Commentary: Can You Have a Police Force With No Black Cops?

Athens, Alabama, is butting heads with the NAACP about its police force’s lack of diversity.

Posted: 08/16/2012 10:47 AM EDT
Filed Under National News, NAACP

With only about 21,000 citizens, the city of Athens, Alabama, isn’t the biggest place in America. In fact, the city is so small that it only requires a police force of 47. Nevertheless, Athens’ diminutive size doesn’t mean it’s any less of a target for controversy. Today, Athens is embroiled in a heated argument with the NAACP, which is taking the city to task for its rather homogeneous police force.

"If you don't say anything about this kind of stuff, it just slips through the cracks," Wilbert Woodruff, president of the Limestone County chapter, told the council, according to the Huntsville Times. "As recently as two years ago, they had an African American. We wanted to re-remind them that the community would like for them to make a better effort as far as showing more diversity in the police department."

As you might expect, the typical racists have come out in droves to argue that it doesn’t matter if a police force has black people on it. Of course, it is a big deal.

African-Americans make up 17.5 percent of Athens, according to the 2010 census. And yet there’s not a single Black officer on the force. That may not seem important to you, but if you know anything about “community oriented policing,” you know that it does matter.

The Department of Justice defines community oriented policing (COP) as “a philosophy that promotes organizational strategies, which support the systematic use of partnerships and problem-solving techniques, to proactively address the immediate conditions that give rise to public safety issues such as crime, social disorder, and fear of crime.” In essence, that’s a fancy way of saying a style of police work that focuses on the community and cops working together to solve problems. One important piece of COP, which has been proven quite effective, is making sure that police have good relationships with the community and thoroughly understand the people they’re guarding. How well can a police force with not a single Black member understand and relate to Athens’ sizable Black community?

Nobody’s saying that Athens needs to hire dozens of African-American cops. But without even a few, they’re not serving and protecting to the best of their ability.


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