage at the fact that we have an African-American head of state.” She then goes on to mention two Republicans who verbalized some in-poor-taste “jokes” that could rightfully be considered racist. But using these two incidents as proof of her main thesis is weak. She then says, “When ‘Tea Party’ leader Mark Williams appears on CNN and speaks of ‘working-class people’ taking ‘their’ country back from a lawfully elected president, he is not just protesting Obama’s politics; he is griping over the fact that this country’s most powerful positions are no longer just for white men.” Now in this quote, Ms. Kelly just doesn’t get it. She’s taking the “us” and “them” implied in Williams’ statements as “us = whites” and “them = African-Americans.” Let me tell you, Ms. Kelly, it isn’t always about you!
Let me translate – when someone in a town hall meeting or Tea Party meeting says something like, “We’ve got to take back our country!” it means this: “WE THE PEOPLE OF THE UNITED STATES HAVE TO TAKE BACK OUR COUNTRY FROM THE CORRUPT POLITICIANS AND BUREAUCRATS!” This has nothing to do with race. People are fed up with their elected leaders being out of touch with reality, not listening to constituents, and spending money they don’t have like it’s going out of style.
In her three examples, noted above, two are legitimately racist in tone. But neither of them is a condemnation in racist rhetoric of his policies; they’re bad jokes in poor taste. The quote of Mark Williams is a condemnation of policy, but you can’t make the implication from the first two racist examples that the third is racist.
The second column was in my local paper, The Hendersonville (NC) Times-News by regular columnist Stephen Black. [] In this column he responds to a reader who’d questioned an earlier column, and in this he clarifies that “If…you truly disagree with the president yet have not fallen into the trap of hysteria, I have not called you a racist. I do call your fellow Republicans who act like a pack of dogs going after a fox racists plain and simple.” So, in Mr. Black’s interpretation of things, if you are angry, “foaming at the mouth” (his words), displaying “over the top behavior,” then you are a racist.
Well, Mr. Black, might the level of what you call “hysteria” be a function of the level of frustration people have and of the degree to which the President is committed to taking this country in a radical direction, and not a function of racist feelings? If you see something happening that is, to your mind, clearly wrong, wouldn’t it be normal to be passionate and yes, even angry about it?
To his credit, President Obama himself has not charged his critics with racist motives. In fact, his response to the question on the Letterman show was funny and clever: “I think it’s important to realize that I was actually black before the election.” [Whether or not he should do more to discourage charges of racism is a subject for another time.] But the point is well taken. If this country is as mired in racism as people claim, then how in the world did this man ever get elected? The fact is, the vast majority of people who oppose the President and the Congress – even some who get riled up at town hall meetings – have no issue whatsoever with an African-American President of the United States. Or any other race, for that matter.


It’s easy to play the race card. You don’t have to prove it. You just have to make a few generalizations and broad accusations, and you immediately put people on the defensive: “…but I’m not a racist.” The fact is, charging people with racism when there is no racism just desensitizes people when there really are incidents of prejudice. When everything is racist, then what do you do when there really is discrimination? For you’ve cried “wolf” too many times, and now nobody is listening.

[For the record, Mark is “mad as hell and is not going to take it anymore.” But he’s not a racist.]