Monday, March 2, 2009

lack empathy for non-white victims of abuse

[Update: See the end of this post for an interview with the victim of police abuse described below, Malika Calhoun, and her father.]

Police officers may well be more abusive with lower-income white people than with other white people. However, they're generally much more abusive to those who are not white, and especially to those who are black. And that's true whether the victims are black men, or black women, or even black children.

Why is that?

I think one reason is that some part of white people often responds to black people as if they're dangerously subhuman and in need of control. Even black women, and even black children. As Paul Kivel puts it, "As white people, we have been trained to see danger in the very presence of people of color."

So when non-white people suffer police abuse, there's very little outrage on the part of white people. As Resistance puts it at the blog Resist Racism, "Racism harms white people by stripping them of their ability to feel." Feel for other, non-white people, that is. White Americans can feel bad about other white people's problems and pain, such as their missing children. They can see their own children in those missing young white people, and they can see themselves in those grief-stricken white parents.

White people can readily empathize with white pain, but why can't they seem to see themselves in the beaten faces and bodies of black men, women, and children, many of whom are punched, kicked, pistol-whipped, tasered, and shot by overzealous police officers?

How much sustained, mainstream-media attention is the case of a fifteen-year old black girl beaten by a white police officer going to get, now that a video of the beating has been released? How much more attention would would this abuse get if the girl were instead white?

Why do white people lack empathy for other people, just because they're not white? Even goodhearted, good-willed white people? How can they nourish and grow this atrophied part of themselves?

A King County sheriff's deputy accused of kicking a 15-year-old girl in the stomach pleaded not guilty Thursday to the fourth-degree assault charge he faces.

Deputy Paul Schene, who appeared in King County Superior Court to enter the plea, was charged in the incident last week following an investigation by the department. The gross misdemeanor carries a maximum penalty of one year in jail.

In court documents, Schene is accused of kicking the girl after she flipped her shoe at him.

At the time of the Nov. 29 incident, prosecutors say, the girl was in a holding cell at SeaTac City Hall.

Schene, an eight-year veteran with the Sheriff's Office, was involved in a 2006 shooting in which he killed a mentally ill man during a struggle on Interstate 5. That shooting was deemed justified by the department.

Later Thursday, Schene's attorney appeared before Superior Court Judge Catherine Shaffer to request that video of the incident not be released to the media. Opposing the motion on behalf of the King County Sheriff's Office, Senior Deputy Prosecutor John Cobb argued that the state public records act requires the video be released.

"This is a public record," Cobb told the judge. "It's of legitimate public interest, and it's not exempt (from release) under the record's act."

Shaffer ruled that the video should be released.


Update: An interview with this victim of police abuse, Malika Calhoun, and her father:


  1. Oh jesus. I hadn't seen that yet; it made me sick. That poor girl; I hope she gets the justice she deserves.

    Cops always make me nervous. I don't know how people can ignore all the evidence of police brutality, particularly towards minorities.

  2. i couldn't watch the whole video. i guess it's my naivity that no one could watch that and not feel anything. i think a lot of white people choose to ignore this type of abuse. the lack of media attention also plays into that, so when white people are finally confronted with it, it seems like some exception. i'm not sure if i'm expressing this right.

    i guess in the case of my racist family, when they hear about another black man being beaten, it's almost like they rejoice, because they think he probably deserved it. why is this? because my grandmother got robbed once and the guy happened to be black. she doesn't tell anyone, however, that years ago she was also robbed by a white guy, but that's different, right? this is the same woman who thought i was going to get raped at a rap concert, despite the fact that i felt ten times safer at that concert than any of the dozens of rock concerts i've been to. for one thing you're less likely to get hit in the face since there's no moshing (stupid moshing).

  3. I'm glad you posted and this and your comments are thoughtful and accurate. Important to note that I read the comments section, attached to the original article and I was actually surprised that all of the respondents showed revulsion at this incident. I can't imagine doing this kind of harm to a child. It's awful.

  4. Macon, I don't understand how you know that police are "generally much more abusive to those who are not white," or how you know that "when non-white people suffer police abuse, there's very little outrage on the part of white people."

    If those things are true, you need to tell your reader how you know it's true. It reads to me like someone who has never personally experienced police criminality and who wants to assume that level of privilege extends further than it really does.

    I'm absolutely outraged over that video. But again, this is completely typical of the way the police treat every group, white or black, that they perceive as unable to seek redress through the legal system. In my working-class white suburb, the police were absolutely fucking unbelievable. Nothing on that video shocks me. I've seen it before, firsthand, perpetrated on white teenagers, perpetrated on my family. We've got a serious problem with the police in this country, but designating it another symptom of "racism" completely lessens the scope of the problem.

  5. @ANON though you addressed your questions to Macon I believe you are being disingenuous. Let's be honest shall we, the US is a racist, patriarchal, capitalist state and therefore anything that happens inside of its borders is influenced by the prevailing beliefs of those in social power. If blacks are treated worse in one situation it is fair to assume that they are treated unfairly in others. A simple glance through the statistics will show that not only do blacks proportionately interact more with the social justice system, contact is more often than not violent. Do you believe it is accidental that more POC in both Canada and the US have died by tasers?

  6. >Why do white people lack empathy for other people, just because they're not white?

    because such whites also can't emphasize with whites.

    Police brutality is not just about not feeling empathy, it is the possibility to abuse power. Whites on average are less likely to become victims of police brutality, not because a cop can emphasize with them but because he knows that this could have other consequences than the abuse of his power towards a Person of Color.

  7. @jw:
    some white people also like to believe that the people charged with the protection of society couldn't be guilty of such atrocities, but that's just wishful thinking, not reality.
    also, it's "empathize," not "emphasize." unless you're pointing out how we need to emphasize how white people cannot empathize with any people. ha, wordplay.

  8. filthygrandeur, anyone who believes that (that "that the people charged with the protection of society couldn't be guilty of such atrocities"), is just living in a bubble. it has nothing to do with their race. anyone surprised by police brutality, or who thinks that whites are immune to it, is living in a world of privilege.

  9. Anonymous, if you left two comments here (or even if you're one of two unnamed commenters here so far), please come up with a moniker. It's not at all difficult.

    To say that the police are far more abusive to black people in general (and to people of color in general) than to white people in general is not to say that white people are "immune" to police abuse. My post is mainly an effort to highlight (1) what should be (but as your comments demonstrate, is not) obvious to all: the much higher rates of police abuse suffered by non-white people, and (2) two of the primary contributing factors to it, which are the common white oblivion to this general fact and the common white disregard and lack of empathy for any white non-white suffering that does come to light. As Renee points out in her comment, Study after study after study after study has demonstrated, ad nauseum, that which you seem unwilling to see.

    Why are you so unwilling to see it?

  10. macon, the issue is not that i refuse to acknowledge widely-accepted statistics on police brutality. of course most victims of it are non-white. everyone knows that, which is what makes renee's post so irrelevant. but you are saying in your post that the reason for this is that white people [as in the police, i think you mean? but then, you haven't looked at the infraction rates among police of color, have you?] "lack empathy for non-white victims of abuse." as in, (1) the problem is a racial problem insofar we're talking about crimes inflicted on nonwhites by whites, and that racial difference is indeed a motivating or aggravating factor, i.e., the police abuse nonwhites because they view nonwhites as less human or something, and (2) that the problem continues because the white citizenry fails to demand such police be prosecuted, because they "lack empathy" for the victims. but macon, the victims of police brutality tend to be POOR. one symptom of our racist country is that disproportionate numbers of blacks and latinos are poor. ergo, disproportionate numbers of the victims of police brutality are also going to be members of those racial groups. if the success of shows like COPS shows us anything, it's that the people americans don't like to empathize with are defined by their class. it's that they're poor, that they're uneducated, that they're TRASHY that makes whites and blacks and latinos and asians and everyone else "lack empathy."

    now failing to acknowledge that, macon, is another way to lack empathy. white people who don't see that, who fail to realize how little "empathy" (and my god, is "empathy" the problem? do we live in a nation dependent upon emotional largesse rather than of statutes, of laws?) they have for the poor, are also people of privilege. so since this is a blog about "stuff white people do," macon, my issue is that you seem to feel some stake in making out your situation to be the situation most whites enjoy. why are you so bent around writing off your extreme lack of empathy as "white training"? it seems clear that you have been pretty lucky ... luckier than most whites, in fact. so if you don't know what most whites go through, because you've been living in a different world from them, then why don't you just be quiet about it? when you post statements to the effect that most white people "trust the police" (another of your gems), you are writing things that are hurtful. it hurts people who are more poor than you, who aren't a part of your privileged class, to be preached to by you about how good they have it. it's obnoxious.

    i know it's not hard to replace the word "anonymous" with a made-up name, "macon." i just don't feel like doing it and don't see what difference it makes. if that gives you the excuse you're probably looking for to justify censoring me, i'm happy to provide it. i'll make you a deal. post this last post by me and from now on i'll shut up, i promise.

  11. @ Anon,
    Racism not only creates white on non-white lack of empathy it also creates non-white on non-white lack of empathy in terms of policy brutality causing many black and other POC to believe that the person of color deserved what happened.

    Black cops also mistreat black criminals because it's less likely in their minds that that "criminal" has a DA as a father or chief of police or a politician. Therefore, when a cop makes an arrest (they have the discretion not to keep in mind) they weigh the chances of what they can get away with. If that girl had been white, the cop in the video probably would have called her parents before locking her up--after all, she's only 15 years old right. But also he wouldn't have had abused her in the same way because there's always a chance he and/or his department could get sued.

    Racism takes away everyone's humanity. Just as it was easy to see people as mere property 150 years ago--it's just as easy today to see someone as less than human and deserving of a severe beating.

  12. macon,

    You can set up your blog to not accept ANONYMOUS comments, to make it so that anyone who posts has to do it with a name.

    There is nothing wrong with requiring those who post to give himself/herself a name, an [false] identity--this allows for an easier following of the conversation/debate/argument, and for one to respond to a particular person's comment.

  13. I hate to be off topic, but you should watch this video Macon D:

  14. Thanks Chrissy, yes, Drop the Rock!

    Rehabilitation instead of punishment? Who'da thunk it! To think we might someday be that civilized.

    (And as always, Amy Goodman rocks.)

  15. What I shall post below is slightly off-topic, but nonetheless in line with the video (a teenage girl of colour being beaten by two 150-plus pound armed men):

    Women in Prison: Where do we Draw the Line?

    Minorities are being incarcerated at increasingly alarming rates in the United States; however, female minority incarcerations have spiked, in recent times. Within this heart-wrenching escalation lies wrongful convictions – yet another addition to the Prison Industrial Complex. While researching avenues of freedom for two wrongfully convicted women in Mississippi, Jamie and Gladys Scott, I’ve come across many alarming statistics of female minority incarcerations within the Prison Industrial Complex. Through my years of research, I’ve realized that Jamie and Gladys are not the only women suffering at the hands of America’s Prison Industrial Complex.

    In a column titled, “Perversion of Justice: Gulag America,” Rudy Amanda, an investigative journalist, states that “female incarceration rates jumped 64% from 1995 to 2006.” Stunning! This only makes one imagine the percentages of wrongful convictions within this population. My years of research with the wrongful conviction of The Scott Sisters, led to reviewing transcripts of their trial and has been a life-changing event for me, as well as, others.

    In 1994, Jamie and Gladys Scott were wrongfully convicted in the state of Mississippi. A corrupt sheriff used coercion, threats, and harassment to convict the Scott Sisters of armed robbery. This case is an intriguing one, with transcripts stating that perhaps 9, 10, or 11 dollars was stolen. It’s important to note that no one was murdered or injured, in the alleged robbery. One of the state’s witnesses, a 14 year old, testified that he did not have an attorney present when signing a statement prepared by the sheriff; he also testified that he did not read the statement.

    The prosecution argued that on the night of December 24, 1993, Gladys and Jamie Scott, along with two minors and one young adult male planned and conducted the armed robbery. The prosecution also argued that the sisters were the masterminds behind this robbery. These facts were argued and substantiated with conflicting witness testimony and continuous leading questions - all allowed by the Trial Court. On direct examination it became apparent that the alleged victims failed to link the Scott Sisters to the commission of the robbery.

    Jamie and Gladys Scott have served 14 years of double-life sentences, thus far, for a robbery they did not commit. That’s Double Life Each! The Scott sisters, with no prior convictions before their sentencing, now wallow in the belly of the Prison Industrial Complex.

    The emotional strain this burden has placed upon their family is immeasurable. Their children, grandchildren, and mother have been forced to wade in the waters of financial-hardship. Their father, though a strong man, passed away, following the illegal incarceration of his two beautiful daughters...

  16. I just came upon your blog. As a white person in a similar process as you, simply trying to understand racism in the best way I can, I find this site very valuable already.

    That officer makes me sick to my stomach. I think it's interesting to mention the mentally disabled man that was shot. I remember when that happened. That's another issue that is largely ignored by the media when mentally disabled people are constantly harassed, killed, or wrongfully imprisoned by the American law system. That officer should be fired even if the court rules in favor of him. He doesn't deserve to carry a gun, the power obviously consumes his actions.

    I haven't read that far back in your posts yet and was just curious if you've been following the Oscar Grant case. Your post reminded me of that case as it was one that was strongly fought for by Color of Change.

    Anyways, I'll def. be keeping an eye on your blog now and then. Keep the thoughts rolling whether they may be only half-thoughts or not.

  17. redcatbiker, I don't think that sad, disgusting story is at all off topic. As Renee pointed out in her post on Malika Calhoun, the abuse of black women at the hands of the police and the rest of the justice system needs more exposure. It's wrong that when attention does get paid to victims of racist abuse by authorities, the victims we hear about, and thus form a general image of, always seem to be black men. The Jamie and Gladys Scott case is infuriating, and impossible to imagine if they'd been white instead of black. (There's a petition for their release here, though I don't know how active it still is.)

    Regarding Anonymous commenters, thanks for pointing out why they're a problem--it can get confusing when several such comments appear in one thread. The pestilence hasn't been quite bad enough, though, to turn off the function allowing such comments. Maybe I'll do what Kit did, which is to add a note above the comment box requesting named comments.

    Glad you like the blog, Lily. Yes, I am aware of Oscar Grant's case, and like others, I await Mehserle's trial, and hope that he'll get what he deserves, and that the incident provokes widespread systemic analysis of racist presumptions and actions by police, like that undertaken by the Denver Police Department.

  18. While I am horrified at the actions taken by these police officers in the case of Malika and Oscar...what interests me is how widely circulated these stories are. Yes - police brutality happens on a daily basis, to people of all color, but more often to people of color.

    And it's important that these attacks are getting news coverage and national exposure. Our law enforcement should not be allowed to hide behind their badges and NOT have videos publicly aired when they choose to enact violence unjustly against prisoners or suspects.

    I think it's important that videos of the violence played a large part in why both Malika and the relatives of Oscar Grant may actually be able to seek justice against this obvious abuse of power.

    It gives me some hope that there might BE justice.

    And revisits the idea of police accountability. Who watches the cops? The public, and we have got to KEEP our eyes on them. Because they are responsible and beholden to us. Just as government should be transparent - the way in which law enforcement wields it's authority needs to have the weight of the public constantly bearing down on it.

    Because many white people don't believe in this type of injustice...until they see it. So let's keep making sure people CAN see it.

  19. I am a black woman that worked in the municipal bldg in my area, a lot of cops come thru there and I heard a white officer telling another fellow officer that he and a lot of his boys downhome live for the opportunity to work in a predom. black area to put some of these niggers in check. A lot of officers as with a LOT of white folks, assume that what they see on tv, read about, or think they know of black people is true. So they get in the way of thinking that all black folks are up to no good so when they catch one doing something wrong, they almost relish the opportunity and if the extra opportunity arises to use force they do it to the utmost.

  20. i've been buried in work so i just became aware of this story and i'm horrified. it's the same as oscar grant, the young girl in texas who was attacked on her parents' property by three unidentified policemen, the black teenaged girl who was beaten by her school security guard, etc.

    there is a serious problem in our police departments and those who can't see that are being deliberately blind.

  21. I've heard so many stories of police brutality that I have come to really fear them now. When I'm driving and I see a cop car nearby I get soooo nervous.

  22. I guess that dude was having a bad day, lol. Maybe she got the respect she deserved, or maybe that cop needs to understand self control and it's necessity in the line of duty. Respect goes both ways and this episode clearly illustrates what happens when people decide its ok to do what ever they want.

  23. It's official that white people lack empathy for non-whites according to this study:

    Sad but this doesn't suprise me in this predominately white society. This cop failed to see this teen girl as his daughter during a teen tantrum. How would he feel if his daughter had been beaten like this by a police officer?


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