why Black Americans being killed by the police?
The Washington Post data base of fatal shootings by police (www.washingtonpost,com/graphics/national/police-shootings-2016/) reports 754 fatalities as of Oct 15. Of these, 184 were African Americans (only 9 women). That’s 25% of all shootings. Yet African Americans account for only about 12% of the population. All but a handful have been justified as justified by appropriate legal authorities. A few police officers are being prosecuted.
The disproportionates number of Blacks killed by the police and the scant number of police prosecutions has generated a ‘tension’ within our democracy leading to civil unrest, demonstrations, violence, accusations of bias and abuse, Black Lives Matter, etc.
Why are so many Black Americans being killed by the police? What can be done to ease the ‘tension.’ Please list one cause and one solution only. Justify your position. React to the opinions of your colleagues.
LECTURE 1: A REVIEW OF SOME BASIC PRINCIPLES ON THE ISSUE.
This course might better be titled ?police in a democratic society.? That is what we are really discussing. See, a basic conflict exists between the concept of police (and their ability to use force to control behavior in a society) and the basic principles of freedom guaranteed and necessary in a democratic society. This is real subject of this course.
Most of you will have had the following discussion somewhere in your academic experience, but we need to revisit it. Otherwise, the problems to be addressed will lack ?gravitas? i.e. importance, significance, etc. Many of us, particularly those who work in CJ, probably have given the idea little thought. Yet, as I hope you will see, the inherent conflict between policing and democracy, and the necessity to keep them in balance, are critical to the continued existence of any democratic society (watch what happened to Sierra Leone in Haberfeld?s book) and the ability of that society to meet their needs (survival and personal freedom). And as future leaders in the field, the subject has special meaning. So let?s take a little history/philosophy trip. And forgive me if I seem a little simplistic.
Human beings are naturally endowed with ?free will;? the ability (and nowadays the right) to make decisions and choices about their own behavior. They can come or go, stay or leave, vote or work or not vote and skip work as they see fit. At the same time human beings, like most higher order animals, are self-serving and hedonistic. The choices they make will always (there are rare exceptions) be for their own personal betterment.
In our primitive days, living alone or in small family groups, individuals were completely free to behave (make decisions about their behavior) in any way they wished without restriction. Murder their children, engage in incestuous relationships, burn down their property, consume human flesh, beat their wives etc., anything was possible. Why? Cause no one else cared or was affected by their behavior. The rule of law, morality, Ten Commandments, and so on did not exist, and there was no reason for them to exist. People had absolute freedom to do anything they wanted.
But life was hard. Being alone meant you had to do everything necessary for survival by yourself. Should you be sick or injured and unable to hunt, you quickly starved to death. No food banks, social services, homeless shelters existed to come to your aid. Think about defense. You had only you to protect yourself from others who wanted your stuff or wanted you. So you hunted all day and stood guard all night? Not effective when confronted by a larger group or a stronger caveman. But that?s okay, some might say, because you enjoyed maximum personal freedom — at least in theory. Personal freedom means little when one is starving to death.
Well ? events in history, different depending on where in the world you were, led humans to learn of the benefits of ?living together for the common good.? Our ancestors discovered that when a group of people shared the responsibility for food or shelter or defense (basic survival needs) everyone lived better. If I were injured and unable to hunt this week, my group mates fed me. In return, they received the same benefits and protection. Likewise, guard duties could be shared, and more people could respond to an attack. And with the introduction of agriculture, groups grew larger and eventually so large that specific functions of the group could be performed by specialist members. Farmers farmed, and no longer had to stand guard. Soldiers did that and in exchange received food from those who farmed. Our basic survival needs were met, better and more reliably. Things are better when we live in groups (societies) — at least in theory. (Anthropologists point out that this arrangement allowed for the creation of leisure time, cave painting, music, and similar ?luxuries.?)
But a problem existed, a problem that lies at the base of this course —- the conflict between inherent free will (personal freedom) and the personal costs of living in and benefiting from social living.
Our ancestors learned that for these early groups to be successful, each individual had to be committed to the society, social goals, and social norms for getting things done. And there had to a high level of cooperation between group members. Doing so ensured group success and the survival of the individual members. Failure by any member threatened everyone?s survival. Thus the social contract that exists in every society and for every member—– ?If you want the benefits of living in this society, America for example, there are certain things the society requires you to do and not do, things necessary for group success.? But the idea of giving up free will and self-satisfaction is a hard sell.
Imagine, the tribe is going hunting today but Nardozzi has decided to take the day off, or maybe several days. After all he can do that because he has free will and it?s what he wants to do (motivating self-interest). No need to worry about eating, as the society has agreed to feed me. But the remaining members of the group have to work harder to do so because they are one hunter down. Means less food will be found and members will have less to eat. How long will this go on?
Not long. The group will have to start pressuring Nardozzi to behave in the way society expects. Such behavior is critical to the group?s survival. But Nardozzi refuses to budge from his position. Eventually, the group will have to either throw him out physically or kill him. Otherwise his continued exercise of free will (personal freedom) will bring the entire group to the point of starvation.
So what can we surmise? People chose to live in groups because their personal needs (food, shelter, and health care) are met much easier and more reliably than when they lived on their own. But membership in the group requires that you do the things society needs you to do to achieve group success. Members must curtail their personal freedoms, free will, and self-interest. Instead they must accept and act as the group demands.
The more committed group members (that is the more they are willing to limit their personal freedoms) are to this social contract the more successful the society will be and the better each member?s life — at least in theory. So it?s in everyone?s best interest for society to control the behavior of its members. But again, not an easy task. And there?s a limit to how much ?freedom? people will sacrifice.
All societies have mechanisms, social institutions, to develop and insure citizen adherence to the social contract. Most are informal, i.e. the family, schools, churches, the media and similar structure. They control behavior through socialization and informal sanctions. But what about the small percentage of people who for whatever reasons don?t comply? Can they be left to their own devices? Not if the society is to succeed. They must be ?socialized? through some formal means, i.e. punishment or banishment. Thus we have created formal laws, punishments, and someone to carry out formal social control —- the criminal law and the police.
This idea is fundamental to social living today, even more so in large modern societies. Maybe it?s not always obvious to people today, but the principles hold true.
Look at China as an example. Seventy five years ago it was a desolate place. Slavery, abject poverty, starvation, low life expectancy, high infant mortality rates, over population, affected 90% of the people. Neither medical care nor public education systems existed for. Thugs ruled. Now 70 years after the Communists unified the country, China has quickly becoming a world power, a modern society, with a remarkable standard of living. Mass poverty has disappeared. Free education and medical services are available. Slavery has been outlawed. The average Chinese is living a life unimaginable just 70 years ago. But at what cost: Maximum social control and the elimination of free will and personal freedom. (Exercising such social control is much easier in a totalitarian society.)
The Chinese have, until recently, been entirely without personal freedom, free will, or basic human rights. Society controlled everything. Where you lived, the work that you did, the type of education you would receive, the number of children you could have, and much more. There was no freedom of religion, or expression, or fair and free voting. Society worked to completely control ?free will? so that everyone?s behavior could be directed to social needs. Those who refused were ?eliminated? or violently ?reeducated.? And it worked. But will it work forever?
No, it can?t. History proves that. Eventually the innate need for those freedoms we believe are inherent in human nature will begin to foster social unrest, threatening social order. China and Tiananmen Square, their suspension of the ?one child rule,? political restoration of the right to private property, etc. make the point.
Stated simply, the police and the corresponding criminal justice system are critical to social order regardless of the form of government. But in a democratic society the job is much more difficult and much more critical to the society. The methods used to maintain democratic social order, to safeguard society from crime and violence, must be truly ?democratic? or there will be no democracy. Again history proves the point as Haberfeld demonstrates (Read the Chapter written by Cullen and McDonald.)
Maslow and others describe a tier of basic, inherent human need and their relationship to human behavior. Once the basic ones are met (food, shelter, etc.) higher order needs motivate human behavior. Among them are the drives for certain natural freedoms (human rights). They replace the drive for basic needs and can be powerful motivators. People will do whatever is necessary to satisfy them, including revolution. (The Arab Spring, the current conflict in Syria, the American Revolution for example.)
?And therein lies the rub.? The police, acting for the government, will always strive for more control and efficiency in their ability to maintain social control and protect society from crime and violence. That?s their job and they are under tremendous pressure to do it well. A society that fails to control personal freedom or grants too much personal freedom will end in chaos and collapse. Without social control, people will act in their own self-interest. Little or nothing will be done in the name of the group. The advantages of group living will be lost and those that can will abandon the community to seek the things they need elsewhere. (This idea forms the plot line in an entire range of SCI-FI movies/TV that most people will never admit they have watched, i.e. Escape from New York, The Walking Dead, Shaun of the Living Dead.)
The formula then is simple. Social control equals social order, the more control the more order; the more order the better we are at meeting our basic needs. The job of doing so is so important to our survival that the government authorizes police to use force to get the job done. But what about that drive for freedom?
China again makes the point. For the past 10 years, the number of dissidents and
Demonstrations (remember Tiananmen Square) demanding more freedom has
grown substantially. And the Chinese are getting them. Otherwise, as the
authorities know from history, the people will revolt.
So what might we conclude? That the basic society must provide enough freedom and enough control to ensure the society continues to satisfy both needs for its citizens. Society, through the Criminal Justice System, must create and maintain a balance between social control (the police) and personal freedom (democratic order). Enough control so that things work efficiently, maybe not perfectly, and enough personal freedom to satisfy the basic needs of human beings (not every need). This is a complicated and delicate task, one that we engage in everyday.
1. The current conflict surrounding the Patriot Act. Does it give the government too much power and infringe too much on human rights?
2. The current conflict in New York City about the police use of ?stop and frisk.? Does it violate the rights of minorities and should it be restricted or eliminated?
3. The current rethinking of the death penalty in many states, social order or social injustice?
4. The recent British legislation that would require that the heads of police agencies be elected by popular vote, too much democracy?
5. Public outcry over police shootings.
I apologize for the long winded and simplistic presentation. But as criminal justice professionals, particularly those of you who work in the criminal justice system, understanding this issue is critical. The police are not just charged with protecting society from crime, but with protecting society from crime in ways that protect basic freedom. The idea is all too frequently forgotten. And its complicated because the two concepts conflict. Every effort to increase social control must, by its nature, restrict some freedoms. And ever expansion of a freedom, places a limit on the government?s ability to exercise control. In our society the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights defines the relationship between order and freedom. The US Supreme Court is charge with interrupting that relationship in an ever changing society.
Habefeld?s book looks at this issue from the social group perspective. How the conflict exists in various parts of the real world. Skolnic focuses on contemporary tensions between the police and democracy, real world tensions that threaten our society.
Thanks for listening,