Without a doubt, the most common question that I’m asked by students, academic colleagues, panel and workshop facilitators, friends, and just everyday folks that I come into contact with as a criminal justice scholar, all center on the following topic: is there any hope of bridging the gap and rebuilding the relationship between black communities and police agencies after Ferguson? Although disturbing to many my response is always the same, “nope, not a chance” because our country has never sought redemption from its original sins of genocide, enslavement, and the African holocaust. I tell them that “Ferguson” is just a by-product of a 395 year social experiment on the black American experience, which started with the creation of modern American policing: slave patrols.
You see, slave patrols were organized groups of white men who monitored and enforced laws to regulate and discipline black Americans. They were the original police actors of “Stop and Frisk.” These patrols could detain, question, and demand identification from any black American without legal cause or accountability, where physical and verbal abuse was the norm. Does this sound familiar? It’s this moment in history that black men learned to fear the police and to run at the very sight of an officer. It’s here that the affliction of transgenerational learned helpless, self-segregation, and the politics of shaming humiliated the psychosocial core of the black American family. This is the history between black Americans and police that has literally gone unchallenged for nearly four centuries, and will continue to go unchallenged because we as a black community have not accepted the hopeless reality that we find ourselves in today. The policing culture will never change. They will never change because they will never voluntarily submit themselves to the types of reform required for long-term holistic transformation, which would include (1) Truth and Reconciliation Panels; (2) Shared Ownership of Policing; and (3) Black Community Reparations. I will discuss these three strategies further in my blog in the upcoming weeks.
The policing culture will never change because black Americans, despite everything we know, see, smell, feel, and hear about policing abuses directed towards us in the past, present, and future, are too afraid to fight back and force the system into changing. Black Americans are too afraid to become police officers, prosecutors, and judges (the gatekeepers of justice) and flood the system with intelligent and energetic black men and women. We are too afraid to force our elected officials to enact legislation that would require two black Americans sit as jurors on every criminal trial in America, creating opportunities for black defendants to opt for jury trials instead of succumbing to plea bargains, which would: (1) Bottleneck the criminal justice system, literally forcing it to come to a stand-still; (2) Financially cripple the justice system, due to the enormous monetary cost of criminal trials; and (3) Humiliate the criminal justice system, as state and federal conviction rates would plummet, on the understanding that for the very first time in the history of our country, black defendants would have their cases heard before a couple of jury members that understand the lived black American experience. No, black Americans are too busy hoping, dreaming, and praying that a trillion dollar a year business whose success hinges on processing and recycling black male bodies and space will someday “do the right thing” and walk away. Nope, not a chance.