I’ve been watching with detached bemusement the recent dustup over U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ order that all consent decrees between the U.S. government and local police forces be reviewed, with an eye towards abrogating as many of them as possible, including the one in place here in Cleveland. It’s not that I take lightly the issues — police brutality and killings — that caused the decrees to be negotiated in the first place, it’s just that I have my reservations in regards to their effectiveness in terms of reforming police departments, here in Cleveland or elsewhere.
While the jury is (to some degree) still out in regards to the effectiveness of the consent decrees in cities where they have been in effect for years, the bottom line is that these are legal documents to be wrangled over by lawyers in federal courtrooms (which are, by and large, pretty safe places), but the brutal ass-kickings and trigger-happy police shootings take place out in the mean streets of America. And therein the difference lies, that’s the real disconnect.
The fact is, some cops — like Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association president Steve Loomis — figuratively wipe their asses with consent decrees. To rogue cops they mean nothing. They are secure in the knowledge that at the end of the day, if they are accused of wrongdoing, it’s going to be a jury that decides if they are going to be held accountable or not. And just like what happened in South Carolina — where a cop shot a black man in the back as he ran away — American juries virtually are always going to give them a pass, and in some jurisdictions might even want to take up a collection to buy them more bullets.
The simple fact is, America is still America, and the racial divide in this country is so great that it’s really impossible to hire white cops to patrol black neighborhoods who are not infected with implicit biases. Study after study has shown that even the most racially enlightened white cops, who would say they don’t have a racist bone in their body, harbor subconscious biases when it comes to black males. They quite literally can’t help it if they are so infected; it really isn’t their fault. This is the country slavery has created.
The best we can hope for is, that over time, white cops become less gung-ho — less prone to shoot first and ask questions later — when patrolling neighborhoods of color. But it’s still questionable if consent decrees can effectuate this change in mindset, or if the change will have to come from another form of change … a change of attitude of white Americans.
Black folks in this country can’t stop the police killings with marches, protests and righteous opprobrium (if so, it would have been accomplished by now). No, if the brutality is to be halted it’s going to be up to whites to quit making heroes out of killer cops by giving them a free pass. If white Americans withdraw their approval of such beastly behavior, if they make pariahs out of cops who hold black lives in such utter disregard, the killings — for the most part — will stop.
I say “for the most part” because sometimes a killing is completely justified; cops do have a right to go home safely to their families at their end of their shifts, just like everyone else. The question is, how do black and female cops manage to safely go home night after night, usually without killing anyone?
So, in summation, the most effective method of police reform will not come from consent decrees; real reform will come from having more female police officers and officers of color on forces across the country. And if the white dudes don’t like this, tough shit.
From Cool Cleveland correspondent Mansfield B. Frazier mansfieldfATgmail.com. Frazier’s From Behind The Wall: Commentary on Crime, Punishment, Race and the Underclass by a Prison Inmate is available in hardback. Snag your copy and have it signed by the author at http://NeighborhoodSolutionsInc.com