Should Black People Trust Police?

Fay Wells, a vice-president of strategy at a multinational corporation in Santa Monica, recounts her traumatic interactions with police when a neighbor called the cops after witnessing her break into her own home. Instead of examining the innumerable difficulties she must have encountered on her path to this leadership position as a black woman, I would like to expand upon a much overlooked topic this brings up in relation to black people and the police: the psychological violence the institution inflicts on black people.

 

Recent times has highlighted a grave issue about the high levels of police brutality against all people in America, but specifically, the disproportionate levels at which this physical violence gets inflicted upon the black population. Scroll down your Facebook newsfeed and you will find numerous posts either condemning the criminal justice system, or questions asking why black people do not trust our American protectors in blue.

 

What often gets overlooked is that when black people witness unjust police killings through media outlets, distrust in the police’s ability to protect all of America’s citizens becomes a natural response. Many black people have stories of being unjustly pulled over. Others can recount conversations with police where the ‘protectors’ have appeared suspicious and disrespectful in their tone. Also, possibly the most common interaction, is the gaze of condemnation a black person will receive when a cop drives by.

 

As benign as some of the interactions may seem, it generates a mistrust in the black mind  that police are not there to protect them. These assumptions represent the reality of black livelihood.

 

So to the people who ask why black people do not trust the police, I implore you to ask a different question: when will police trust black people?

 

Fay Wells story can be located at this link: https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2015/11/18/my-white-neighbor-thought-i-was-breaking-into-my-own-apartment-nineteen-cops-showed-up/

 

And a slightly old but analogous story on a similar interaction with police in which the great Henry Louis-Gates takes the place of Wells can be found here: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/07/20/AR2009072001358.html

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2 thoughts on “Should Black People Trust Police?

  1. Kyle, I like the question that you posed at the end. The question ‘Why don’t Black people trust the police’ reminds me of the story that the Fieldses (?) relate in “Racecraft” about LBJ on page 26. There is an implicit belief that the problem between Black people and the police is only on the part of Black people, therefore questions are not targeted towards police officers and their actions. There is a shift in agentive action and responsibility is placed on the shoulders of Black folk. Your questions opens up the possibility for the situation to be examined as a whole and responsibility placed where it should be.

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    • We can only hope that recent instances of police brutality will cause people to look deeper into the motivations for black Americans distrust of police. But the amount of recent police and citizen (Zimmerman) murder of unarmed black people hasn’t seemed to decrease those old ingrained notions of black people somehow being responsible for their own murder. I might have a pessimistic outlook but I think this phenomenon you highlighted will probably continue. After all, when black people achieve progress in one aspect, that’s evidence of American society working for them, and if they regress in another, that’s evidence of the bad elements inherent to black culture. Reexamining that is definitely needed to correctly place responsibility and probably the only way to achieve progress in regards to police brutality.

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