As long as there are conflicts between police officers and suspects which result in the use of force, and as long as some of these incidents involve people of different races, there are going to be problems. Particularly in the year since Darren Wilson shot Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, it’s become clear that there are two camps in this debate who are talking past each other with no signs of an accord on the horizon. That’s a depressing reality in a nation which was supposed to be evolving toward a colorblind future, but it is what it is. So what’s to be done about it? Eugene S. Robinson has examined the problem and come up with an innovative solution. Let’s let suspects demand a cop of their own race! (Via Yahoo News)
But our fix is so simple that we’re kicking ourselves for not having thought of it before: policing made-to-order. Citizens of color should have the choice to interact with cops of the same racial or cultural background. In practical terms, it would look like this: An African-American driver is pulled over for, say, not signaling a lane change. The attending officer will, in the spirit of good public service, ask the driver if she’d be more comfortable with an African-American police officer. If so? Then the attending police officer calls it in and sits with the citizen until an African-American officer shows up.
It’s hard to know where to even begin with an idea like this. Robinson himself admits that it would be “inefficient” in terms of turning a simple traffic stop into an hours long affair while the white officer waits for a dispatcher to locate a black cop to come issue the ticket. His response? Patience is a virtue. That may be true, but it’s less virtuous to tie up double the number of officers for quadruple the amount of time to write a ticket, with both officers unavailable to protect everyone else.
Also, in many communities of every size, there simply aren’t enough black and Latino cops to cover all of the calls. You can debate the reasons for this until the cows come home but the reality of it remains the same. In New York, a former police commissioner blamed it on the pool of black applicants being too small because of the large number of minority residents with convictions on their records who are disqualified for employment on the force. And in New York City in particular, they run into a second tier of problems in terms of minority recruiting. The State Police tend to quickly swoop in and make tempting offers to black cops who finish their training because of state mandated quotas.
But let’s pretend for a moment that there was some mythical, unlimited supply of police officers of every color in the rainbow who were ready to appear at a moment’s notice whenever a suspect requested one. Is that how we want to do business in terms of enforcing the laws of a civil society? That would be giving in to the stereotype and saying that humans are simply too flawed to be able to deal justice in an equitable fashion. It’s also pretty insulting to the cop who makes the initial stop. Imagine for a moment if I – a cranky, old white guy – was pulled over by a black officer and asked for my license. Picture the response in the media if I insisted that I’d rather have a white officer write me the ticket. And for that matter, forget the media… how would the police officer feel after I essentially announced that he was unable to properly do his job based on nothing but a factor as reductive as the color of his skin?
This idea suggests nothing different than segregation, but instead of taking place in schools or housing complexes, it would be on the police force. Are the supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement honestly willing to embrace segregation as a cure for perceived racial inequity? With all due apologies to Mr. Robinson, this isn’t a solution to a problem… it’s the creation of yet another layer of problems.