Race, Ethnicity and Role of Police

Published 16 Feb 2017

Some Harlem residents dubbed the event ‘the Million Cop March’ since the quantum of police force out on the streets of demonstrators were equal to the estimated 6,500 demonstrators, where 3000 uniformed cops totally packed formed a human wall around the rally with other 250 community affairs police in light blue polo shirts moving along with the marchers. It was the perfect place for the Giuliani administration to demonstrate the police state operation in the minority working class neighborhood. (Vann, 1998)

Amnesty International in 1998 documented the conduct of police force. In its United States of America: Rights for All (AI Index: AMR 51/35/98), the organization posited the patterns of ill treatment including beatings by the police, unjustified shootings and the use of dangerous methods claiming to uphold the suspects. Whereas only the minority of the many law enforcement officers engaged themselves in the brutal actions, Amnesty International came out with fact that very little was done to check the abusers or anything was done to make sure that the tactics of the police did not involve unnecessary force or injury. Their report also indicated various abuses in some jurisdictions or police precincts. (Amnesty International, 1999) All the above examples present the racial and ethnic minorities as truly the victims of police misconduct, along-with getting subjected to false arrests, harassments, verbal and physical abuses. All organizations have their own culture and this is true with the police force too. The police culture in its traditional role was developed as a means to maintain the equal status in the society and impart uniformity but the changes and the different norms, expectations, rites and rituals and traditions in the police department imparts different challenge.

Each police agency has its own cultural norms, rites, rituals, common language, and traditions that have become quite strong. The incidents of police misconduct continue to be grave in West Virginia; when asked about the police role to the West Virginia State Police Chief Howard E. Hill Jr., he aptly replied, law enforcement officers “place their lives on the line every single day and deal with the dregs of society that others avoid …. Many officers are injured or killed trying to protect the public.”(West Virginia Advisory Committee to The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, 2004, p. 2) To reduce the harm to others and upon themselves, police have to make quick judgment and act promptly, especially in cases, which are volatile and potentially dangerous and deadly. Straight forwardly law enforcement officers have to perform their duty towards the public which is not every easy.

Law has also given rights to the law enforcement officers to adopt what is appropriate in certain dangerous situations, while apprehending alleged criminals and protecting themselves and others. It has also been found that many of the adverse actions by certain police officers neither form the part nor are the representation of the entire police force. But there is no doubt of the fact that vast number of law enforcement officers in West Virginia are very hard working and are conscious about their duties and well being towards the society and according them their harsh and aggressive use of their power is only an exception and not a norm.

It was noted by the State commentators in early 2000 that accusations in as early as 2000 in West Virginia has been on the increase. In Charleston, a simple system of complaint was adopted but the increase in complaints on the misconduct by the police officers nullified these procedures. The State law has made it mandatory for every state police to investigate on any complaint pertaining to the use of the excessive force by the state troopers. In the first 11 months of 1998 in Charleston, 24 allegations were alleged on the police officers, but only seven cases were investigated. As compared to it in the first six months during 2000, the Charleston Police Department made the use of force 122 times with showing their firearms, using their hands to get alleged criminals to handcuff, and other aggressive methods accounting to physical injuries. (West Virginia Advisory Committee to The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, 2004)

There is an internal professional standard section within the state police handling allegations on police misconduct by the state police officers. But there are limitations to its powers with the process beginning with an officer in charge (OIC) who appoints an investigator to initiate an internal enquiry regarding the matter. The investigator collects the evidence and makes recommendations regarding the disciplinary action to the OIC, who then also gives recommendations to the superintendent of police, who gives the final decision to undertake disciplinary action. As response to this determination, the accused officer gets a chance to present a defense at a pre-deprivation hearing and appeal can also be made by a grievance procedure presided over by an administrative law judge. These offenses appear under three categories depending on their severity- one, which are less severe, secondly more severe, and thirdly those cases, which are of very serious in nature. The third category offences form unnecessary force during an arrest/custody. In these cases superintendent can discharge an officer.

Each city of West Virginia has a civil service system depending upon the size governing the process of testing, hiring and maintaining the discipline of country employees. But the officers in authority themselves are not satisfied with the procedures as there are lot of hierarchal layers and sittings of review panel involved. It was found that police chief’s strong position was not enough to agree or disagree the abuse of authority and there is an ardent need of the good supervisors to keep in check the abuses. (West Virginia Advisory Committee to The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, 2004)

The action of the police force in case of domestic violence depends on the gravity of the case and if there is a probable cause. Particularly women of color and poor women have limited access to the legal processes, and are more prone to emotional abuse. The traditional ways other social institutions especially police responds to the violence against women is complicated by racism, as a result battered women belonging to difference ethnicity and race feel themselves disadvantaged. Battered women as advocated by court are given less respect by prosecutors and judges as compared to her counterparts white woman. “She is often derided as being “one of those white women’s liberals” who has betrayed her own while working on problems like domestic violence that will further stigmatize and destroy the men of color who are charged with battering.” (Baur, E Cayleff, 1993).

It has come to light that police generally present lackadaisical approach on rape cases. Only few percent of rape cases investigated lead to conviction. Detectives too do not apply the same professionalism in cases of rape as they do with other serious offences. Police are often blamed for attending to complainants especially women of color with skepticisms and inertia. It was the case reported on 25th July 2007 on Lesslie Iron rod, who was 20 years old. She was brutally raped and was hospitalized. Police was called and investigated process underwent and despite reporting whole incident to the police and also names of the miscreants involved in raping her investigations came to a dead stop with her death and no charges were filed against any of the miscreants. Justice department found that it is very likely that one among every three Native American women will be raped during her lifetime and in many cases these cases would often go unnoticed, unreported, or uninvestigated. Native Americans are landed in the health centers where they lack in the facility to collect DNA samples.

Similarly are the cases of the child abuse. They are either unreported or most of the time under investigated. It is quite true children and youths becomes easy target of adults taking them into the world of crime and drug abuse while ignoring the responsibility they have for their safety and support. Police respond properly and without prejudice and undue force on the needs of the young people. There is always a negative stereotyping on both the sides and the police have to be susceptible to the trouble from any counter, yet the successful policing requires the stereotypes to be broken and must take robust, firm and effective steps. In many of the cases, police adopted prejudice approach where the gravity and the sensitivity of the issue is involved.

The policing process can become a success if sustained or firm or fixed actions are undertaken and they are more sensitive towards youth problems and their needs. Young people from various ethnic backgrounds can be involved in the process of community policies that can access the needs of the other youths and take actions accordingly. To achieve gthis aim, first all kinds of stereotypes needs to be broken and also broken all the barriers dividing people to people on the basis of the race, ethnicity or color.

Reference List

  • Bair Barbara, Cayleff E. Susan, 1993, Wings of Gauze: Women of Color and the Experience of Health and Illness, Wayne State University Press
  • Center for Problem Oriented Policing. Responses to the Problem of Disorderly Youth in Public Places.
  • Sullivan Laura, 2007, Rape Cases on Indian Lands Go Uninvestigated, http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=12203114
  • Vann, B. 1998. The “Million Youth March”: Racist demagogy and police-state repression. Retrieved on September 20, 2008 from W.W.W: http://www.wsws.org/news/1998/sep1998/mym-s10.shtml
  • West Virginia Advisory Committee to The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. 2004. Coping with Police Misconduct in West Virginia.
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