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)
There are many reasons cited which make people of color and particularly blacks more vulnerable to COVID-19. Dr. Lisa Cooper, internist and social epidemiologist with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health said, “I expect the COVID-19 pandemic to impact African Americans to a greater extent than other more socially-advantaged groups. This is because as a group, African Americans in the U.S. have higher rates of poverty, housing and food insecurity, unemployment or underemployment, and chronic medical conditions, and disabilities.” (Joseph P. Williams, 2020) Louisiana Senator Bill Cassidy said in an NPR Morning Edition interview that African Americans have more ACE receptors due to their higher rates of diabetes, obesity and hypertension and that the virus likes to hit the ACE receptor. He went on to say as a physician, he suggests a need to address the obesity epidemic which affects African Americans disproportionately. This in turn would lower the prevalence of diabetes, hypertension and make a difference in the mortality rate related to COVID-19. (National Public Radio (NPR), 2020)
Here, like in so many other cases, the blame for disparity is shifted to those who are falling victim to the effect. The sentiment that echoes through the airwaves is that minorities are dying at higher rates from COVID-19 because they are poor, have poor diets, obesity and a general distrust of the government so they don’t do what they are told. There is another part to this equation. The wealth gap and disparities in access that exist today have a historical cause. Policies like redlining and mass incarceration have been devastating to the economic growth of minority communities for generations restricting their access to education, financial wealth, and the opportunities enjoyed by whites in this country since its inception.
"Due to residential segregation, majority African-American and hispanic areas are more likely to lack hospitals and other health care providers." (Taylor, 2019)
Racism and implicit racial bias have actual physical health consequences of their own. While not currently listed as a disorder in the DSM-5 racial trauma or race-based stress is often compared to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) with symptoms such as irritability, hyper-vigilance, and depression. (Perry, 2017) The resulting stress and triggers that occur, in some cases multiple times a day, as a minority is forced to assimilate to the dominant culture and turn a blind ear to subtle microaggressions can cause a multitude of physical disorders and chronic conditions.
Disparities in health care are a real concern for blacks. Not unlike within law enforcement, the healthcare industry has its own history of racism. James Marion Sims, the father of modern gynecology conducted research on enslaved black women without using anesthesia because he believed black people did not feel pain. Then there was the Tuskegee syphilis experiment lasting between 1932 and 1972 where 600 African American men were told they were receiving free health care from the federal government. 399 of the men had syphilis and 201 did not. The men were told the study was going to last six months but it went on for 40 years. None of the men were treated for syphilis even after the antibiotic penicillin was proven to be an effective cure.
"Even medical residents, those who have graduated and actively practice medicine, are not immune to false beliefs: Some of them thought black people have thicker skin than white people." (Andrews, 2016)
False and racist beliefs by some medical students and doctors have led to deadly disparities in the medical treatment of blacks. Just recently Rana Zoe Mungin, who is African American, died from COVID-19 after being turned away for testing in Brooklyn twice. She exhibited various symptoms of the virus and pleaded for help but was still denied treatment with her symptoms dismissed as a panic attack. Her older sister died at the same hospital 15 years prior of an asthma attack.
Dr. Camara Jones, a family physician, epidemiologist and visiting fellow at Harvard University spent 13 years working at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) focusing on identifying, measuring and addressing racial bias within the medical system said, "This is the time to name racism as the cause of all of those things. The over-representation of people of color in poverty and white people in wealth is not just a happenstance … It's because we're not valued." (Johnson & Buford, 2020)
As sobering as the outlook is for African Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic, the end of the pandemic may mean even more danger. With the public being required to wear masks to protect them from the virus, encounters with the police pose a particularly scary predicament for African Americans. Founder and lead organizer of Black Lives Matter (BLM), Aston Woods said in an interview with Yahoo Lifestyle, “It’s disheartening that CDC and our leaders told us that we didn’t need to wear masks in public, only to reverse course without providing masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE) to the general population. Now we have to wear whatever is available to us as the data continues to show that black people are disproportionately affected by the coronavirus.” (Newton, 2020)
"I don't feel safe wearing a handkerchief or something else that isn't CLEARLY a protective mask covering my face to the store because I am a Black man living in this world. I want to stay alive but I also want to stay alive." Aaron Thomas (Twitter post)
On March 15, 2020 two African American men, Jermon Best and Diangeo Jackson entered a Walmart in Wood River, Illinois wearing surgical face masks. A police officer told the two that the Wood River city ordinance prohibited the wearing of masks and requested their identification. Best recorded part of the incident as they were leaving the store and the officer followed them with his hand resting on his taser. In a follow up statement the Wood River Police Chief said, “The individuals refused and indicated they were leaving the store. The officer did not further pursue their identity and the individuals left the store of their own volition.” (Wells, 2020) The police chief confirmed there is no ordinance in Wood River prohibiting the wearing of masks. Follow up comments to the press release dispute the fact that the two left on their “..own volition” yet a police officer is walking behind them with his hand on his taser.
A recent tweet sent out by Senator Kamala Harris stated that too many Black men have been racially profiled by law enforcement for wearing masks. This is in stark contrast to the police response to a wave of lockdown protests, some featuring heavily armed white men wearing masks and riding in the back of military style trucks. Senator Harris and Senator Cory Booker have written a letter to US Attorney General William Barr demanding bias training and guidance for all officers.
While bias training is a good first step, it is clearly not going to be enough to effect true change. As departments beef up their diversity and put those officers through bias training there will be a measure of what Professor Kimberly Papillon calls “moral credentialing." In an interview at Google.com, she explained that moral credentialing is akin to the feeling one gets when eating chocolate (Papillon, 2017). Each time an official is challenged regarding the department and the minority community, they will reward themselves with thoughts and talking points about the department diversity numbers and bias training stats. The result being the sense that the department and officers have done the work that needed to be done around that subject thus stopping them from making any further efforts in that area.
The moral credential effect is a cognitive bias that allows a person who has a good record as an honest, egalitarian individual and has built up such a good reputation that as they grow older it may increase the likelihood of less ethical behavior at a later time. For instance, a person may start saying to themselves, "I've been honest and hard-working all of my life and now life owes me." (Alleydog.com, n.d.)
This brings us back to the urgent need for a COI. The only real change will come from people who have the power to speak up and be their true selves without fear. Minority doctors, nurses, law enforcement officers and even executives are often forced to go along with the majority opinions and viewpoints even when they don’t agree. There can be consequences if they appear to lean too much toward the viewpoints of their own minority group. Especially in the case where there is a complaint made related to race. According to a 2006 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, being confronted by a member of the group one has just offended elicits different responses from the offender depending on who is doing the confronting. Specifically, if the confronter is a member of the group they are defending, they are seen as over sensitive and confrontational. (Czopp & Moneith, 2006)
We’ve seen this combination of moral credentialing and assimilation play out in some very high positions. In a white house press conference PBS reporter Yamiche Alcindor asked President Trump if his referring to himself as a “Nationalist” was rhetoric which was causing some to view the Republican party as supporting white nationalists. Trump responded by saying, “Why do I have my highest poll numbers ever with African Americans?” He went on to accuse the African American reporter of being racist.
Being pushed out of the majority group could mean a loss of career growth opportunity and even potential termination. Those in high profile positions who have had to assimilate in order to be trusted by the majority with the responsibilities of the position often take on, at least ostensibly, some of the errored stereotypes assigned to their own minority group members. This causes them to sometimes be even more critical of minorities. The idea being, because they’ve managed to get into a high position as a minority, other minorities only have to "act right" and follow the rules to be successful too.
"...in inclusive organizations, all employees are integral to the mission and vision of the organization because the culture of the organization is such that there is little to no distinction between diverse and majority group employees." (Heathcote & Gruman, 2011)
US Surgeon General Jerome Adams, an African American, has come under fire recently for using language considered offensive to blacks and Latinos. During a news briefing held April 10, 2020. Adams urged African Americans to “step up” and to stop drinking smoking or doing drugs. He went on to say, “We need you to do this if not for yourself then for your abuela. Do it for your grandaddy, do it for your big momma, do it for your pop-pop.” According to the CDC African American youth and young adults have significantly lower prevalence of cigarette smoking than Hispanics and whites. (Centers for Disease Control, 2015) And African Americans actually smoke fewer cigarettes per day than white adults. (CDC, 2020)
This type of misinformation from what appears to be an in-group member can be particularly damaging as minorities are given substandard treatment by medical staff members who have the implicit belief that health issues suffered by minorities are their own fault. Implicit bias in the management of police departments can result in law enforcement officers who risk their lives for the protection of the public taking a less compassionate stance toward those they perceive are failing to make an effort on their own behalf.
Teaching medical staff and law enforcement officers that they have biases without a comprehensive plan to change the culture from within will likely only result in the same sort of moral credentialing and lack of real change that lead to the disparities we are witnessing today. Leadership must make inclusion part of the values of the department or unit they lead. When these values are tested with positive outcomes, employees will begin to share those values and support the unique and diverse viewpoints. However, if employees are never given the opportunity to test the leaderships values of diversity and inclusion, “…employees may say that organizational decision making is enhanced when diverse employees have an opportunity to participate but fail to listen to diverse group members.” (Heathcote & Gruman, 2011) We need to urge those that have the platform to speak such as Senators Harris and Booker to insist that law enforcement and medical industry leaders be trained not just in the importance of diversity within the department but also how to build a COI within their respective departments.
“First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out- because I was not a socialist
Leaders in the white community will also be vital in making inclusive cultures a reality. This is not just a minority problem. As demographics rapidly change in this country, the social landscape will look very different in upcoming years. According to the US Census Bureau, the US will be a majority-minority country by 2044 (United States Census Bureau, 2015). The tables are turning in our part of the world. One day, the conversation about racism, power and inclusion will be very different, but also pretty much the same unless we put in the proper steps now to give everyone a voice. That voice may one day be the one that saves a reputation, a business, or even a life.
Quincy K. Ruffin has over 15 years of law enforcement experience rising from the rank of security patrol officer to Police Sergeant. He is a subject matter expert in Racial Bias, Diversity and Inclusion and runs the website www.unmaskingthebiasphere.com. He is a POST certified instructor for Fair and Impartial Policing, Principled Policing and Racial Profiling. Mr. Ruffin has a Bachelor's degree in Psychology from the University of Oregon and a certificate in Diversity and Inclusion from Cornell University.