WHY IT MATTERS: Race and Policing

WASHINGTON (AP) — THE ISSUE: Policing in the United States’ minority communities has been a flashpoint since the deaths of Michael Brown in Missouri, Tamir Rice in Ohio, Sandra Bland in Texas and others. The increasing number of graphic photos and videos depicting the deaths of black men, women and children at the hands of police officers has sparked unrest around the nation. The perception that law enforcement officers are rarely, if ever, punished for what some consider unethical behavior, brutality and even criminal acts against black Americans has led to the rise of new social and civil rights movements like Black Lives Matter.

Police in turn have complained of being unfairly stereotyped as the enemy by minority communities in which they serve. They have noted that they’ve increased monitoring of officer behavior through cameras placed in their vehicles and carried by officers during interactions with the public and increased training for officers and personnel.



Hillary Clinton has been criticized by activists for some of her positions — she once, for example, supported “superpredator” laws that were meant to combat a supposed wave of lawless children. During the Democratic primary she used the phrase “All Lives Matter” — words that some have invoked as pushback against the concerns of Black Lives Matter while others have uttered the phrase without intending to challenge the movement. She’s also expressed regret for talking about superpredators in the past. Clinton has offered proposals, such as legislation that would help end racial profiling, provide federal matching funds for more police body cameras and overhaul mandatory minimum sentencing.

Donald Trump has described himself as the “law and order” candidate. He has said some of the videos and photos depicting the deaths of people of color at the hands of police were “hard to witness,” but has called police “the most mistreated people in this country.” Trump endorsed a former New York City police policy called “stop and frisk” after unrest in Charlotte, North Carolina, over the police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott. A federal judge ruled the procedure violated the rights of minorities.



The relationship between minority communities and majority-white police forces is turning into one of the most visible civil rights issues of this age.

The U.S. has a long history of using law enforcement to enforce now-illegal actions like slavery and segregation, leading to distrust between law enforcement and some of the communities it serves. Increasing numbers of civilian video and photos showing questionable actions by police officers, sometimes contradicting the official account originally released by law enforcement, have eroded trust between law enforcement and parts of the growing diverse population of this country even more.

In addition to sparking movements like Black Lives Matter, the debate over race and policing has helped usher in more monitoring of police through dash cams, body cameras and increased training for officers. Officials also have started pushing for more statistics about police shootings — fatal and nonfatal — in the United States, so the public can have an idea of the numbers involved instead of having to judge through anecdotal evidence.

No matter which candidate wins the presidency, it is unlikely that there will be an immediate change in the relationship between people of color and the police. A president can only do little to bring about a quick change in police-community relationships, given that it’s such a local issue. But police officers and the public might take their cues from an effective leader, who uses the president’s bully pulpit to influence the mood of the country and shape whether the relationship between law enforcement and communities of color strengthens or weakens.


This story is part of AP’s “Why It Matters” series, which will examine three dozen issues at stake in the presidential election between now and Election Day. You can find them at http://apne.ws/2bBG85a

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