In a recent article entitled Police, Diversity and The Culture of Inclusion, I highlighted the fact that well-meaning department heads, chiefs of police, and the like are missing the real benefits of diversity if they are not creating a culture of inclusion (COI) (Ruffin, 2020) and that there are times when diversity in law enforcement can create deadly results. (Nicholson-Crotty, 2017) The benefits of a COI are not just related to race. A COI allows a department to benefit from every facet of its diversity including those diverse ideas, warnings and corrections that may be suppressed by conformity and fear of being isolated from the group.
As of the writing of this article, the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has claimed the lives of 55,258 Americans. (CDC, 2020) While blacks make up 13% of the US population, they account for approximately 29.2% of the total cases. The death toll has also been disproportionately higher among African Americans. In some counties the numbers are staggering. In an interview on CBS “Face The Nation,” Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said black people accounted for 72% of the COVID-19 deaths while only making up 30% of the population. (CBS News, 2020) According to the New York State Department of Health, blacks are 22% of the population but account for 28% of the COVID-19 deaths compared to whites at 32% of the population accounting for 27% of the deaths. (New York State Department of Health, 2020)
When I was a kid growing up in East Palo Alto, I would get so excited when I would see a police car drive by. Of course so did everyone else in my neighborhood but not all for the same reasons. I remember there was such mystery around the patrol car, the uniform and even the officers demeanor. I knew even then I would one day be an officer. Putting on that uniform every day and dealing with people who are often rude, condescending and entitled can cause one to forget why they got into law enforcement in the first place. This, in addition to internal issues with fellow officers, administration and the surrounding politics can be, and sometimes is an insurmountable barrier to the necessary life balance and happy lifestyle we all seek to achieve.
Once in a while that citizen, that kid or that officer says or does something that reminds you that you did not choose the job, the job chose you. And no matter the barrier, no matter the issue you soldier on and do the job.
During this quarantine, officers are risking their lives more than ever as they venture out into the streets facing whatever and whomever is out there. Any LEO will tell you that dealing with people can be as much an art as it is a science. You learn to spot certain behaviors, odd bulges in the clothing that may be a weapon etc. But now, everyone is a threat and with no tell tale signs for an officer to go by. A person simply walking by could be the one who passes you a deadly virus that takes you out. Still, they soldier on and do the job.
Its been several weeks since I've suited up due to a recent injury. The combination of COVID-19 and recovery has afforded me some extra time at home with my kids. As we've done for quite some time now, after finishing up dinner every night we take a walk around the neighborhood. We wave at neighbors and tell stories as we walk. Periodically, we'd see our city police officers patrolling in their cars or taking a break in the Chipotle parking lot. Last week while on our routine walk I saw one of our patrol offices driving by. There was nothing special about the officer or the car except that there was. In an instant, I was brought back to East Palo Alto as a child watching the police drive by patrolling the neighborhood. I felt that sense of pride again but this time with full understanding of the job that officer was doing. The job is tough, it is dangerous and at times thankless, but despite all that, protecting and serving the community is a calling that cannot be ignored. As an industry we still have work to do. There is a grim history and even some current blind spots but we are always improving, always learning, and always standing by the fact that Iron Sharpens Iron.
So while I am recovering and looking forward to suiting up again, I want to take the time to thank our law enforcement officers. Thank you for standing in the gap where a little bit of everything falls. Thank you for being there day in and day out for those who don't appreciate it as well as for those who do. And thank you for holding up the traditions of what I still consider the noblest of professions!
Stay safe and I'll see you on the streets soon!
On August 9, 2014, Michael Brown was shot and killed by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. Since then, more than 500 African Americans have been shot and killed by police. The African American community cited racism as the major reason for the disproportionate numbers of unarmed blacks killed by police. African American leaders, organizers and city governments responded by demanding more diversity in policing. Diversity became the buzz word in law enforcement. Departments began focusing on bringing their numbers up to meet the demand of diversity standards set by department heads and city managers. The going equation was, more African American officers equals fewer African Americans killed by police. The fact is, diversity is simply not enough.
They all look alike! Have you ever heard that? Have you ever teased a friend who mistakenly called you by another persons name of your same race? Traditionally, that has been a marker we've used for racism in a person. I remember being called by another co-workers name and laughing telling the person who'd made the mistake, "We don't all look alike!" Well, there is evidence that to him, we actually do!
The superior temporal sulcus is a part of the brain that helps us read different expressions on the faces of others. It tells us whether the person appears OK to approach, to run away from them or to get ready to fight. Another region of the brain called the fusiform face (FFA) area helps us recognize what is familiar and what is not, who is a friend and who is an enemy. Of course these areas are important for survival and social acceptance. If you cannot judge if someone is angry, perhaps you may mistakenly say or do something that provokes them into a physical fight. Or, if you misinterpret someone as a friend when they are a long time enemy, you may end up in a rather dicey situation.
Stanford researchers and neuroscientists specializing in human memory conducted a study using a Functional magnetic resonance imaging matching (fMRI) to track blood flow changes in the brains of dozens of black and white volunteers as they watched pictures of the faces of black and white subjects. The stronger response to a face, the brighter the sensors shined.
They found that the FFA responded more vigorously to faces that were the same race as the participant. This was a consistent finding in both white and black participants. When shown the photographs again later, participants were able to recognize those faces that their FFA had responded to the most in the prior test.
Have you ever wondered how to explain some of the things you've experienced as a minority to someone who couldn't relate? When you tell them about the circumstance and tell them you didn't like it, they tell you it's just you. They say you are being too sensitive or that you are misreading the situation. You know there is something there that made you feel crappy and it is the type of thing that happens so often that you get exhausted by having to navigate these deniable situations all the freaking time!! How about when you are sitting in a meeting and you give a suggestion that is ignored only to be repeated by someone else who is met with praise and accolades related to the idea that you made and was ignored for?
Here, Kimberly Papillon puts a name and description to these situations. She breaks down why these situations are not random, why they are unacceptable and why they make you feel the way they do..