Photo taken on December 6, 2014. By Scottlum, Flickr
Recent reports of police violence has created a sense of worry, violence and unease in the United States
Ferguson. North Charleston. Baltimore. Three places, three deaths, one year, and one giant, continuous uproar around the country. Protests, riots and debate after debate. People pointing fingers and stereotyping while misinformation spreads along with angst and assumption.
Many people jump to conclusions before getting all the information, from the news and elsewhere.
Communities have been torn apart by insinuations, discrimination and miscommunication. It’s not a race thing. It’s not a socioeconomic thing. It’s not a police thing.
It’s the human issue of miscommunication.
In such cases, information is easily skewed. That’s why it is so important to look around at various trustworthy sources and listen closely to what others have to say before reacting. People don’t always know all of the information right off the bat. It may be because not all the information has been released and it may have to do with the problem of sensationalist media.
On May 4, Fox News apologized for a false report they had issued on another supposed shooting in Baltimore. Reporter Mike Tobin claimed that a “young, black male” was running away from the officer, and “as he was running away, that officer drew his weapon and fired and struck the individual.”
This report was later confirmed as untrue and the real story was that the black man in question was arrested for having a handgun, and it fired accidentally when he dropped it.
“On the internet these days, people will click on ‘click bait,’” said Matt Mckinney, public safety reporter for the Star Tribune. “Things that are just sensational and interesting for 10 seconds.”
With that in mind, keeping your eyes open for new sources of information is key when trying to formulate an opinion on these matters.
Minnehaha Director of Diversity Paulita Todhunter said she not only follows the stories on Baltimore on the big news networks but also tunes into the local stations.
“They’re able to get more information from people because they know the communities well and they’re not just trying to do a broad stroke of the story,” she said of the local networks. “They’re trying to get many, many different perspectives of the story so I try to make sure I listen to local networks.”
When information is acquired from various trustworthy sources and is confirmed as credible, and situations still appear to be unjust, what can be done with that information?
“I think where people are disturbed and cry injustice is where the cops or when the police officers are white and there has been some kind of unexplainable tragedy under that,” said Todhunter. “Where [the police] should’ve been in charge or were in charge and there has been death or kind of maiming or some kind of tragedy that has happened and there’s no explanation factor where there was no camera, no one caught it on tape.”
Tools to determine
This brings up the recent discussion of body cameras. As seen in the South Carolina case, camera footage can prove to be a very important piece of evidence. “Body cameras, I believe, are a very good tool,” said Deputy Chief of Minneapolis Police Department Medaria Arradondo. “And I believe it can help in many respects regain the public trust so it’s important.”
“The best defense to officers acting in a way that is either not appropriate or on the level of misconduct is self-accountability and that partner right next to them saying, ‘knock it off, that’s not right’ or ‘if you’re doing something that’s against what we should be doing, I’m going to report that to a supervisor.’ So while technology is good and is helpful, we need self-accountability.”
Even with such technological advances, there will still be prejudice on both sides of the issue. The distrust runs very deep in troubled communities such Ferguson and Baltimore, The lack of opportunity runs rapid in those places.
“You have some factors there in common in areas where we’ve had violence,” said Todhunter. “Usually the police force is majority white and the community is majority black. And there’s significant poverty and lack of opportunity or education. So all of those things are common factors in what’s going on.”
The issue of trust
This disenfranchisement of certain communities breeds a deep mistrust. A report from Harvard Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public Policy’s Journalist’s Resource cited that “surveys in recent years with minority groups-Latinos and African-Americans, in particular-suggest that confidence in law enforcement is relatively low, and large portions of these communities believe police are likely to use excessive force on subjects.”
This kind of mistrust breeds violence, and harms both civilians and officers. A study that was also cited in the report, found that “49,851 officers were assaulted in the line of duty, with an injury rate of 29.2 percent, according to the FBI. 27 were murdered that year.”
Violence is not only in the community’s hands, but the police department’s as well.
“It is found in 2008, among people who had contact with police, ‘an estimated 1.4% had force used or threatened against them during their most recent contact, which was not statistically different from the percentages in 2002 (1.5%) and 2005 (1.6%).’”
This divide of violence has built a wall in a place where it shouldn’t be: between community members and those dedicated to serving and protecting them.
Finding a solution
There is still an outcry from those who don’t support violence to the police, asking them to sit at the table peacefully and talk.
“Relationship is so key and if these communities we’re seeing don’t have that communication then that’s obvious what they need to do next,” said Todhunter. “[The police force] needs to talk to community leaders. So talking to church leaders, community leaders, local district leaders and just say ‘hey, let’s create a dialogue. Let’s talk so that we can resolve any conflicts we have and work together to make sure that we can keep our people safe.’ And that should be the common ground is that we want to have a safe community and we can all help to do that.”
There is also a similar want for that amiable relationship from the police force.
“I think that as much as we in policing, we must not act out in our day to day duties in terms of serving the public, focussing on our own personal biases,” said Arradondo.
“We also need the community to not judge us so much,” he continued. “It’s going to happen, we know it’s the nature of the job. Information is important and information is key. I also say keep the lines of communication open. I think we need to do a better job on both sides of doing that and that’s not just for the community that’s for the police too.
“And for those people that are critical in terms of policing,” Arrandondo said, “we should not run from that, or organizations, we should meet them at the table. We need to get an understanding. We may not always agree, but that’s okay. As long as we can at least have the opportunity to know each other’s points of view I think that’s important.”
The bottom line
This isn’t solely a race issue. It isn’t solely a socioeconomic issue. Those are factors, of course, but when it comes down to it, this is a miscommunication issue. People are not always willing to get the full account of what happened before forming judgements. And those judgements might last a lifetime, might be passed down through the generations, and build the walls of separation higher and higher.
What can we do as students to eliminate this miscommunication that breeds distrust that ultimately leads to violence?
Are we willing to talk to police officers about how they handle situations? Are we willing to talk with community leaders that may not share our same view? Are we willing to look outside ourselves in order to fix, or at least start, fixing the problem of miscommunication?