What causes Black and Brown communities to be terrorized by the police?

Detroit NAACP president Rev. Dr. Wendell Anthony (Photo Courtesy Rev. Dr. Wendell Anthony)
Detroit NAACP president Rev. Dr. Wendell Anthony (Photo courtesy of Rev. Dr. Wendell Anthony)

Unfortunately, police brutality is alive and well in Black and Brown communities. All too often we can turn on the news or listen to the radio and hear of multiple incidents where someone of color has been shot by the police, or their life has been “accidentally” taken because of a misunderstanding on the officers’ part. These misunderstandings range from the police thinking an unarmed suspect had a weapon, or the police thinking an unarmed suspect was reaching for a weapon — when they were only doing what was asked of them, which was to reach for their ID. In a more recent case with the killing of Terence Crutcher, officer Betty Shelby, who was charged with first-degree manslaughter, claimed she went deaf before killing Crutcher. These seemingly “mere” misunderstandings or in Shelby’s case, a temporary bout of “auditory exclusion” have unfortunately resulted in the loss of life for brothers of the Black community.

In the fourth weekly session of Talks with the Rev, rolling out talks with Detroit NAACP president Rev. Dr. Wendell Anthony to get his perspective on what causes the Black and Brown communities to be terrorized by the police.

You can catch up with the entire series of the Talks with the Rev by clicking on the respective links. In the first article, Police Targeting 101, Anthony talks about the alarming number of Black and Brown people that were stopped by police over the years, some of whom were actually innocent. In the second article, Policing the Black Community, Anthony discussed the relationship between the local police force, the police chief and the Black Community. Article three  discussed what Black and Brown people should do when confronted by the police. This is a series you definitely don’t want to miss. Catch up now.

What is it about police culture that causes the Black and Brown communities to be terrorized by the police?

The police often appear to have an ‘us versus them’ mentality. The way some of them talk and use their position does not engender cooperation, but trauma and frustration. I have been stopped by police officers. I’ve had a gun pulled on me. I have been disrespected verbally by police officers. So I  understand quite clearly how this feels. If I as a minister (not that it should matter), community leader, and so-called professional citizen is disrespected, having done nothing, I can certainly imagine with little concentrated thought what it must be like for young men on the street, standing on the corner, walking with a group from school, or coming out of a club on a Saturday night. This is why residency for police officers is vital, so that they are not viewed as an army of occupation, rather as a police department whose purpose should be committed to service and citizen protection.

The culture inside departments must not be narrow or singularly focused on ‘we gotta get them before they get us.’ There are measures that are available to police departments and communities at large, designed to build understanding without terror, and appreciation without intimidation. I encourage every department to go back and review the Kerner Commission Report on police and community relations, and also the report of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing. The most recent reports on the city of Baltimore, as well as the city of Ferguson by the Department of Justice should be required reading for all police departments and all of those who would serve in the capacity of a law enforcement officer in our communities.

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