Tuesday, April 8, 2008

trust the police

When most white people are in serious trouble, or when something terrible has happened or is about to happen, they don't hesitate to call the police. This is because white people tend to trust the police. They also tend to have a hard time understanding when non-white people don't trust the police.
Adrian Thomas, 20, a black construction worker, "feels safer at night passing the projects than the local police station house. 'The best way to live is to stay out of their way,' he said of the police."

Tyron Samuels, 18: "Black or white, if they’re a cop and you’re black, especially young and black, hanging on the street, they automatically think you’re a gangbanger or dope dealer. The black (officers) are worse than the white ones … I don’t know why; Sometimes you’d think brothers would understand."

An officer writing on the LAPD Blog: "Folks in South Central remain understandably wary of cops like me. I walk into their lives uninvited, at inopportune moments — a retail sales rep from the same corporation that brought them the Middle Passage, Jim Crow, the Tuskegee syphilis experiments. Some of them hate me on sight. Others want to trust me, but it's hard."

Herbert Reed, an African-American captain in New York City's Department of Correction, says "young people in his Bronx neighborhood view the police as 'thugs with guns in blue uniforms.' For Mr. Reed, his peace officer's shield has become a badge of shame."

Bruce Springsteen is one white person who seems to understand why many non-white people don't trust the police. He wrote a powerful song for Amadou Diallo, a young black man gunned down by police in a storm of 41 bullets ("American Skin: 41 Shots"). Four police officers stopped Diallo because they thought he resembled someone else, and when he reached into his coat pocket to retrieve his wallet, they thought he was going for a gun.

When all of the officers involved in the Diallo killing were acquitted at a subsequent trial of any wrongdoing, blacks all over America must have thought, "Right, no surprise there." That's because, unlike most whites, blacks also commonly distrust the judicial system, especially when it comes to punishing the police when they do anything wrong. For them, the acquittals in Diallo's case echoed those in the earlier police beating of Rodney King, and I doubt they're expecting anything different in the upcoming trial of the police who shot Sean Bell, another unarmed black man downed in a proverbial hail of police bullets, more than 50 this time.

I remember that when O. J. Simpson was acquitted of killing his wife and her apparent lover, whites were surprised at the verdict, and then confused at the common black reaction, which was generally joy and jubilation. Because whites tend to trust the police and the judicial system, most could not fathom another community's joy that someone who was like them, at least in racial terms, had actually beaten the very system that's been beating them for so, so long.

As the clip below demonstrates, Michael Moore is probably another white person who trusts the police in his own dealings with them, but he also understands black anger on this issue. Interesting how, as I pointed out in a post below, racial analysis prepared for a largely white viewing audience apparently has to be framed in humorous terms. As Slavename writes, "It seems like white folks need to be spoonfed shit in a humorous way or else they ain’t tryin to hear it."

UPDATE: Sad, but unsurprising news on the Sean Bell case: "Officers Acquited"

UPDATE II: An excellent report at Racism Review on "Stop and Frisk Racism"


  1. I've never trusted the police, even tough I've gotten away with a whole lot of shit only because I was a generally clean cut white men with a nice vehicle and a corporate ID.
    I raised my children to not trust the police and always be extremely submissive no matter what to the police otherwise risk getting their ass beat.
    Cops are nothing but society's thugs. They are generally dumb lunkheads with limtted social skills.

    That being said, one of the nicest guys I know is a cop who would no more treat a black man differently from a white man than his own children.

  2. Hey Macon, Are you going to do a post about how white people write songs that venerate African-American hero figures or victims of white racism?

  3. I'm sure, SH, that many cops are nice people. There is, however, a culture in many police departments that encourages different treatment of black and white civilians.

    And no, I don't think I'll do a post about white people who write such songs, since, sadly, there aren't enough of them to make it a consistent white tendency that I could label something that "white people do." My post about MLK, though, IS about a consistent, and consistently cartoonish, veneration of a particular African-American hero.

  4. We got into a small accident with a white lady, before the cars stopped she was already on the phone with the police. Funny thing is - she didn't have insurance and got a ticket haha

    - www.anythingblack.net

  5. Oh I don't know about that Macon. My experience has been thatthe vast majority of cops are thug pricks. I'd never say that "many" are "nice people."
    And I suspect that cop culture in general, which includes all departments, includes a "culture. . . that encourages different treatment of black and white civilians."
    Don't underestimate the Neanderthalithic nature of cop culture. Have you noticed the cop hair cuts they have been wearing for the past few years? Scarey.

  6. Very interesting.

    I wonder if there's a safe substitute for something like a bag of milk?

    My Daddy passes for White a lot but one night he wasn't so lucky. When I was about eight years old two police beat the father, son and holy ghost outta my poor Dad who was on the way home from the corner store after buying some milk so I could have some before school the next morning.

    I don't deal with police.

    This is a great blog you have up here, hope you don't mind if I link to you.

    ~Davita Cutitta

  7. Thanks for the link Davita, and I'm saddened by your father's story.

    I wish I could return the favor by linking to your blog, but I can't find it . . .

    All best,

    macon d

  8. Over a month late,

    Thanks for the shout out in your blog. I'm relatively new to this so I didn't know I had hella unread comments that I first had to approve before they would show up on my page. Good lookin'. The post was great. Stuff White People Do makes me smile because I love knowing that their ARE white people who DO know how to open their minds and not just be defensive whenever it comes to race, racism, and all kinds of other shit. Keep doin' what you do.


  9. Glad you caught up with the shoutout, Slavename. I like your blog too!

  10. davitacuttia's blog: http://pddp.wordpress.com/

    I think she forgot to put the "http://" in front of the URL so it became a relative link.

    I'm Asian and I don't trust the police. There were two incidents, one that might have had to do with racism, and one that was racist, but these incidents did not result in physical harm. It was more like the police, having the power of authority, think that they are superior and dismiss my words, projecting their own interpretation in consideration of my race.

  11. Oh, my comment was in response to your comment: "I wish I could return the favor by linking to your blog, but I can't find it . . ."

  12. Is there a stat on this? Something tells me that no one trusts the popo except RICH white people.

  13. Anonymous, I'd like to see stats on this too. I can tell you, though, that in the white suburb I grew up in, just about everyone trusted the police, and although I've learned that police can be dangerous wielders of power, when I'm stopped by a cop for speeding, I still enact my white-middle-class training by basically trusting whoever that cop is. And if I ever have some sort of emergency that merits calling the police, I won't hesitate like a lot of non-white people would.

    Anyway, the point of the post is that because the police work within a racist social order that generally demonizes non-white people, and especially black males, white people generally trust the police a lot more than most other groups of people do. It doesn't seem to me that seeing and understanding this problem requires stats, but again, if some are out there, it would be great to see them.

  14. I wonder what will happen in 2050 when whites become the minority.

  15. Anonymous, your question implies that the police are generally abusive to people of color because whites are in the majority. Or maybe, that POC distrust the police because whites are in the majority?

    Either way, I disagree. The police treat white people better, and non-white people worse, because of America's long and ongoing history of white supremacist ideology. A lot can happen by 2050, but for law enforcement institutions and their individual workers, including police, to cleanse themselves of racist perceptions of non-white people will take more than the mere proportional increase in population of non-white people. After all, if that's all it would take, then why aren't police non-racist already in urban areas where the majority population IS non-white?

  16. I'm not the same anonymous as above, first.

    I grew up in a white suburb, and I have NEVER trusted the police. Where I grew up there were all corrupt, basically criminal personalities, and everybody knew it. They stole shit, they were abusive, I could go on and on. We all had our own stories about our shitty police. Macon, you generalize too much. I'm glad you grew up somewhere where the police were on your side. But I didn't, and it pisses me off to hear you tell me how good I've had it.

  17. Anonymous II (or III, or whatever), I'm saddened to hear about the abusive police in your area.

    You should read the subtitle of this blog. It says something I don't feel a need to constantly repeat in posts and comments. At any rate, while there are local exceptions like yours, white people generally do trust the police far more than non-white people do, because the police generally give them good reason to do so.

  18. I'm Anonymous III, thanks.

    Listen, I understand what you're trying to say. But the subtitle doesn't change the fact that you're generalizing about people you have no business generalizing about, Macon! I'm trying to listen to you, really I am. I'm not one of those people here who seem to think you have nothing important to say, or that you're never right. But you've got to start listening to some of your critics. This entry indicates an attitude toward the police that you have no way of measuring. I'm serious, Macon, it makes me so angry when I think about what people in my town went through with the police. They were awful. And its NOT that uncommon amongst whites. I wish you'd take stuff like that back.

  19. Anonymous III, if you're going to continue commenting (and I hope you do), please come up with a name. As for listening to my critics, I do that, and I also discuss points of disagreement with them, often at length, and I often agree with their criticisms. It's not that I'm not listening to you.

    I suggest that you do some reading on this topic beyond this post. Try these--not all of them are valid or relevant, but they should give you a better understanding that while some white folks don't trust the police, that lack of trust is far more prevalent among non-white people, especially black people. And that the different general levels of trust on each side of the color line are legitimate, because they're based on entrenched, but different patterns of police behavior.

    On the other hand, I think that a better way to put what we're hashing out here about white trust, or lack thereof, of the police is to factor class, and maybe geographic location, into the equation. Paul Kivel notes, for instance, that as a middle-class white person he was trained to trust the police and look to them for help. How would you describe the area that you grew up in, in terms of class?

    Kivel also writes that police often act as a "buffer" between white people and others, which again suggests that in those instances, whites are more likely trust the police because the police are on their side. When do the police ever act in what would be a more legitimate role of this sort, that is, as a buffer for black people against white people?

    I do think that in certain encounters with the police, such as traffic stops or searches for suspects, the police are generally more trigger-happy and taser-happy with black people than with white people, no matter what the class. As a result, white people are far more likely to trust them in such encounters. But again, I have no doubt that middle-class or clearly wealthy white people are more likely to gain respect from the police than those who are clearly impoverished. But, again, the latter are still in less danger, in most such cases, than are black people of any social status, and so on the basis of their experience, they must have a higher general, or average, level of trust of the police in such cases.

  20. Well Anonymous, if the police were "awful" to you and your town, they were downright homicidal and genocidal in my black community. I see Macon's point in relative, realistic, yet by no means ABSOLUTE, terms. Perhaps you should too.

  21. But it's not an "exception," Macon! That's my point! Most people in this country are poor! And part of being poor means that the police are going to treat you like you have no rights, because I WAS poor I don't have to read ABOUT being poor in those links you gave me. I'm not going to now list the violations me and people I know suffered, much as the anonymous poster who uses the name "just me" seems to want to measure dicks with me. But it happened, and it was wrong, and it was not some kind of "exception" to your rule of thumb for looking at the world.

  22. Anonymous, I never denied that whatever happened to whites at the hands of police in your town actually happened, nor that it was wrong. It seems to me that you're disregarding most of what I just wrote in an effort to communicate with you, as well as denying a mountain of evidence regarding differential treatment by the police in terms of race. Such evidence can be found in those links I offered you--they're not links about being poor--and in many other places. They show that while apparent wealth or lack thereof can be a factor, white skin more often provokes respectful police treatment than black skin does. And so, whites in general trust the police more than blacks and other non-whites do, based on their experiences and those of other members of their racial communities. As Just Me wrote by way of accounting for cases like yours, this is true in "relative, realistic, yet by no means ABSOLUTE, terms."

  23. Well OK then. But I don't trust the police at all, and neither did anyone I hung around with. Bye, Macon.

  24. I think when you write

    "When white people are in serious trouble, or when something terrible has happened or is about to happen, they don't hesitate to call the police. This is because they trust the police."

    you simplify the issue of police brutality in the USA and I think that this is your problem in general, simplifying white supremacy and the whole picture

  25. Yes, as Anonymous also helps me see, that's overstated, and I've now altered it accordingly. I wrote this post nine months ago, when I first started blogging. One gradual change is that I now use "most" and "tend to" and so on more often (that's also why at some point I added the blog's subtitle). If I were to write a post on this topic today, I probably would've added at least a paragraph on the class and regional variations in white feelings about police that I discussed with Anonymous. I also know better now that trust/distrust of the police isn't just a black and white thing.

    Yes, white supremacy is often more complex than I acknowledge, or realize; I'm still learning. I hope you are too. On the other hand, if I make posts too lengthy and intricate, few people will read them--there's a balance to be struck there.

  26. Hi Macon,
    As I was reading your post and the comments, what I thought was that police brutality against PoC was being confused with how white people feel about police. Police brutality against PoC can be measured, as you have shown with your links, but attitudes about police by white people is more difficult to measure, as you have shown by anecdotal evidence of your own feelings. It's possible that white people do not trust the police either, but receive different treatment by the police and when white people are confronted with police brutality, such as the death of Sean Bell or Oscar Grant, they do not seem to be able to have empathy or understanding of the crime. And the media almost always portrays the victim of the police as a "thug".
    I just wanted to add that in the Sean Bell case, the NYPD changed their policy, undercovers can no longer drink, and all NYPD are now subject to drug and alcohol testing after a death or incident. None of the officers in that case were drug or alcohol tested. The fact that the NYPD took corrective action shows me that the NYPD recognized their complicity in this crime, yet the officers were still found not guilty.

  27. I'm a white, middle class English woman and I don't trust the police. They are a bunch of underdogs with chips on their shoulders who need to bully and boss the general public around to compensate for their own sense of inadequacy. I've not got a criminal record and have never been to court. But I've witnessed a few situations that have left me wanting to have a good shower like you might when you've come into contact with something dirty and distasteful. The police treat the general public with distrust and contempt. These type of people should never be in a position of power. We need to change the whole policing system - might take a hell of a long time though.

  28. I hate the police (although, I do like many cop/police television shows...go figure!)! They do more harm than good. I don't think they are necessary. Too many of them are uneducated racist idiots with guns.


    Blackspot the Police

    Can we stop the increasing militarization of our communities through a movement to de-fund the police?

    Byron Hammick, Kendra James, James Jahar Perez, James Philip Chasse, Amadou Bailo Diallo, Julian Alexander, Bobby Tolan, Oscar Grant and Alexandros Grigoropoulos. These are the names of innocent, unarmed individuals executed without a trial by police officers (source). Of course, the list is not exhaustive and shootings seem to be occurring with greater frequency as police departments become increasingly militarized. There is even talk of developing softer handcuffs that can be used on children as young as five years old (source). The death of Alexandros Grigoropoulos in Athens sparked riots as did the videotaped execution of Oscar Grant in Oakland, CA. But while riots may relieve the anger of the moment, they also function to justify increasing police budgets. What if we took a different tactic and blackspotted the police by building a movement to de-fund the police and replace them with community safety patrols.

    Let’s take the example of Oakland, California where Oscar Grant was lying on his stomach, restrained by police officers and then shot and killed. The whole incident was caught on tape (see video below) so there is little dispute as to the facts of the case. Oakland currently spends around $194 million on police services and their total budget is a little under $950 million (source). That is about four times as much as is spent on Libraries, Parks and Museums combined. The police budget is an amazing 20% of the entire Oakland budget! In these times of economic depression, de-funding the police would directly translate into an increase of funding for the types of community quality of life improvements that decrease crime.

    While we de-fund the police and pour that money into community improvement projects, we can also work to make the police unnecessary by replacing them with a Blackspot Police. Obviously a Blackspot Police would share very little in common with the State’s police but would instead work to supercede the police by becoming the community’s first responders. This would be something akin to the Guardian Angels who patrol “dusk until dawn, without weapons, […] to ensure that citizens can enjoy their communities without fearing for their safety” (source). The objective would be to demonstrate that the police are overfunded and their presence is antagonistic and violent.


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