Race and Policing

How should policing take place in America? Does it need abolishment, reconstruction, or none of the above?By Published On:
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Introduction

Perhaps the most controversial issue of our time is that of how policing should take place in America, specifically in regards to race. After every killing of an unarmed black man, there is a repeat discussion on whether the police in America is systemically racist, and some go as far as to advocate for the complete abolition of the police as we know it due to their supposed endemic flaws. Democrats usually believe that systemic racism is a central problem in the United States, especially in regards to policing, while Republicans hold that the number of unjustified killings is few and far between and that the individual cases we see on the news are not indicative of a broader trend. Below we will outline the most prominent arguments from either side.

Republican

Republicans are typically against the notion that American police are systemically racist or specifically target and kill minorities. They note that although this issue has taken center stage in the culture wars, it is not that significant in terms of its scope, given that what we see on the news are individual cases, not a broad statistical trend which would be what is required to demonstrate any meaningful case of racism by the part of the police. A commonly cited statistic is from the Washington Post police encounter database, which demonstrably shows that the number of cases where an unarmed black man is shot by the cops is in the single digits — very much to the contrary of the larger narrative which is propagated by the mainstream media. In 2019, the police fatally shot 999 people, 251 of which were black, and of that subset, only twelve were unarmed; as compared with the 26 white unarmed people who were killed — this means that the percentage of black victims is below what the black crime rate would predict. Moreover, a study by Harvard economist Roland Fryer conclusively showed that police are no more likely to kill black suspects, and that police are more likely to shoot whites when accounting for extenuating factors. Furthermore, Republicans are against any defunding of the police and believe strongly in supporting officers through better training programs in the Academy to lead with crucial in-the-moment scenarios.

Democrat

Democrats broadly believe systematic racism plays a severe role in policing. They note that black drivers are 20% more likely to be pulled over than white drivers. The same statistical research revealed that black drivers were searched 1.5-2x more than white drivers, even if white drivers are statistically more likely to be carrying drugs or other illegal items. Disturbingly, black drivers are 5-10% less likely to be stopped at night than during the day. Democrats extrapolate this is because the race of the driver is harder to ascertain in the dark. These figures, combined with the relatively gargantuan black imprisonment rates, lead many Democrats to believe that systematic racism plays a significant role in policing. A few of the more progressive democrats propose "defunding" the police as a solution, while many simply want it reformed. Regardless of race, Democrats also argue that the police, in its current state, is violent and oppressive and needs serious reform. Finally, Democrats contend that systematic racism is thoroughly ingrained in many police departments, and deliberate changes are required to crack down on bias and prevent further harm to the country. Especially with recent events such as The George Floyd Murder and The fatal shooting of Breonna Taylor, awareness has been raised towards this pressing issue and much-needed reform.

Discussion Questions

  • Do you think systematic racism plays a role in policing?
    • If so, to what extent, is it a small or large problem?
  • Why does crime, and thus policing split along racial lines?
    • How can we alleviate this?
      • Education, reparations, police reform?
    • Is it a cultural problem, one due to racism, or something different altogether?

Sources

Fryer, Roland. “An Empirical Analysis of Racial Differences in Police Use of Force.” National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper Series, July 7, 2016. http://www.nber.org/papers/w22399.

New York University. “Research Shows Black Drivers More Likely to Be Stopped by Police.” nyu.edu, May 5, 2020. https://www.nyu.edu/about/news-publications/news/2020/may/black-drivers-more-likely-to-be-stopped-by-police.html.

ProCon.org. “Defund the Police - Top 3 Pros and Cons.” ProCon.org, June 30, 2020. https://www.procon.org/headlines/defund-the-police-top-3-pros-and-cons/.

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