Within the past month cops have killed two unarmed African American men—Eric Garner, 43, of Staten Island and 18-year-old Mike Brown, of Ferguson, Missouri. Police brutality is nothing new. In my opinion, many cops abuse their power because many of them are ignorant to the political rhetoric that politicians and legislators use which exploits many cops. For instance, when President Ronald Reagan’s war on drugs was sparked he used words such as ‘war,’ ‘battle,’ ‘fight’ to make the problem seem bigger than it actually was. Unfortunately, cops targeted urban communities to battle this war. And, judges gave out harsh prison sentences to small-time dope boys and drug users, many of whom were African American men. Furthermore, statistics showed that drug usage was on the decline when Reagan announced his war on drugs. Also, Mitt Romney is also good at throwing hidden messages. Romney accused President Barack Obama of not understanding the “Anglo-Saxon heritage.” This type of talk from politicians trickles down into the minds of many uneducated local cops. Thus, leading to violence and the death of young men like Michael Brown, Sean Bell and Eric Garner, to name a few.
All of my life I’ve heard that racism is rooted in ignorance. As a child, it was hard to believe that shrewd politicians and protective police officers were slow to understand. However, I’m older now and I’ve encountered many professionals who lack the intellectual prowess and important information that enables one to make better decisions. Therefore, I now understand that racism and police brutality does stem from ignorance– literally.
And, it’s been going on for centuries. Exploitation–in the form of extrajudicial violence– dates back to overseers working on slave plantations. Contrary to widespread perceptions, not all Whites owned slaves. In fact, only five percent of Whites were slave owners. An even smaller percentage was planters, owners of 20 slaves or more. Therefore, planters controlled everything from politics to finances to education, or lack thereof, in the South.
In fact, schools didn’t arrive in the south until after the Civil War (In other parts of the U.S., schools were sprouting up as early as 1651– Boston Latin Public School). Since there were no schools in the South, it was fairly easy for planters to control the thought process of poor Whites. According to author and DePauw University Professor John Dittmer, planters maintained control by “exploiting the racial phobias of the poor whites.” Also, despite the many perceptions, slavery didn’t begin as a Black and White thing. It grew into a racist thing as planters learned to control the thinking of not only slaves, but poor Whites also.
One of the ways the planters exploited these poor whites, other than paying them minuscule wages, was with the use of parental propaganda tactics like, ‘Blacks aren’t capable of controlling themselves, so slavery is needed.’ Planters also used rhetoric from the Bible to validate the parental guidance of slaves. For instance, Ephesians 6:5 says: “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ.” Also, 1 Peter 2: 18-25 says: “Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only those who are good and considerate, but to those who are harsh.”
This type of literature told poor white overseers that it was OK to be poor and white–just as long as they weren’t Black. This controlling of the mind along with overseers being pressured by plantation owners to maximize profit only exacerbated brutality against slaves. Even after 1865, when slavery was abolished, exploitation and extrajudicial violence continued.
What can be considered as the first group of police officers occurred after the Civil War when poor Whites were hired to guard Black Codes, laws designed to keep newly freed Blacks subjugated to certain areas. Southern politicians– formerly planters or relatives of planters–gave power to an uneducated group of whites to keep the fuel burning on racism. As the poor whites policed Black Codes, they abused, harassed and lynched Blacks. Guarders of Black Codes failed to see the bigger picture and the main reason that they were hired to abuses Blacks. Basically, this same type of police brutality occurs today as we’ve seen with the recent killings of Mike Brown and Eric Garner.
Statistics show that violence is closely related to a lack of education. According to a study done by The Guardian, a British weekly newspaper, only about 30 percent of police officers are college graduates. In 2003, only 83 percent of all U.S. police agencies required a high school diploma. And only eight percent required some college. Additionally, according to Professor Diana Burns, of Bacone College, less than one percent of all law enforcement agencies require a four-year college degree.
For the record, 75 percent of prison inmates are high school dropouts. It’s safe to say that a lack of education is consistent to violence and crime. Education enables one to make better decisions and understand cultures and systems. Now, one may argue that police officers do not need to be intellectually inclined. This may be true, but it’s important that cops build positive relationships with communities. And, if one does’t understand the culture, behavior of a people, it’s not likely that he/she will build positive relationships within the community.
Because of the circumstances that many Blacks have experienced throughout history, many uneducated African-American young men become members of street gangs like Crips, Bloods, G.D.s, Vice Lords and Black P Stones, to name a few. Fortunately, for poor and uneducated Whites, many of them become police officers, which is an organized gang. Out of their frustration from being poor and uneducated many cops– like street gang members– use brutality and intimidation to hide their frustration and build up false confidence.
Maybe police agencies should consider some unbiased political and history courses so that cops have a better understanding of history, politics and rhetoric. Not everyone is meant to be an intellectual and there is nothing wrong with that. But, it’s really a sad thing when one doesn’t understand that he/she is ignorant.