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'Black Cops’ Are Not Considered Sufficient Police Reform

The brutal encounter of Tyre Nichols, who was pepper sprayed, shocked with a stun gun, and beaten with batons by five Black cops in Memphis, squashed any lingering notions that diversity is the answer to the age-old problem with police violence, reports Capital B News. After Michael Brown was killed by a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo., in 2015, there was much conversation about diversifying police forces in majority Black communities. In the aftermath of George Floyd’s death in 2020, the conversation shifted to leadership as Black police officers were hired and promoted as chiefs. During that time, there’s been little change in the rate of police fatalities. Last November, 255 people were killed by police, the highest number for that month in five years, according to the Mapping Police Violence database. “Just because they are Black … that’s not enough,” said Dwonna Goldstone, a history professor and director of African American Studies at Texas State University. “The system has to be changed, and until they’re willing to change how they police, and especially police communities of color, we’ll have this conversation again.”

Black officers represent about 17 percent of the police force, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, while “first-line supervisors of detectives and police” represent less than five percent. As far back as the 1970s, an Office of Justice Programs report noted, “one study has concluded that both white and black officers are more likely to use force unduly against citizens of their own race.” Details from the 42-year-old report wouldn’t surprise Dr. Amanda Calhoun, a psychiatry resident at the Yale School of Medicine and Yale Child Study Center. “Throughout history, we have always had Black people who have upheld and perpetuated white supremacy. … In order for white supremacy to function, optimally, you have to have Black people helping it,” she said. When it comes to the Nichols case, the makeup of the Memphis Police Department seems to be diverse, with blacks making up 58 percent of the department’s commissioned officers. Police Chief Cerlyn Davis is a Black woman. That’s a symbolic feat that Keith Taylor, a former New York City police officer and retired assistant commissioner for the city’s Department of Correction, says “doesn’t change the culture of the agency.” The first generation of Black officers were essentially “doormen” with no access to leadership roles where their presence could make a difference, said Taylor. It took generations of Black officers to begin making changes within law enforcement agencies and reducing racism within the ranks. However, clear biases still present in policing have led to some officers leaving the profession altogether.


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