Thursday, October 28, 2010

Ignorance of justices does not disguise reality of race-based policing

Washington State Supreme Court justices Richard Sanders and James Johnson are not particularly well-known for their sensitivity—especially Sanders, who once dressed as a Nazi as a “prank.” But the pair shocked listeners at a recent court meeting when they blamed black overrepresentation in the prison population on the greater propensity of blacks to commit crimes, as if it was “natural.” Racial discrimination, in their opinion, was just more liberal hanky fodder; Johnson used the pejorative term “poverty pimp” to belittle people who attempt to bring the subject up for discussion. As the Seattle Times rightly noted when it withdrew its endorsement of Sanders (Johnson is running unopposed), poverty and racial bias do play a role. Although many whites complain about job “quotas” and non-existent affirmative action, the numbers do not lie: That no matter the educational level, whites are at least twice as likely to be hired than blacks. .It should also be added that black unemployment—particularly that of black men—is perpetually at Depression-era levels, and this is bound to have long-term societal consequences.

The question also arises: “Is there racial bias in arrests, particularly those that are drug-related?” The fact that police spend almost all of their time in minority communities speaks for itself; of course there is going to be higher crimes rates indicated on the books. But for a closer look at how the police differently handle drug crimes when race is involved, a “police beat” writer for the Seattle “alternative” weekly “The Stranger”—who is surprisingly unquestioning of police methods even after the recent unjustified killing of a Native American woodcarver—wrote some years ago a “beat” report on an incident that has stuck with me ever since. The writer quoted a police report that stated that two officers sitting in an unmarked car observed a young black male carrying a backpack walking back and forth nervously in front of a club in North Seattle. Presently two young white males in a gold Cadillac arrived, driving slowly; the black male motioned to them into the parking lot, and then walked up to the driver and conversed with him. At that point the officers drove up behind the Cadillac, and while one officer kept the black male occupied, the other “interrogated” the white males, and then let them go. Marijuana was found inside the 17-year-old black male’s backpack, and he was arrested. The writer for “The Stranger” absurdly praised the actions of the officers, observing that “What we want out of a (cop’s) day’s work is this kind of purity.”

To me, this was as about as far from “pure” as police work gets, short of killing unarmed “suspects” in incidents that an officer instigates (such as in the woodcarver killing). This was race-based policing at its very core. Obviously the “buy” was set-up by the two white males in the gold Cadillac, who doubtless the progeny of a wealthy household. Yet the police did not wait for the transaction to be completed—they intervened in time to prevent it, and allowed the white males (who doubtless made such purchases before) to get away scot-free. Their “upstanding” parents ought not be troubled by such embarrassing events. Doubtless the two white males–their hearts’ racing–thanked their God for their “good fortune” that the cops, at least in regard to drug crimes, are only interested in arresting minorities.

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