By Anthony Bouyer, PhD
Education is power; a good education develops critical thinking skills that help people make decisions in their lives, makes them good citizens and helps them contribute to the overall betterment of society.
Education provides us with knowledge about the world. Education paves the way for character-building, leads to enlightenment, and enriches people’s understanding of themselves. Thus, the quality of life tends to be highly correlated with one’s educational attainment. Moreover, many people see education as the potion for achieving social mobility in industrialized societies.
The goal of education is not mastery of subject matter, but of one’s person. Subject matter is simply the tool. Much as one would use a hammer and chisel to carve a block of marble, one uses ideas and knowledge to forge one’s own personhood. A direct effect of education is gaining knowledge. Education gives us knowledge of the world around. Education develops in us a perspective of looking at life. Education helps us form opinions and develop a point of view.
Information we encounter cannot be converted into knowledge without the catalyst called education. Education helps create a clear picture of things around, and erases all confusion. Education kindles the flame of curiosity and helps awaken the abilities to question and reason.
Education has allowed me to expand my world view not only through knowledge, but has also put me in the position to have experienced a verity of occupations; therefore, education has kindled the flame of curiosity and helped awaken my abilities to question and reason, and knowledge to speak on social issues.
So before I go further in my discussion on the article, I want to share my educational background not from a bravado boastfulness, because I understand that I was able to overcome many obstacles and I do not think less of those who obstacles may have been too high to overcome, but to show that my opinion comes from a well-informed, expert point of view.
I have firsthand experience in the areas of social issues. I have been a police officer, a parole officer, a probation officer, a mental health professional, and a counselor, both with adolescents and adults. I currently hold two licenses with the State of Ohio, the Ohio Chemically Professional Board and I’m a Licensed Professional Counselor with the State of Ohio Counselor and Social Worker Board and I held a LSW, Licensed Social Worker. I have the expertise to and life experience to share a qualified opinion about social conditions that Black Americans have faced and continue to face.
So, the new buzz words that have resulted from the current crisis are systemic racism, explicit bias, conscious and unconscious bias. These words are being thrown at the American public, as if to explain the reason for the mistreatment of Blacks not only by police, but also by other institutions. Let us not forget how America got its first wealth and power, which derived from the institution of slavery. The key word is institution; it is through institutional discrimination that allows continuing denial of rights of Black people and subjects them to a different quality of life.
Racism, sexism and elitism are systems of interdependent cultural, individual, and institutional behaviors, which affect a pattern of negative socioeconomic discrimination based on race, gender, and class. This discrimination is rationalized through a network of prejudice founded largely on myths, stereotypes, and biases which are passed on consciously. The formula for institutional discriminations proceeds in this manner.
During my academic studies, the most descriptive definition of institutional discrimination was developed by Vega, F. (1978) the effect of human and intergroup relations on race/sex and attitudes. The Vega model describes institutional discrimination as “Cultural Bias” (The values, norms, and standards of the dominant culture “White” which reflect what is prized, normal and customary in our society and which are transmitted to the individual through the socialization process).
The next step in the process of institutional discrimination is “Individual Prejudice” (The beliefs, attitudes and opinions which reflect the cultural values, norms, and standards of the dominant cultural “White” transmitted to social institutions through interaction). The last part of the formula is “Institutional discriminations” (The policies, practices, and standard operating procedures that reflect the public beliefs opinions, and attitudes which perpetuate the original cultural values (The institution of slavery), norms, and standards of the dominant culture “White.”
Police abuse in Black and Brown communities is generations old. It is nothing new.
Law enforcement was used as a monitoring tool of Blacks right after slavery, during reconstruction, the civil rights movement and to present day. Putting a face on Institutional racism one only has to look at what happened to the great mass of ex-slaves, threatened with arrest for “vagrancy” and leased as convict laborers if they refused, to signed their contracts and returned to work in the fields, much as they had before emancipation.
Blacks were declared ineligible for U.S citizenship in the Supreme Court’s 1857 Dred Scott decision, remained a disfranchised peasantry, laboring under conditions that differed little from, slavery ” (The policies, practices, and standard operating procedures that reflect the public beliefs opinions, and attitudes which perpetuate the original cultural values (The institution of slavery), norms, and standards of the dominant culture “White.”
Michelle Alexander’s (The New Jim Crow, 2010), gives a pungent illustration of institutional discrimination in our criminal justice system. She notes that in McCleskey v. Kemp, the Supreme Court held that racial bias in sentencing, even if shown through credible statistical evidence, could not be challenged under the Fourteenth Amendment absent clear evidence of conscious, discriminatory intent, thus comes the justifiable language of unconscious bias.
The Court’s opinion was driven by a desire to immunize the entire criminal justice system from claims of racial bias. According to Justice Jackson the best evidence in support of this view can be found at the end of the majority opinion where the Court states discretion plays a necessary role in the implementation of the criminal justice system, and that discrimination is an inevitable by-product of discretion.
Racial discrimination, the Court seemed to suggest, was something that simply must be tolerated in the criminal justice system, provided no one admits to racial bias, The policies, practices, and standard operating procedures that reflect the public beliefs opinions, and attitudes which perpetuate the original cultural values norms, and standards of the dominant culture “White.”
In 1994, John Erlichman affirmed Nixon’s racist agenda to the journalist Dan Baum. Erlichman told Baum that “the Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or blacks, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”
The beating of Rodney King by the Los Angeles police department in 1994 had many defenders of law enforcement stating that this was an isolated incident and that, overall, Blacks are treated no different than any other groups. Looking back in history, the majority of Black rioting in the U.S, have been tied to police misconduct, with the exception of few.
Martin Luther King Jr. stated: “Riots are the voices of the voiceless.” The Black Panther Party was born out of police misconduct against Blacks in Oakland, California. Black communities all across America were besieged with White police departments that used brutality with impunity. Social scientists study society and social relationships, and it is through social conditions that leadership is born, hence the civil rights movement and now Black Lives Matter.
Technology has only proven what Blacks have been saying for decades about institutions, schools, hospitals, social service agencies, and particularly police departments in the mistreatment of Blacks in their daily lives. Nevertheless, many Americans believe that police officers are generally good, noble heroes.
The profession — the endeavor — is noble. But this myth about the general goodness of cops obscures the truth of what needs to be done to fix the system. It makes it look like all we need to do is hire good people, rather than fix the entire system. Institutional racism runs throughout our criminal justice system. Its presence in police culture, though often flatly denied by the many police apologists that appear in the media now, has been central to the breakdown in police-community relationships for decades in spite of good people doing police work.
Hiring minority people and White women as police officers and increased responsibility changes color and sex composition but does not necessarily change its oppressive use. It takes courage and a strong since of morality to not follow the crowd, and it takes courage to turn in fellow officers who has violated his/her oath.
The idiosyncrasy of some police officers is extremely disturbing, and the oxymoron to police misconduct is, if you are hired to stop law breakers, how do you break the law in the performance of your duties? I graduated from Saginaw Valley State College in 1982 with my undergraduate degree; I completed Michigan Law Enforcement officers Training Council Academy in November 1982.
During my training at the academy officers were trained not to use excessive force, including striking suspects in the head with batons, choke holds, and other illegal deadly force procedures that do not clearly justify the use of deadly force. We were also instructed that if we witnessed officers using excessive force, or violating our oaths, that we were to report their behaviors.
We spent a day on cultural diversity, as if that was significant time needed to address cultural diversity. During our training we were trained that no matter what people say to you, or what names they called you, this was not an excuse to retaliate with physical violence.
Many will say that citizens should respect the police, granted disrespecting police officers is wrong, also officers should not verbally disrespect citizens, and respect goes both ways. Police officer should hold themselves to a higher standard, no one should become police officers who have anger issues and poor control of their emotions, if you cannot take being called names then you should not become a police officer and choose another profession.
After completing the academy, I was hired as a compass police officer at Grand Rapids Junior College, in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I was one of two Black officers in the department. I was tested right from the beginning of my employment, when one of the white officers made an insensitive ethnic joke about Polish Americans, even as 24-year-old young man, I knew the comment was inappropriate. I stated if I was not present that joke would have been about Blacks, which social scientist calls White bounding.
One day as I reported to work and stepped out of the evaluator, I encountered a scuffle of three of my White co-workers handcuffing a Black suspect for trespassing. I do not know how the scuffle started, but this individual had been trespassing in the college. He had his hands cuffed behind him, and to take him to the holding area in the department there were two heavy doors that had to be pushed open.
The officers used his face to open the heavy glass doors. The suspect looked me in the eyes and said you see what they just did too me. The following day I received a call from the man’s mother and she asked if I witnessed what my co-workers did to her son. My reply to her was “yes I did see what they did to your son.” She asked me if I would testify in court and I told her “yes.” I testified against those officers in open court, regardless of the blowback I received from my co-workers.
Several weeks later one of the officers who I testified against asked me if I wanted to go hunting with them, my reply to him was that I don’t hunt, more than likely if I did hunt and went with them I probably would have been an accident.
So I say to police officers, it does not matter what your race, gender or ethnicity is, do you allow or are you yourself implicit in the excessive use of force and violating the rights of Black people? Where is your courage? It has not been too long ago that many cities across the country had to submit to federal decrees to hire Black police officers and Black fire fighters.
When the federal government ordered theses decrees, many in the Black communities thought, finally, we will have police officer who looks like us and maybe the brutality will stop: One’s race and ethnicity does not make for good character as there are many brutal Black, Hispanic and other racial minority police officer as there are Whites. It’s what’s in an person he art that counts. So I ask how you can be a police officer if you witness another police officer breaking the law, and refuse to report his /her behavior?
There is a debate that people who live in urban areas have a code of not snitching when crimes are committed and the police have on many occasions called out this behavior. The same goes for police officers when they see their co-workers breaking the law and refuse to “snitch.”
I spent the majority of my professional career as a probation officer – 21 years with Toledo Municipal Court. Institutional discrimination provides every area of the criminal justice system. Most Black males can attest to experiencing institutional discrimination. A White female probation officer stated to me that I looked like a defendant due to having a hat on during January. When this was brought to the assistant chief attention who happened to be Black, she replied maybe she did not know she was being offensive.
Now let’s talk about changing institutional racism. Racism is woven into the fabric of our nation. At no time in our history has there been a national consensus that everyone should be equally valued in all areas of life. We are rooted in racism in spite of the better efforts of Americans of all races to change that. Because of this legacy of racism, police abuse in Black and Brown communities is generations old. It is nothing new. It has become more visible to mainstream America largely because of the proliferation of personal recording devices, cellophane cameras, video recorders — they’re everywhere. We need police officers. We also need them to be held accountable to the communities they serve.
The one thing that is clear is in order to change the current racial climate in this country, institutions have to change and in order to change institution, and we must address cultural biases, to reflect what is just for all of society. This process can be transmitted through individual socialization, beliefs, attitudes that reflect none bias perspectives. The policies, practices, and standard operating procedures must reflect the improvement of life for all citizens. As the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis and countless others proves, we still have a long way to go before we attain anything close to justice in this country. But we can work toward it, every day.