In Rochester, New York, three African-American high school basketball players waiting on a school bus to transport them to a scrimmage were recently arrested and handcuffed. They had done nothing more sinister than to wait for the bus. The arrest created such an uproar that the Monroe County district attorney eventually decided to drop the charges against the three.
Similarly, a 13-year-old white girl was taken by Houston police from her two African-American male guardians and placed in child protective services. The two men were her dance instructors and the girl’s mother complained that the officers’ actions were fueled by racial bias. Eventually, the police let the teenage girl return to her guardians.
While these two incidents ended without any charges being filed, they nonetheless point to a pattern that seems to show no sign of slowing in the American landscape. Police officers routinely make judgments about citizens based purely on race and their flawed perceptions of the roles people should play as viewed through a skewed racial prism.
The two incidents are particularly egregious. In Rochester, the young basketball players were simply waiting for a bus when confronted by police officers who told them to disperse. They told the officers that they were waiting to be transported to a scrimmage and the officers responded by taking them into custody.
To make matters even worse, their coach arrived on the scene, explaining to the officers that the teenagers were doing precisely what they had been instructed to do. The officers responded by threatening to arrest the coach, who is also African-American.
“As for me, I was ignored and disregarded,” said the coach, Jacob Scott, speaking to BET.com. “I think there needs to be a discussion that our police department needs to have with the community. This takes place all the time and something needs to be done about it.”
At times, the results of such poor judgment can be fatal. In September, a 24-year-old former Florida A&M football player was shot and killed by a police officer after the young man, who was Black, sought help after a car crash.
Coach Scott defined the issue perfectly. Such incidents happen regularly, usually without the glare of media to let the world know the injustice that has taken place. In recent years, there has been a good deal of training with regard to community policing. There is clearly a need for intensified training and, specifically, work on how police officers might better learn to see people of color as they would their white fellow citizens.
Police officers are human beings who bring to their work all the perspectives and biases of anyone else. But, in that line of work, those prejudices need to be dealt with through more comprehensive training. It would help the police to do a better job of carrying out their mission and it would help foster better relationships with the very people whom they seek to protect.
The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.
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(Photo: Guy Solimano/Getty Images)