Moreover, it was announced Tuesday evening that the high-profile death of Trayvon Martin is finally coming to a close. The U.S. Department of Justice will not charge neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman with hate crime. Though Zimmerman was not a cop, this case brought latent race issues to the forefront of the national consciousness. These divisive cases will only come to an end when these incidents of excessive or lethal force against minorities are substantially reduced.
Minority communities have long been wary of the police. Historically, African American males are arrested at rates much higher than their white, Asian, and Hispanic counterparts. According to a 2013 report released by the Pew Research Center, black men are six times more likely to be incarcerated than white men. The race gap in incarceration rates has actually skyrocketed since the turn of the 21st century. Additionally, there have been issues concerning “stop and frisk” practices. Eighty-five percent of New Yorkers stopped by police in 2013 were black or Latino, according to the New York Civil Liberties Union. This overt suspicion leads to feelings of distrust and resentment.
On the other hand, police feel unsafe as they witness attacks against the police force, like the murder of officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos in December. The New York Police Department in particular is disenchanted with its authority, so much so that they have repeatedly turned their backs on New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio as a refusal to acknowledge his presence. The NYPD felt that the mayor encouraged the subsequent retaliations by empathizing with the protesters instead of siding with the department.
Diversifying the police force is not going to be easy, but is needed. One initial step that police academies across the nation would have to do is work on repairing their image with that particular community. Another is to actively recruit and engage members of the minority community who show interest in joining the police force. There may be many in those communities who want to give back, protect and serve but are unfamiliar with the application process. By having a more balanced representation in the police, it may help change the “us” versus “them” mentality that is present in many communities.
Until true change takes place, and both sides can begin to understand one another, the cycle of violence will continue and leave broken communities in its wake.
Taylor Duckett is a senior majoring in business law.
Featured image courtesy Flickr user Global Panorama