• J.R. Lonsway

Racism In Policing?

I've read a manifesto presented by the Department of Government at New Mexico State University proclaiming that the faculty adds their voice to "...the widespread denunciation of systemic police brutality toward African-Americans...and all other innocent victims killed over many years by racist law enforcement officers, too often with legal impunity and the reflexive support of their departments."

I know liberals love to embrace the emotions of the moment, and the media has long supported the narrative that police in the USA target blacks, but let's look at actual numbers. In other words, let's deal with facts.

A police officer in the United States of America is 18.5 times more likely to be murdered by an African-American male than an unarmed African-American male is to be killed by a cop.

Police killings of blacks declined more than 70% between the 1960s and the 2010s.

In roughly 75% of fatal police shootings, the decedent is not black. In fact, when the police use deadly force with a firearm, nearly twice the number of people killed are white.

The argument against the preceding statistic is that African-Americans constitute only 13% of the population but are roughly one-fourth of the suspects shot by police. True. But it is also a fact that African-Americans commit 53% of the homicides in the United States and 60% of the robberies, and most of that is done by the 6.5% that are black males.

The number one cause of preventable death for a young white male is accident; for a young black male in the same age group, the number one cause is homicide.

I've read plenty of editorials written by white male journalists self-flagellating at the altar of White Guilt, writing things like All Lives Can't Matter until Black Lives Matter. What they never address is the fact that black males are killing each other at unprecedented rates, have been for decades, and nothing, absolutely nothing, is being done about it in the Democratic-controlled cities where the slaughtering occurs. There should be national outrage over this but instead the finger is pointed at the police.

Now, let's address this systemic police racism issue at the local level, in other words at LCPD. I served 22 years, from 1979-2001. No cop during that span ever shot an African-American. Since I retired, two men, one in 2018 whose father was African-American, and another in 2005, an armed bank robber, have been shot. That's 41 years with two shootings of black males.

In the 22 years I served, I did not once ever hear about or know any officer who did his/her job any differently because of the race of a suspect/victim/witness. If there was systemic racism in the LCPD twenty years ago, it would be there today. And if it was there twenty years ago, it would have been there in 1979 when I joined up. Never saw it. It wasn't there then and it isn't there now.

In eight minutes and forty-six seconds, Derek Chauvin set law enforcement back sixty years. I don't know what he was thinking while he kneeled on George Floyd's neck for that length of time (interesting to note that Floyd was standing when he first complained about not being able to breathe--check out articles on Wooden Chest Syndrome as related to fentanyl, a drug Floyd had in his system). What Chauvin did is inexcusable, and he will pay for it, but linking his actions to every cop across America is as nonsensical as me saying that any African-American that ever took a university course in government, and failed or received less than a passing grade, or had to drop the course because the professor made it too hard, constitutes systemic racism for all government professors in the country.

Pick any twenty-four hour period of any day of the week and consider the million plus contacts that occur between police and citizens in that time span (there are approximately 375 million police/citizen contacts annually). Per month, that is 30+ million police/citizen interactions, and yet on average there are less than 1,000 police shootings. Given the availability of firearms, the fact that many people the police deal with are intoxicated with alcohol/drugs, are mentally ill, engaged in criminal activity, are armed with weapons other than firearms, and given the nature of the calls police respond to, which are often volatile, and the levels of violence willfully perpetrated against police, it's a wonder those numbers aren't much higher. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that great restraint is being used.

I can't even begin to tell you the number of times I had suspects of all races play the game of placing their hands behind their back, or under their T-shirt, or in their pocket, and refuse to show me their hands as commanded while telling me they had a gun. They'd tell me to shoot them, or threaten to shoot me if I came any closer. And sometimes they were armed and sometimes not, but we never knew until we took them into custody. Nearly every time we could talk them into cooperating, but sometimes not and then another officer, at great personal risk, would come running out of the dark and tackle the suspect while his partner distracted him. This scenario unfolds every night in every jurisdiction across this country.

I've never known a government professor, journalist, or politician to get down on the ground and fight a violent suspect, or chase an armed robber down a dark alleyway at night, or make a decision to shoot or not shoot based on the aggressive actions of an armed suspect. Much easier, I suppose, to sit in an air-conditioned office behind a keyboard passing judgment on those who must make snap decisions with limited information in life-or-death situations and label them racist or accuse them of acting with legal impunity doing a job none of them will ever possess the eggs to perform.

But that's life, isn't it?

J.R. Lonsway served 22 years with the Las Cruces, New Mexico, police department and retired as a Deputy Chief of Police. After retirement he served with the U.S. Department of State as a police advisor in Kosovo, Afghanistan, Liberia, Haiti, Lebanon, and South Sudan. He is a former U.S. Marine.

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