The View from a Small Island: Update to our earlier post on Policing in U.S.

“Winning a conviction against a police officer rarely happens.”

(highlights from National Public Radio’s All Things Considered) This week the trial of Derek Chauvin began and NPR’ All Things Considered ran a brief commentary which attempts to clarify issues but fails to fully explore and explain why convictions are so rare. The topic is too complex to expect a soundbite explanation.

In an earlier post to our blog on policing in the United States and comparing it to efforts in Australia, I wish to update beginning with a few stats from Jamiles Lartey of The Marshall Project. All is covered (and more) in the NPR broadcast. See link at bottom of this update along with links to other informative articles.

  • Between 1000 and 1,100 people are killed by police every year
  • The most common reason for a trial is killings in traffic accidents and for crimes—not for intentional uses of force.
  • Those charged and tried? Only double digits, even single digits in a single year—very few are tried as a result.

The public perception as one would expect varies: from the Bangor Daily News, “Only 28 percent of white respondents believe George Floyd was murdered, compared to 64 percent of Black folks. Just 35 percent of white people think U.S. race relations have worsened, versus 54 percent of those who are Black.”

From our earlier post on policing (2020/12/04), we learned that the powerful police unions play a major role in protecting members. Thus far, reforms have been superficial, rarely addressing systemic issues or that police units have been equipped with military-type weapons. Weapons, lack of cohesive training and unchanging attitudes remain. Quanita Robeson, ( contributor to our initial post pointed out that police should be trained de-escalation, how to calm any situation. De-escalation should be the core of police training rather than training to use force–when met with resistance respond with more force.

More on Police Training

My partners and I watched Silicon Valley companies rush to engage in unconscious bias training—one size fits all training—because it is an easy sell for training consultants. Silicon Valley CEOs see their companies as ‘cutting-edge’ and these early trainings were yet another slice of cutting-edge thinking. Most efforts had little success in changing behaviors or thoughts. While research proves out biases, people resent being told, ‘we are all biased‘.

More effective are pragmatic, practical trainings. Dr. Jennifer Eberhardt, psychology professor at Stanford University and her team work with law enforcement to design implicit bias trainings.

‘Her program was made available to police departments across California after being created in conjunction with the police departments in Oakland and Stockton. But even with training, incidents of racial bias still happen.

She says the question is not if the trainings were implemented by police departments, but whether they were “rigorously evaluated” in the long run. If bias trainings were evaluated, researchers may be able to get a better understanding of what does and doesn’t work in training officers about biases.

In addition, reducing harm to communities of color also involves examining the harm of certain policies and enforcement practices, she says.

Eberhardt looks at how racial bias plays out systemically, instead of the “one bad apple” analogy that is often used with police and acts of racism.’ (Tonya Mosley, Serena McMahon. wbur, 2020/5/29)

I close with a personal story: while living in Los Altos Hills (Ca), I attended a posh party in upmarket Alameda and while engaged with a small group, the topic took a turn I had not expected. A tall very fit and muscular white guest began to talk about his fear of black men. ‘If on a dark street I saw a black man walking toward me, I would quickly cross the street to avoid him.’

Without pausing and without thinking, I, a small woman responded: ‘If on a dark street I saw you walking toward me, I would quickly cross the street to avoid you.’

This is the reality we live with in 2021: We fear other. . . we fear different. Yes, and we can learn if open to learning.

Read more on this topic:

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