Prall: Weeding out racism in law enforcement

BY JACOB PRALL | APRIL 08, 2015 5:00 AM

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Across the country, local police departments are reassigning, suspending, or firing officers over racist or homophobic remarks sent via their work email or phone accounts.

In San Francisco, seven officers face disciplinary action over their text messages. On April 3, the Associated Press reported Chief Greg Suhr announced his request to have the officers fired.

Approval is pending from a police oversight committee. The district attorney will review all cases the officers were involved in over the last 10 years.

Three Florida officers belonging to the Fort Lauderdale Police Department were fired after similar inflammatory messages were sent among them. The investigation was launched in October 2014 and has just now taken serious action.

Meanwhile, in Ferguson, Missouri, a federal investigation of the police force yielded a discovery of racist emails resulting in three city employees being fired.

We have a right to our opinions. But when our opinions have an effect on the outcome of justice, they’re no longer above impunity. All three incidents involve derogatory messages among city officials or officers directed at the African-American community. Only in San Francisco did the hate expressly extend to the LGBT community.

At first glance, the peeking of government entities into emails and texts seems wrong, almost dangerous. This isn’t your private email or website history, though. These are accounts held by the government to facilitate the work employees of the state do. And when those employees actively participate in hateful speech and discriminatory behavior toward those they are supposed to be serving, lines have to be drawn. It’s right for these officials to be removed from positions of power.

Bias is instinctual; it is created during evolution as a means for survival. If one couldn’t make assumptions about places or things he or she had seen before, the world would never be a safe enough place to sleep in. A tiger that bit you wouldn’t be any scarier the second time around, and you’d be susceptible to its habits.

These instincts were developed before the behemoths of modern society were formed. Such powerful entities cannot go unchecked in any way by the people they govern, never fully. When these massive institutions are created and controlled by a bias perspective that is unfair and prejudice, the system doesn’t work for the people.

So I applaud the actions of these police departments. Perhaps it’s time to re-evaluate how individuals with these sorts of beliefs are able to find their way into positions of power in the public sphere. Again, bias is inherent, but certain bias can that causes the greatest negative effects can be weeded out on the ground level. Public officials who assert power and influence in their communities, especially in the Justice Department, must be held to a high standard of moral integrity that includes a resolute awareness of bias, discrimination, and social structure.

There will never be a police force capable of appropriately governing our society unless steps are taken to improve the quality of candidates entering these programs, and programs are crafted to introduce basic elements of sociology while also working to expose patterns of discrimination within those candidates who may be wielding the gavel or gun.

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