This week’s vice presidential debate ended up being much spicier that most of us expected. What should have been a carefully curated discussion between two seasoned politicians ended up being a barrage of insults and interruptions, with a few policy points scattered in between.
One of the most shocking statements to come out of the debate centered on the criticism police face in light of recent shootings. When asked, “Do we ask too much of police officers in this country?” Pence responded:
“The Fraternal Order of Police… hear[s] the bad mouthing, the bad mouthing that comes from people that seize upon tragedy in the wake of police action shootings as — as a reason to — to use a broad brush to accuse law enforcement of — of implicit bias or institutional racism. And that really has got to stop…. I just think what we ought to do is we ought to stop seizing on these moments of tragedy. We ought to assure the public that we’ll have a full and complete and transparent investigation whenever there’s a loss of life because of police action. But, Senator [Kaine], please, you know, enough of this seeking every opportunity to demean law enforcement broadly by making the accusation of implicit bias every time tragedy occurs” (emphasis my own).
Now, for whatever you might say about Tim Kaine’s performance at this debate (and I’ll agree it was a little off-putting), his response was perfection:
“…People shouldn’t be afraid to bring up issues of bias in law enforcement. And if you’re afraid to have the discussion, you’ll never solve it.”
Are we seriously talking about this?
Implicit bias is a reality in America. Just for example, did you read that the Supreme Court heard arguments on Wednesday in the case of Duane Buck, a convicted murderer who was sentenced to death after the jury heard “expert” testimony that his race makes him more likely to commit violent crimes in the future. Did I mention Buck is black?
If we live in a society so permeated by racism, why would we assume the police are immune to it? Why wouldn’t we make note of a pattern of discrimination against blacks by the police when…
- “A black driver is about 31 percent more likely to be pulled over than a white driver, or about 23 percent more likely than a Hispanic driver” (Washington Post)?
- And when “black Americans are 2.5 times as likely as white Americans to be shot and killed by police officers” (Washington Post)?
Think you’re unbiased? Take Harvard’s test, which “measures the strength of associations between concepts (e.g., black people, gay people) and evaluations (e.g., good, bad) or stereotypes (e.g., athletic, clumsy).” I certainly did. Turns out, I’m biased, too.
But doesn’t recognizing your own biases and analyzing them provide a starting point for personal growth? Doesn’t it make us question our assumptions and the morality of such? Why shouldn’t we ask the police to study their biases about certain populations? It’s not an admonishment as much as a prerequisite to actually keeping all citizens of our communities safe.
I’m just sick of seeing videos like this, capturing the police using excessive force against black men and women:
This week, a white North Carolina police officer punched Dejuan Yourse while sitting on the front porch of his mother’s home. Criminal charges are not being filed against the officer whose department admitted he violated its “use of force” policy.
This isn’t the first time Pence has made the claim that there’s too much talk of “institutional racism and institutional bias,” referring to these assertions as “rhetoric of division.”
No, Governor Pence, what’s divisive is a police force that repeatedly meets non-violent situations involving black citizens with violent force, and we won’t stop talking about racial bias where it clearly exists. If you want to stop talking about the problem, let’s fix it first.