|Earl Ofari Hutchinson
Many criminal justice experts and community activists said they were surprised at the recent Justice Department survey that found that blacks in a dozen cities generally applaud the police. There are good reasons for their surprise. Following the Rodney King beating and for a good part of the O.J. Simpson trial much of the press relentlessly played up the police-African-American conflict. This planted the dangerous myth that the police and black communities are perpetually at war.
But African-Americans have never been anti-police. They are anti-racist, and abusive police officers. They protest the actions of cops such as New York police officer Justin Volpe who recently pled guilty to the beating and torture of Haitian immigrant Abner Louima. They denounce the conduct of officers who engage in racial profiling of young black motorists. They condemn those police officers who apply street corner justice in black communities and those police officials who whitewash their actions through the code of silence.
The handful of rogue cops who disgracefully misuse their authority make a mockery of the laws they are sworn to uphold. Most police officials and beat officers are shamed and embarrassed by their repulsive conduct. They realize that this only deepens the misperception among many African-Americans that all cops are brutal.
There's another reason why blacks have never been anti-police. Despite the mounds of news features and stories that depict young blacks as thugs, gangsters, and a perpetual menace to whites, most whites aren't at risk from black criminals. Other blacks are. They are more likely to be victims of violent crime or to have friends or relatives who have been crime victims than whites. According to the Justice Department survey, blacks in many cities are nearly twice as likely to be victims of violence than whites. And the leading cause of death among young black males and increasingly black females under age 24 is still homicide. In nearly all cases they will be killed by other blacks not the police.
The call by many blacks for more and better police service, increased moral crusades against crime and violence, greater personal and family responsibility, more gang sweeps, injunctions, drug arrests and evictions of lawbreakers from public housing reflect their fervent desire to rid their neighborhoods of drug dealers and violent criminals. This far outweighs any supposed racial loyalties.
A defense attorney with whom I am acquainted found this out the hard way. He told me that he would do anything to get as many blacks as possible on the jury in a murder case involving his black client. He reasoned that they were more likely to vote for acquittal. He partly got his wish when a predominantly black jury was seated. He did not get the other half of his wish. The jury convicted his client and recommended the death penalty The biggest reason, however, why many still cling to the erroneous belief that African-Americans are anti-police is that they think that most blacks are poor, downtrodden, and therefore reflexively resentful of established authority. This is another myth. While the total wealth and income of blacks still pales in comparison to that of whites the reality is that more African-Americans than ever feel they are coming closer to realizing the American Dream. In a 1998 poll the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, the nation's leading black think tank, found that for the first time ever more blacks than whites claimed they were better off financially than the year before. This new found sense of prosperity and comfort hardly makes blacks prone to be cop-hating rebels, but rather conservative law abiding citizens every bit as anxious as whites to safeguard their property and hard earned valuables.
The sad thing is that the false notion that African-Americans dislike the police hardens the "us versus them" attitude among many police officers, perpetuates the dangerous cycle of fear, and distrust about the police, and heightens the risk of more destructive confrontations between the police and black communities. This is far too steep a price to pay for perpetuating a myth.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is the author of The Crisis in Black and Black. email:Earl Hutchinson
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