Blacks and whites are divided by a pretty wide street when it comes to perceptions of police misconduct. African-Americans, having experienced a history of discrimination, are deeply skeptical of the police and altercations with the public are often considered to be a result of police misconduct, at least until proven otherwise. We're seeing this played out in how the African-American community views the beating 15 year old African-American Brandon Johnson took at the hands of several white police officers. Today's Indianapolis star reports that yesterday several African-American ministers asked for a federal probe into the incident.
While whites chide blacks for their mistrust of police officers, the bias of "my side of the street" is just as bad. Listen to the conversations whites have about the Brandon Johnson incident. The immediate assumption is that Brandon Johnson did something wrong and "got what he deserved." To whites, if a police officer has an altercation with a suspect then, by golly, it's the aspect's fault because he was committing a crime. Forget due process. Because a police officer arrested the man, he has to be guilty.
It's the same attitude when it comes to police reports. Whatever the police officer says in his or her report is gospel. That's the way it happened and if the suspect says otherwise, well the suspect is lying.
As an attorney and student of life, I've learned to have a healthier degree of skepticism than my side of the street generally has. Police reports often contain great works of fiction and should be taken with a grain of salt. Law enforcement officers often get caught up in the moment and cross the line when dealing with the public. Officers often will look the other way when a colleague does something inappropriate. It is not particularly surprising that a high-stress job like law enforcement breeds a situation where officers look out for one another.
Whites need to learn too that often people who are police officers are not well suited for the job. It takes a certain temperament to be able to control oneself when faced with the inevitable frustrations and a public that often doesn't appreciate the work officers do. Whites though tend to view all police officers as dedicated public servants who can't do anything wrong. Yet for the past couple years, the Indianapolis Star newspapers have been filled with stories of one IMPD officer after another getting in trouble. The latest appeared this morning - a recently resident IMPD officer being charged with felony arson for participating in setting as many as 10 fires.
Yes, blacks and whites are divided by a pretty wide street when it comes to their views of police misconduct. Maybe it is time we meet in the middle?