Midwest Voices

Glennie E. Burks: Police affected by shootings, protests after deaths of Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner

Protest marches like this one in November of faith, civil rights and community groups through Ferguson, Mo., after the death of Michael Brown in August have had an effect on police/community relations.
Protest marches like this one in November of faith, civil rights and community groups through Ferguson, Mo., after the death of Michael Brown in August have had an effect on police/community relations. The New York Times

After months of reading articles on recent police shootings and community relations, none has caused me to contemplate the state of all the protests and outrage like one in The New York Times in which the author aims to provide readers with a myopic view of American history.

The writer maintained that members of the police, like most of society, have been socialized through associations, stereotypes and experiences to fear black males. Their fear may have caused most them to view black males differently than they view anyone else.

The catalyst for the writer’s piece was the recent police arrest of Julia Shields, a white woman who fired shots at people on public throughways. According to the author, Shield’s behavior was a case that warranted lethal force by police. But she was arrested without incident. The writer suggests that in other recent police shootings, the same restraint could have been shown if it weren’t for the race of the victims.

However, noticeably absent from much news commentary is any acknowledgment that the earlier police incidents may have been the main reason in Shields’ case that police showed restraint. There should not be any doubt that the deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner and Tamir Rice — whether one thinks the police actions were justified or not — have had an effect on us all, especially the police.

These were tragic and sad events, certain to affect normal police and community relations for decades. We all rebuke unjustifiable acts of aggression and disrespect by police toward citizens, especially those that are disproportionally depicted against African American males.

Black males are at times subjected to aggressive police action during seemingly benign interactions like traffic stops and involving people just sitting outside of their homes, where a crime may have taken place. Yet, the news media and others do nothing more than generate anger and more distrust for police in communities that suffer the most from high crime rates by constantly making such incidents all about race.

There is so much more beneath the surface than that. Despite this, many commentators, politicians and advocacy groups tend to cast victimization with a racial and gender identity under the guise of advancing social justice.

There are a significant number of black male victims of violence, but some ultimately end up recasting themselves as victimizers. We mustn’t ignore facts that indicate the majority of black males die from being murdered by other black males or inadequate health care.

Mayor Ras Baraka of Newark, N.J., has aggressively lowered violent crime rates in the city but notes that by merely treating the symptoms of violent crime rather than its cause (economic and social factors), crime rates will again soar. Violent crime is analogous with poverty and geography (the real social injustices).

So police aggression is just as likely to affect anyone based on these factors. In short, no group has a monopoly on suffering.

We should condemn all abuses by police. Our outrage should not turn on whether the victim is black or white, male or female, or a member of a group to which we belong but whether an offense was made against a person’s human dignity.

Unless we as a nation address the true causes of crime, especially in locations where crime is rampant often because of poverty, then we will continue to substitute one brand of social injustice and bias for another.

Glennie E. Burks of Waynesville, Mo., is a colonel and deputy assistant commandant at the U.S. Army Military Police School at Fort Leonard Wood. Reach him at oped@kcstar.com.