Even for black law enforcement officers, it can often be hard to see through the societal gaze and be sympathetic toward the public they serve
The description of the events that led to Gray’s death highlighted the lack of empathy many people have for poor black communities and their residents, even other black people. There were six different officers implicated in Freddie Gray’s death, three of whom are black and one is a woman. At the time, the police commissioner was a black man, the mayor was a black woman and over half of the police department was composed of black officers.
This is significant because unlike Ferguson and many other places that have seen incidents of police brutality, the balance of political power (but not economic resources) and law enforcement is in the hands of black people.
The trial, then, underscores the need for officers to spend time in the vulnerable communities they police doing activities not related to police work, as well as time communicating with the public. What many lack after years of receiving calls is empathy for the residents, which is also a function of racism, classism and white supremacy.
Officers often begin to view the communities they serve by the socially engineered pathology and white supremacist, capitalist-nurtured dysfunction in which they live. Porter and the other officers’ racial backgrounds are irrelevant.
The dehumanizing assumptions made about Gray, based on what he looked like and where he lived, and which led to him being chased in the first place, are of the utmost importance. Only in poor communities, can “eye contact” or running through your own neighborhood be considered probable cause for a search.
Even for people who come from similar backgrounds, it becomes hard to see through the societal gaze and see humanity. I suspect this is why media outlets, both conservative and liberal cheered when they saw “Baltimore mom” Toya Graham repeatedly punch and slap her son in the head.
They didn’t think of the young man as a person, who could be reasoned with. I refuse to judge Ms Graham’s actions, as she was just taking desperate measures to keep her son safe, and has endured challenges many of us probably can’t fathom. However, I doubt she would have been hailed as the “hero mom” had she hugged her young black son rather than hit him.
New police commissioner Kevin Davis is working tirelessly to improve police-community relations and create a culturally sensitive environment within the Baltimore police department. He is implementing a program to that end, which will teach officers about Baltimore’s “immigrant communities, churches, segregation, the port and the history of the police department”.
The officers may attend lectures on African-American history at the Reginald F Lewis Museum. While some think simply recruiting officers of color will change things, Baltimore has forced everyone to recognize that the media racial narrative of the white cop abusing his power in a black community is far too unsophisticated.
Davis is mandating officers get out of their cars and actually interact with the communities they police, but with proper training on how to do so. Commissioner Davis is white and gaining popularity with the community leaders and activists in Baltimore, more than his predecessor, who was black. Davis’s desire to “change mindsets” of law enforcement officials in the city is admirable, but it is an uphill battle, after years of poor relations.
Whether William Porter’s actions – or lack thereof – were criminally negligent is still up in the air after his case ended in a mistrial. But we know Freddie Gray was victimized by far more than just the police.
He was a victim of the inadequate housing for the impoverished residents of Baltimore; housing that resulted in him having elevated levels of lead in his bloodstream. He was a victim of poor schools that push black children out on to the streets. He was a victim of the widespread unemployment rates that plague inner-city Baltimore.
Yet, the rightwing media insist it was his own fault and argued that the frustrations of the people involved in the protests and unrest, which were carried out in the spring without a single fatality, were due to their own depravity and lack of decency.
The liberal media want us to believe that the deaths of black people across the nation are the actions of a few rogue, racist white cops. William Porter’s face, as black as that of Freddie Gray, should cause the media to reckon with their shortsightedness. His moves were obviously not motivated by hatred of black people. However, they could definitely be seen as callous.
The worst part is that, in West Baltimore and cities with poor black communities across the nation, the treatment Freddie Gray received was normal. William Porter may never be found culpable of a crime, but if Baltimore explodes again, consider it a guilty verdict on behalf of the people placed on the entire system.
Jason Nichols is an academic and artist with a range of interests, which include black masculinities, hip-hop music and dance, bullying amongst emerging adults, and black and Latino identities and relations. He is a full-time lecturer in the African American studies department at the University of Maryland College Park and the current editor-in-chief of Words Beats & Life: The Global Journal of Hip-Hop Culture, the first peer-reviewed journal of hip-hop studies. Dr Nichols is also a rap artist who raps under the moniker Haysoos and is one half of the internationally recognised rap group Wade Waters.
Copyright; Guardian News and Media Limited. Reprinted with permission.
This piece was reprinted by EmpathyEducates with permission or license. We thank the Author, Jason Nichols for his kindness, and awareness. EmpathyEducates would also like to express our appreciation for The Guardian and for its mission — being an enduring source of inspiring information and ideas.