RACISM WITHIN A MAJOR URBAN POLICE DEPARTMENT
Hal Pepinsky, firstname.lastname@example.org, “peacemaking” at pepinsky.blogspot.com
August 4, 2016
I commend host Ann Fisher and her staff and guests for WOSU’s “All Sides” opening hour today, “Allegations of Racial Discrimination by Columbus [Ohio] Police,” podcast at http://radio.wosu.org/post/allegations-racial-discrimination-columbus-police, to anyone teaching, and for that matter anyone seeking to understand or document the institutional problem of racism within US police departments. John Jay professor Delores Jones-Brown puts the situation in Columbus in national context throughout the hour. Without naming the other participants in the first half hour of the program, they also include a longtime local reporter, a current (now committed school resource officer) and former black officer suing to enforce the state civil rights commission recommendations for redress with their attorney (and their testimony is specific). The primary interviewee in the second part is the government affairs director for the state Fraternal Order of Police, which nominally represents the rights of police at all ranks, in lieu of having recourse to independent human resources personnel. It is too bad he didn’t hear the earlier segment, because he simply refused to believe host Ann Fisher’s allegations that a white sergeant could possibly threaten not to watch a black officer’s back in the narcotics division, because “all officers watch each other’s back,” adding that both complainants and respondents were “independently” represented by FOP reps (and goes silent when she presses him on how the earlier cases got buried. For her part, Professor Jones-Brown affirms that this is a national problem for officers of color.
Perhaps not coincidentally, the two urban police departments I have cited as models of replacing “broken-windows” with “community” policing, Cincinnati, Ohio, and Richmond, California, have hired black and openly gay chiefs respectively, and the proportion of officers of color in their forces, and the proportion of people of color in Columbus, far exceed that in Columbus.
For all the talk about police violence against “civilians” of color they encounter, this is the first recognition of racism within police forces I have seen in a long time. It is a reminder on one hand that racial representation matters especially at higher levels, and on the other hand that the racism implicit throughout US, which suggests that people of color are more criminal and less trustworthy than white folks, victimizes police too. I’m thinking, too, that in police departments like those in Cincinnati and Richmond, letting go of demonstrating success in law enforcement and getting to know people of color they police in many respects carries over how police come to know and respect one another, so including white supervisors of officers of color. Ann Fisher and your staff, thank you for a most revealing program. Love and peace, hal