It's always refreshing to hear somebody who doesn't have to adhere to certain restrictions when giving their take on important social issues, and as usual, Jon Stewart's take here is honest and brilliant. And just fucking true, there's no other way to look at it really. I mean what do you say? A man is murdered on camera. Period. We've all seen it, and those who made up that Grand Jury saw it, too. And yet this was their decision. To let a police officer, who's job is to protect the citizens from such heinous acts, get away with murder. There is no funny spin to put on this because it's too blatantly wrong. So instead, let's try and understand more what this situation is and how it could happen, so that this honest conversation about how to fix a broken system, a conversation that has been necessary yet ignored for far too long, can actually take place.
The root issues here are easy enough to see and closely linked: race relations between the justice system (namely the Police) and the black community, and accountability for those members of the justice system. The two issues operate both as separate entities and in tandem, as a lack of accountability throughout the justice system has led to a strong distrust and disconnect between it and the black community. I would go as far as to say the entire population, both white and black, has major distrust in the system (particularly after incidents like these recent ones), but to say that, and potentially invite any perceivable thought as to minimize the racial implications of these tragedies, would be insulting and weakens the honesty of the conversation. This is 100% about race, and don't think for a second that it's not. Yes, the white community has every right to be outraged and want change as well, but this is rooted in a dark part of our culture that we rarely want to look at in which racism is still a very real and harmful idea. But this dark place can be understood and it needs to be if it's ever to be abolished completely. So let's try to understand where the racism that is inherent in our police force stems from.
We've all been taught the historical elements of this divide between the police and the black community. Growing up we learned about the times when lynching was still a very real, and borderline (if not completely) legal thing used by the authorities post-slavery. We learned about the civil rights movement and the countless beatings, even killings, that the black community endured at the hands of the police. In more recent generations, we've seen, heard, felt the black community's struggle with authoritative brutality and unfair treatment through various artistic mediums, be it music, film, etc. As an overall society, whether subconsciously or otherwise, we tend to go out of our way to not shine a light on this part of our past/present, but it's impossible to deny the palpable history of inequality, brutality, and distrust between our justice system and the black community. Fast forward to today. Yes, racism as a whole has decreased. Yes, some opportunities are beginning to become more equal for all citizens regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, etc. No, racism is not dead. Yes, it exists heavily in the culture of our Police force. Yes, however wrong (and don't get it twisted, it's wrong), it makes sense why that is. Follow me here.
As this article from 2012 shows, crime rates in NYC are generally much higher in minority neighborhoods. In 2012, 96% of all shooting victims were of a minority background, while 89% of shooting suspects were as well. 70% of robbery suspects were of a minority background. In pretty much every major category of criminal activity, the numbers show that the risk of crime is much higher in minority neighborhoods. There are many reasons for this that have zero to do with skin color. To name a few: lack of sufficient educational options, difficult financial statuses and high unemployment rates, oh and a disconnect with a racist justice system.
First, education. In 2013, the 4 year high school graduation rate among white students was 79.7%. For black students, it was 61.2%. Now, granted, while that number is certainly up from 40% in 2005, it still shows a clear disparity between the type of schooling that white students get vs. black students. And it's not as though black students just don't like learning as much as white students, it's that (among other societal oppressions) their local school's funding is severely lower than that of their white counterpart's, rendering them worse equipped to ensure that all of their students graduate. The funding allocated to black public schools is drastically lower than the funding given to white public schools. In fact, as this study shows (read it, it's long but crazy), our public schooling system spends $733 less per student in schools that are 90% black than they do in schools that are 90% white. Oh, and to this day, with segregation illegal since 1954, minority students attend schools that are 90% minority, on average, while white students attend schools that are 77% white. So essentially, the average black student's school will receive substantially less financial help from our government than a white student's. Additionally, the opportunities to attend a better school, such as one of New York's "Specialized Schools" (glorified private schools, 14 Nobel laureates graduated from these institutions) are depressingly low. Whether it be due to financial or more sinister reasons (most likely a combination of both), two of the city's most celebrated schools, Stuyvesant and Bronx Science, have seen the percentage of black students in their student body drop from 5% and 12%, respectively, to 1% and 3%. Yes, this is obviously an over-simplification of the overall issue, but if you don't acknowledge that these statistics point out an inequality in our educational system, and that that inequality plays a major role in a higher rate of crime in affected neighborhoods, then you don't need to keep reading (you probably stopped reading like 2 paragraphs ago).
Lack of educational opportunities means less professional options, which plays a major part in the lack of financial stability in minority neighborhoods. The unemployment rate for black people in America last year was 12.6%, while for white people it sat at 6.6%. Since 1954, unemployment among blacks has, on average, been nearly double that of whites. Beyond that, the jobs that are more readily available to members of the black community generally don't provide the same financial stability as the jobs afforded to their white counterparts. In 2008 (the last time this was recorded as far as I can tell), the average income in black homes was $34,345, the lowest of any race in America. The average income for whites, meanwhile, was a comfortable $55,530. That's over 20 grand a year. That's a kid's tuition. That's the means for a nicer home. That's a difference that goes a long way in representing the incomparable standards of living afforded to blacks and whites in this country. When you add all of this up, the numbers clearly show that the financial status of the average black neighborhood is going to be less than that of a white neighborhood, and an inference that this, when coupled with the aforementioned educational issues, plays a major role in why the crime rates are higher in black neighborhoods is not an unfair leap.
Now, on to the police themselves. We've already looked at the historical implications of the racism that is inherent in the police force, so now on to what is my theory, for whatever that is worth, on why the system today preaches racism, even if it's unintentional. The average police officer does not have the mental capacity to fully understand his or her own individual authority, nor process the overall reasons, such as (but not limited too) the ones listed above, as to why different cultures are more inclined to crime than others. In other words, police men and women don't understand the ramifications of abusing their power, nor can they understand why black people will commit more crimes than white people, at least not fully. And there's actually evidence to back this up. Since the year 2000, the courts have allowed the police force the right to refuse a person a position based upon having to high of an IQ. In one particular case (read about it here if you're interested), a man was told that he wouldn't even be interviewed for a job after scoring a 33 (125 IQ) on his Wonderlic Personnel Test. It was explained to him that the police only interview candidates who score between 20-27 (around 104 IQ, just above average). The reason that is given, as dumb as it may seem, is that people with too high of an IQ would most likely grow bored of the work of a police officer, and want to move on to another job. It has nothing to do, I'm sure, with the fact that a higher IQ may signify a person who is more likely to (rightly) question authority, thus questioning the system as a whole. Nah, smart people just get bored quick. Everyone knows that. Even if that were true, uh, so fucking what? That's like saying just because Kevin Durant was going to go to the NBA after 1 year, Texas shouldn't have recruited him to play for their school. Even if the smart guy/girl is more likely to quit sooner, I would imagine that his/her time on the force could be more valuable than a person with less of an affinity for thought, regardless of their tenure.
"Hey asshole, my Dad was a cop his whole life and he's not an idiot." I'm sure he isn't, that's not my point. I'm not sitting here saying that cops are dumb individuals, I'm saying that the police recruit people with a specific type of mental capacity that best serves the system as it is currently designed: people who can follow order, people who can operate in the face of danger, and people who can intimidate if necessary, hence why many police officers have military backgrounds. And that's all well and good, those traits are ones that you'd prefer in the people asked to protect you on a daily basis, except if racism is molded in to the overall system and you're recruiting people who are mentally inclined to follow and enforce said system, then you are going to continually perpetuate an environment in which these people, both knowingly and unknowingly, are going to be racist, or at the very least have racist tendencies. With crime happening more often in black neighborhoods, as we've established, the police presence in those areas is going to be greater than in white neighborhoods. If one is constantly exposed to crime in one particular community and doesn't have the mental makeup, or proper surrounding environment (read: whole justice system), to diligently question and understand all of the factors as to why said community is more criminally active than other more affluent communities, then it isn't hard to see how one could develop an attitude of negativity toward that community, AKA racism. It doesn't mean every cop is racist, it doesn't mean every cop acts in a racist manner, it just means that there is a tangible reason why the type of individuals that become police officers have a higher chance than most to develop racist tendencies and thoughts.
So what's the answer. Fuck if I know, I'm a lowly blogger who had way too much time on his hands today to do research on some serious topics. But if I were to offer any sort of stab at how to proceed from here, I believe the change needs to happen within the system, not the individuals. Like I said, I don't think all cops are stupid, I just think they have a mental makeup that encourages following the system. So make sure the system is working the right way, starting with education within the police force. Help officers understand the social realities that minorities in this country are forced to face. Help them see how, while never accepted, crime can be understood, just like anything else in life. Allow them the chance to rationalize how different cultures live in different ways, and the various reasons as to why that is. Basically, emphasize need for equality and the reasons why inequality exists, and do a better job of explaining how they can help close the racial gap instead of increase it. That right there starts with accountability. Police officers HAVE to be held to the same standards of accountability that we as citizens are, and it needs to be clear that violating the rules of of a given society leads to punishment, regardless of your authoritative standing within it. Obviously what I just described as an "answer" has sooo many more layers than what I laid out and would be, at least for now, a seemingly impossible endeavor, but if through bettering the system (and by system I mean all the systems we've discussed: education, employment, and justice) we can begin to actually achieve a society in which equality is a tangible idea, then I say we go for it with everything we got. Cus this shit:
CANNOT continue to happen.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Both videos fixed and some links that were left out, particularly the Police IQ story, have been added.