Police aren’t implicitly biased against Black people or anybody else

Published 4:27 pm Tuesday, February 21, 2023

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To the Editor:

The killing of a Black man by five police officers in Memphis, Tennessee has once again stirred up cries for our federal government to legislate national police policy reforms. But I wonder: Is the problem current police policies or the people we employ as police?

On February 7 (2023), 29-year-old Tyre Nichols was arrested and subsequently brutally beaten and tased by five [former] officers of the Memphis Police Department. On February 10, Nichols died from his injuries. The five officers now charged with murdering Nichols, are all Black. Interestingly, all five accused officers are pleading “Not guilty.”

Many citizens – of different racial, cultural, social economic and religious backgrounds – believe Tyre Nichols’ death proves, again, that police officers have too much authority to unleash violent and sometimes deadly force, on citizens. These advocates for police reforms believe the police are a threat to citizens – especially citizens of color. I believe no credible law enforcement agency condones its officers killing unarmed citizens in unprovoked attacks.

On the other side of the debate are citizens who support current police policies. Pro-law enforcement advocates consider incidents like Tyre Nichols, George Floyd and similar cases, to be the actions of “rogue” officers. This group believes law enforcement officers should get every benefit of the doubt because they risk their lives to “serve and protect” the general population.

As the debate over police policy reforms continues, the question remains: If most Americans believe police policy reforms are needed, what should they be? To answer that question, I think we should consider some data that’s hard to debate.

In a June 2020 article for National Public Radio, Rashawn Ray of the Brookings Institute and the University of Maryland, shared findings from tests and interviews with “hundreds” of police officers. The conclusion was that police officers, “regardless of their race or gender, have similar implicit biases, particularly about Black people.” It should go without saying but I will say it: Many law enforcement officers are not implicitly biased against Black people or anybody else.

I’m on public record as being pro-law enforcement. As a Black man living in the South, I have known many great men and women in law enforcement. The officers I know perform their duties with integrity and respect for all citizens. But that’s my experience. Other people, of all races, have had bad encounters with law enforcement officers, and I honor their experiences as I do my own.

I’m also on record saying: When law enforcement officers break the law, they should face the same consequences of punishment that “regular” citizens face. It’s simply not true that you have to either be “for” or “against” law enforcement officers.

Here are my thoughts on police policy reforms. 1. Let’s agree to do a better job of screening out candidates who should never be given a badge, a gun, and legal authority. 2. Let’s encourage and support officers who tell us when their peers abuse their authority. 3. Let’s agree that any police policy reforms cannot be “one size” for all departments and agencies. I think that’s the most unrealistic debate of all.

Edwin Horsley