An overview of race, fairness, law enforcement, the justice system, and other institutions.
Pew offers a comprehensive compilation of data as to Black views on law enforcement, the justice system, and other institutions. It’s an insightful read broken down by political affiliation, age, income, and liberal-conservative thought.
Criticisms about the justice system run parallel with other institutions like health care, politics, and the economic system. I suspect that if you add journalism, education, or any other major establishment you will find similar results (per numerous articles). Blacks are not the only justice system critics; Americans across the board have called for systematic change.
I worked for African American police and justice system administrators as the director of public information in large bureaucracies where the workforce was mostly or significantly Black. The number and share of Black officers have increased by about 60% from 1987 to 2016, at which time Black people made up 11.4% of police personnel and 12.4 (updated) of the U.S. population. By contrast, the share of Hispanic officers has quadrupled since 1987, rising to 12.5% of officers in 2016, but remains lower than the share of Hispanics/Latinos in the general population (18%). More recent data suggests that 13.2% of police officers, are Black Non-Hispanic.
The point is that in many cities and states, African Americans administer justice systems within the constraints of their budgets. But that doesn’t forestall censure. I witnessed criticism unfairly heaped on Black administrators from other African Americans for their roles in the justice system. This was incredibly sad considering that they had a profound understanding of and personal experience with racism.
Race is an uncomfortable topic. Any reading of American history indicates that we have been struggling with the issue since inception.
We within the justice system take an oath to apply laws equally yet it’s impossible out of 40 million yearly police-citizen contacts for officers to be “right, just, and fair” in every instance. Anyone who has been a cop knows that circumstances can change in a heartbeat regardless of a personal and professional commitment to doing the right thing. Yet most citizens, regardless as to who they are, felt that cops acted appropriately.
Violent crime is increasing. Fear of crime is at record highs. Much of the victimization and fear is falling on urban Black citizens and children.
Thousands of police officers are leaving their jobs with the belief that they are being unfairly maligned and stereotyped just for putting on the uniform (the same fundamental basis for any “ism”). We seem willing to judge a million police employees on the basis of a few. There are endless cities claiming that they cannot provide basic police services because of understaffing.
At the same time, there is data stating that most Americans, including African Americans, believe they were treated fairly by law enforcement.
Pew-Most African Americans Want Police Funding To Increase Or Stay The Same (direct quotes)
Aside from questions on the fair treatment of Black Americans in various systems, Black adults were asked specifically about funding for police departments in their communities and if those funds should increase, decrease or stay the same. Those who said funds should decrease shared their views on where that money should go.
About four-in-ten Black adults (39%) say that when thinking about police departments in their area, spending on policing should stay the same, while 35% say it should increase. And 23% of Black adults say funding should be decreased. Black adults differ across demographic groups on what should happen to police funding.
Black adults do not differ by party on this question. Similar shares of Black Democrats and Republicans say that funding should increase (36% and 37%, respectively), stay the same (40% each) or decrease (24% and 21%).
Black adults who identify as politically conservative (49%) are more likely than those who identify as moderate (35%) or liberal (32%) to say spending on policing should increase. Meanwhile, Black adults who identify as liberal (35%) are more likely than moderates (19%) or conservatives (16%) to say funding should be decreased.
Non-Hispanic Black adults (36%) are more likely than multiracial Black adults (25%) to say funding for police should increase, though roughly four-in-ten non-Hispanic (39%), multiracial (40%) and Hispanic (38%) Black adults say funding should remain the same.
Black adults ages 65 and older (50%) are more likely than their younger counterparts to say funding for police in their communities should increase. However, Black adults ages 18 to 29 (36%) and those 30 to 49 (26%) are more likely than those 50 to 64 (17%) and 65 and older (11%) to say funding should be decreased.
Pew-But African Americans Want Change in The Justice System
Nearly nine-in-ten Black adults say policing (87%), the courts and judicial process (86%), and the prison system (86%) require major changes or need to be completely rebuilt for Black people to be treated fairly. Only around one-in-ten Black adults say that each system requires minor changes or no changes at all. Black adults differ by age, education, income, party, voter status and their views about racism on the kinds of changes they would like to see.
Pew-African Americans Want Change In Other Institutions
Black adults are not only critical of the criminal justice system when it comes to race and fair treatment. They also say other major U.S. institutions need significant improvements to ensure Black people are treated fairly.
Roughly eight-in-ten Black adults say the political system (85%), economic system (83%) and health care system (79%) require major changes or need to be completely rebuilt for Black people to be treated fairly.
Much like their views on the criminal justice system, Black adults differ by age, education, income and party on the kinds of changes they would like to see. Black adults who are younger, have more formal education, have lower incomes or are Democratic are more in favor of drastic systemic change than their older, more educated, higher-income and Republican counterparts.
Our perceptions of institutions are often influenced by our own and collective histories, beliefs, and values.
In a chart offered by The Skeptic, people (based on political affiliation) estimated the number of unarmed Black men killed by law enforcement in 2019. Estimates ranged from 100 to 1,000 to 10,000 to more than 10,000 with those claiming a liberal affiliation leading the way as to higher estimates. However, all groups including moderates to conservatives grossly exaggerated the numbers.
According to the Washington Post database, regarded as the “most complete database,” 13 unarmed black men were fatally shot by police in 2019. According to a second database called “Mapping Police Violence”, compiled by data scientists and activists, 27 unarmed black men were killed by police (by any means) in 2019, The Skeptic.
Please note that “unarmed” doesn’t mean that they didn’t pose a danger or appeared to pose a risk. As a cop, I could have shot someone with a starter pistol (incapable of firing a bullet, used at track meets). He would have met some definitions of unarmed.
Without a doubt, the justice system (and other institutions) abused African Americans. Yes, racism exists today. But thoughts on law enforcement can differ between Black and Brown citizens.
On assessments of the police, Latinos are more likely to align with the views of white people than Black people, a finding that could carry political repercussions. They rated the police more favorably and public safety as a more dominant concern than African-Americans did.
In Louisville, Latinos had an even more positive view of the police than whites did. By nearly 2-1, 61%-32%, they said police used force only when necessary. In Oklahoma City, where nearly 1 in 5 residents are Hispanic, they said by 57%-25% that police officers’ use of force was appropriate.
Latinos in Louisville expressed more concern about public safety than Black or white people. In Oklahoma City, only 1% of Hispanics and 1% of whites said police reform was the biggest problem facing the city, compared with 9% of Black people. Another 20% of Black respondents cited race relations as the top issue. Education was the top issue for whites and Hispanics, USA Today.
Law enforcement is one of the highest-rated institutions in America. Per surveys, police used or threatened to use force in two to three percent of citizen contacts, hardly the harsh stereotype causing thousands of police officers to quit.
There is polling data indicating that African Americans (and others) want and need police officers in their lives.
Regardless, equal treatment under the law is what we all pledged to do. Race and law enforcement requires an understanding of history and current thought. Every citizen, regardless of who they are, deserves courtesy and respect. It takes a unique person to be a cop willing and able to embrace the challenges required to be fair, impartial, and dedicated to constitutional values while making unexpected, split-second decisions.