"I'll Talk to White People"
Hillary Clinton’s response to another shooting of an unarmed Black man was totally an immediate human response to the needless taking of a Black life—she said, “I’ll talk to white people.”
The response got to the heart of the situation. It is about “white people.” Not an individual white person, not about an individual cop, but about white people as a collective entity.
But you can’t talk to “white people” as an entity because there are individuals who make decisions, who react, who think they exist beyond “white people,” in a police department, in a community, in a city, in a social construct that defines behavior. Rooting out individual bias was the next response.
But let’s go back to the first response, it’s about white people.
Turn the color around. Black police officers shoot a disproportionate number of well-to-do white women. There’s video of well-to-do white women with their hands up being shot by Black police officers. (Don’t give me, “they don’t interact with police.” Being stopped after a few glasses of wine or on prescription drugs happens all the time. They just don’t get shot.)
Obama says he will talk to Black people. He says he will try to root out underlying bias. What? White people would never accept that as a solution. White people would never accept that “she was high on alcohol or medication so we didn’t know what she would do.”
White people would never accept “she reached for her purse so we feared for our lives.”
Hilary Clinton’s response was an appropriate human response. Now, we need a policy response.
First, forget getting rid of individual bias. Yes, we should have whatever training is needed to make good faith officers aware of their biases. But looking to eliminate individual bias will leave a lot of dead bodies on the street—and, it’s besides the point.
If I walk the street I should not have to fear an individual police officer’s bias. I should be assured that there are institutional restraints that control and contain an individual officer’s bias. So, I am safe from criminals and from a random cop who happens to not like me for whatever reason.
Let’s go back to the color around.
There isn’t an outbreak of Black cops shooting well-to-do white women because Black cops (or, white cops) don’t have a bias against well-to-do white women. It’s because whatever bias they have, they know they are not allowed to shoot well-to-do white women. It is institutional restraint that prevents well-to-do white women from being shot. There is no institutional restraint from shooting Black people—and, others who don’t have enough social rank not to be shot.
Second, let’s get to the heart of the matter: it’s the police. Yes, police do wonderful things. They save lives. They stop bad guys. Yes, I will call the police if needed. This is not about individual police officers. It is about the institution of police. If Black lives matter, don’t just talk to white people, change the police institution.
The overwhelming majority of cops are good cops, but seemingly all cops are willing to protect bad cops. If not individually–though too often individually–then collectively.
Collective bargaining is a sacred human right, but not everything in a collective bargaining agreement is sacred.
A handful of bad cops rely on the brotherhood of cops to skate through the system. Police contracts have to be amended to provide for public accountability, for punishment of criminal conduct, to protect public safety from bad guys in or out of uniform—and, to protect the majority of good cops from the consequences of having bad cops on the force.
No other public employees would be afforded the contract provisions of the police. No other public employees could get away with the misconduct that we see a handful of police engaging in every night on our TVs. The right wing has waged war on public employee collective bargaining. Teachers, child service workers, water treatment technicians, garbage collectors and every public worker providing essential services has been demonized and demoted. Chris Christie would say he supports teachers, but not the teachers’ union.
Let us say we support police officers, but not contract provisions that protect bad cops, that thwart public accountability and too often put community members at odds with those who are there to protect them.