Real Talk | Another look at racial double standards

Real Talk | Another look at racial double standards

It's time to revisit racial double standards.

I first addressed this topic Dec. 4, 2016. Now 16 months later, a couple of recent racial discrepancies spurred my desire to re-address race-based privilege and its flipside, racial discrimination or implicit anti-black bias and implicit white favoritism.

The first area of double standards I want to examine is police killings.

On August 7, 2014, San Diego's police officers responded to a 911 call and found a gun wielding and an allegedly suicidal Lance Tamayo seated in his car. After 15 minutes of negotiation, Tamayo exited his car. However, instead of surrendering, he "pointed his gun recklessly at various people in the park," including children and police. Tamayo repeatedly refused to comply with commands to drop his weapon, so Officer Michael Weaver shot him in the abdomen. Tamayo fell but quickly sat up. Allegedly because his weapon was within reach, police spent another 45 minutes negotiating with him before subduing him with non-lethal rounds.

A similar event took place in Champaign on July 12, 2018. University of Illinois student, 23-year-old Samuel Applebaum approached UI police officers Ezzard "Chuck" Hoskins and A.J. Martin and Champaign County sheriff's deputy Cory Christensen while apparently pointing a gun at them. Applebaum, like Tamayo, refused to obey repeated orders to put his gun down. As he continued moving toward the officers they fired several shots, hitting Applebaum once in the leg. After he went down, the officers stopped firing. They quickly applied a tourniquet and called for an ambulance.

The Tamayo and Applebaum incidents represent what I would term good policing. Unfortunately, the restraint and compassion displayed by the officers in these two cases are reserved for white people. When it comes to black people, police shoot quickly, often, and with deadly intent. They aim "center mass" and in their lingo, "fire until the threat is eliminated."

Three months after Tamayo was arrested, Cleveland police Officer Timothy Loehmann leapt out of a moving vehicle and shot 12-year-old Tamir Rice within two seconds of arriving on the scene. Loehmann and fellow Officer Frank Garmback claim Rice reached for his weapon instead of obeying. Neither Loehmann nor Garmback administered first aid. Rice died the next day.

Like Applebaum, the African-American child possessed a pellet pistol. Nonetheless, their fates were quite different. Race and class explain the difference.

Whites and especially police officers associate blackness with criminality. Additionally, as Phillip Atiba Goff et al demonstrate in "Not Yet Human: Implicit Knowledge, Historical Dehumanization, and Contemporary Consequences" both also dehumanize blacks, often associating them with apes.

Implicit anti-black biases along with implicit white favoritism account for the disparate and often deadly outcomes for African-Americans relative to European Americans.

Black victims of police killings are also slayed a second time. Authorities and the media usually murder their image. The media consistently echoes the police's self-interested and stereotyped representation of African-American men as dangerous violent thugs and beasts in need of control.

Former Ferguson, Mo., police Officer Darren Wilson described Michael Brown, saying, he "looked like a demon ... made a grunting, like aggravated sound" and it "looked like he was almost bulking up to run through the shots."

In instances involving the killing of a black person, by police or others, the media immediately follow the police's lead and report the dead person's criminal record, if he or she has one and if not, the records of parents or close relatives.

One such instance is The News-Gazette's coverage of the July 21 murder of Martez Taylor. In Mary Schenk's initial article, the last two paragraphs describe Taylor's arrests and convictions. However, less than a week later, she wrote another article. This time she expanded on his life. In the July 25 story we learn Taylor attended college on a football scholarship, but his dream was derailed by a leg injury. There, we discover he provided essential financial support for several relatives.

Normally, the story of black folks whose lives were taken by violence ends with a negative account of their life in the local newspaper. A re-visitation like Schenk's second article is rare. More often black victims are vilified, especially in online comments.

Chris Quinn, president and editor of Advance Ohio, stated that he closed the comments about Rice because, "Just about every piece we published about Tamir immediately became a cesspool of hateful, inflammatory or hostile comments."

How can we abolish racial double standards in policing?

One way is increased training that emphasizes making officers aware of the implicit anti-black bias and implicit white favoritism that undergrids their racial socialization. Training that provides them with knowledge of the African-American and Latinx historical experiences, especially the relationship between historic and contemporary policing practices also helps. As does the repetition of skills that stress following the law, applying de-escalation techniques, and treating everyone with fairness and dignity.

Yet, these types of reforms can only have a limited impact on police behavior.

Derrick Bell's theory of interest convergence posits, "whites will promote racial advances for blacks only when they also promote white self-interest." Applying Bell's theory to police killings suggests that not until officers treat whites like Tamayo and Applebaum like they do blacks like Rice, Philando Castile, Laquan McDonald, Rekia Boyd and Tanisha Taylor will white people support efforts to transform the police.

Sundiata Cha-Jua is a professor of African-American studies and history at the University of Illinois and is a member of the North End Breakfast Club. His email is schajua@gmail.com.

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