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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Essay on Addressing the Problem of Cultural Diversity in Law Enforcement

Prior to the enactment of civil rights legislations, the public consciousness accepted segregation and discrimination in the society.  People were brought up in an environment which tolerated the concept of superiority of one race over the other.  It was normal for a person not be accepted for employment or not to be given selected for promotion on account of a person’s race.  Politicians could win the support of the people by declaring in public that he is a racist.  Moreover, racist remarks were a common thing.   Before these laws were passed, the society largely depended on courts and politicians for changes to be made.  

            The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and 1991 has changed the consciousness of the entire society.  Now racism and discrimination in the entire society are a thing of the past.  Recently a Television personality became the talk of the town when he uttered racist remarks against a black woman.  Politicians no longer openly declare that they are racists.  Oftentimes they have to hide their racist intention to win the support of the public 

            The Civil Rights Act of 1964 is considered as one of the most important piece of legislation in the 20th Century.   It was enacted as a response to the growing racial tension involving the African Americans who were subjected to discrimination by the white Americans.  (John B. Smith, 2004, p.1)  Although slavery had been abolished during these times, a series of laws, called the Jim Crow Laws, were however passed in some part of the United States as a means to perpetuate slavery.  These laws provided for the separation of treatment between them. (Juan William, 20004, p.2)  It recognized and gave legality to the denial to African Americans of their right to get jobs, to study in schools, to stay in hotels and dine in restaurants. 

            The Civil Rights Act was intended to annul these laws that discriminated against the African Americans.  Its purpose is to protect African Americans from being mistreated in the society and to finally recognize that we are all equals.  Thus, after this law was enacted, President Lyndon Johnson remarked, “Those who are equal before God, shall now also be equal in the polling places, in the classrooms, in the factories, and in hotels, restaurants, movie theaters and other places that provide service to the public." (Tim Funk, 2004, p.1)

            Despite these laws, however, discrimination continues to persist in mainstream America.  The elimination, however of racial discrimination requires competent, neutral and responsive law enforcement agencies (“Racism and Public Policy Conference”, 2001, p.1).  Police departments are expected to treat every person fairly and without regard to his race or nationality.  However, in some societies it is possible that police departments may themselves constitute part of the problem of racism.  They have been accused many times of using excessive force and threat against the minority.  They also use the color of skin as basis for arresting a person.  This practice is now known as racial profiling.  Some police departments even discriminate against a member of the police department simply because of the color of his skin. 

            This essay seeks to discuss the sensitive issue of cultural differences in law enforcement and how the police department should address this problem.  The objective of this essay is to show that severe consequences to the police department and to the city when racial discrimination is tolerated and to show that something can be done to eliminate racial discrimination. 

Identify the Problem
            There are many reasons why every member of the police department should be trained to become sensitive to the race of the city.  Because the police department itself is a community, every member of the police department should be sensitive to their own differences.  Since the law enforcement officials are tasked with the role of ensuring that laws are not violated it is expected that they should be the first ones to understand and respect the each other.  They must be able to work with each other.  They should do so regardless of their own cultural differences.  It must be stressed that discriminatory policies within the police department itself is very damaging to the effective implementation of the law.  When there is discrimination within the police department itself, tension starts to build up among the law enforcement officers within the department.  This tension eventually affects the performance of the responsibility by the police officers to the public.  Thus, it is the public that suffers from the misunderstandings created by the discriminatory policy that exist in the workplace.  Oftentimes, these discriminatory policies do not only destroy relationship but they also expose the city and the police department to liability for its discriminatory policy.  The liability that may be imposed against the city, as the employer of the law enforcement officer, should not be taken for granted since they diver the funds that are supposed to be used for better benefits and new and better equipment by the police.  

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            For instance, according to the Law Reporter, a member of the Los Angeles Police Department’s bomb squad filed a case against the city for racial discrimination, harassment and retaliation for raising the issue of discrimination.  He claimed that as an African American he was subjected to racial slurs and degrading comments within the department.  He was also told that he was not qualified and not wanted in the bomb squad.  In addition, he was denied safety equipment and exposed to a risk of death or great bodily harm during an exercise to destroy unstable explosives when a member of the squad detonated on a bomb range before he reached the designated safety area.  The jury awarded him $5.34 million (“Police officer subjected to racial slurs, denied safety equipment: Racial discrimination: Retaliation: Posttraumatic stress disorder: Verdict”, 2001, p.1) 

            The root cause of this problem is the lack of sensitivity to cultural differences within the police department.  These cases are already common and will continue to happen unless something is done about it. It must be stressed that these cases reflect the attitude of the police department not only to a fellow police officer but even to the rest of the city which it represents. 

            Moreover, it is not only essential for every law enforcement officer to be sensitive to each other’s differences.  Since they implement the law, they should show understanding, respect and willingness to communicate and represent all segments of the population.  If the members of the public do not feel that the law enforcement officers are fair in the implementation of the law the relationship is may deteriorate which may result to civil disorders and unrest. 

            On December 17, 1979, Arthur McDuffie, an African American, led several police officers on a chase.  According to police officers, McDuffie had accumulated traffic citations and was driving without a suspended license.  When McDuffie lost control of his vehicle he attempted to flee on foot.  After a brief but violent scuffle, McDuffie’s skull got cracked which led to his death four days after.  The police officers were charged but were subsequently acquitted.  A riot ensued which is now known as the Liberty City riot. The riot was considered one of the worse in the United States until the Rodney King incident. 

            A letter more than one (1) decade after, the police brutality motivated by race once again happened.  On March 3, 1991, Rodney King led a group of LAPD police officers on a high-speed car chase in San Fernando Valley.  Once cornered, King and his friends were pulled over and ordered to move out of the car.  King was subsequently beaten by the LAPD officers.  King suffered 56 baton strokes, was kicked in the head and body and was stunned by a stun gun (“Shielded from Justice: Police Brutality and Accountability in United States”, 1998, p.2). 

Apparently, the scene could have just been one of those alleged incidents of police brutality which the public could have been brushed aside, except for the fact that an amateur photographer caught a portion of the beating on tape.  The tape was subsequently shown around the world exposing the extent of force and violence law enforcement officers may employ against an unarmed individual. 

            After the beating of Rodney King, an independent commission known as the Christopher Commission, which was headed by Warren Christopher, was formed by then mayor Tom Bradley in order to conduct its own investigation.  The commission concluded that racism, police brutality and sexism were widespread in the LAPD.  .  On April 29, 1992, the police officers involved were acquitted by the state court.  This triggered one of the worst riots in American History (“Rodney King: Reluctant Symbol of Police Brutality”, 2001).  After the riot fifty four (54) people were killed, two thousand three hundred eighty three (2383) were injured and thirteen thousand two hundred twelve (13,213) were arrested, property damages was estimated to be at seven hundred Million ($700 M) (“Shielded from Justice: Police Brutality and Accountability in United States”, 1998).   

            These are just some of the civil disorders that have resulted from police-citizen conflicts.   The root cause of this problem is racial bias.  Because the predominantly white police officers harbor ill feelings against African Americans, some of them have overstepped their boundaries in stopping crime.  Needless to say, these events were very costly as it resulted in deaths, personal injuries, and property losses.  In addition, these civil disorders cause serious damage to the relationship between police and the citizens.  These events however are not inevitable.  Research says that 90% of the major civil disorders in the United States history which resulted from police-citizen conflicts could have been avoided. 

            Even when misunderstandings between the police and the citizen do not result in civil disorder, it may also lead to undesirable outcomes which both the police and the citizen would want to avoid.  For instance, Dr. Lour Harris of Faulkner University cites the situation which happened in California August 1999 where a man from Tonga, a South Pacific Island, was arrested and charged with driving under the influence of kava.  It appeared that the man from Tonga was driving in a reckless manner and admitted that he was under the influence of Kava.  It turned out that kava is often used by Tongans, Samoans and Fujians to relax the body.  It is also used for medicinal and spiritual purposes and to treat disorders of the body.  Charges were however dismissed against the Tongan.  The court chided the police officer because of his lack of understanding of the cultural tradition among Tongans. 

This case is a typical example of a non-violent conflict that may result from a cultural misunderstanding of police officers.  While this case may not result to death, personal injury or damage to property, events like case damage to public trust and public confidence on the police officers.  They also destroy years of hard word by law enforcement officers dedicated to improve relationship with the public.   

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