By Frank Barron
Former Coroner of Richland County
During the lengthy period between the abolition of slavery and the end of segregation, the police were all white men. This caused a natural resentment and distrust of the police by black Americans.
After the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which ended segregation and made it unlawful to hire on the bases of race, gender, or ethnicity, the police departments became more representative of all the people, including blacks, Latinos, Hispanics, and women. This change did not happen overnight. Much of the research that has been done on the relationship between the police and the minority neighborhoods was done more than 10 years ago. Although, all the fear and mistrust between the police and the minority population has not been eliminated, there is reason to believe in most parts of our country great improvement has occurred. Obviously in Ferguson Missouri, Baltimore Maryland, Oakland California and some other large cities there is still much to be accomplished. After the Ferguson riots, President Obama said, “In too many communities around the country, a gulf of mistrust exits between local residents and law enforcement.”
In searching for recent articles concerning minorities perception of the police I found this interesting 2005 article. “Attitudes Toward the Police: The Effects of Direct and Vicarious Experience.”
It stated: “This study includes the measurement of attitudes before and after encounters with the police among African American, Hispanic, and White residents of Chicago. Contrary to previous research, direct contact with the police during the past year is not enough to change attitudes, but vicarious experience (i.e., learning that someone else has had a good or bad encounter with the police) does influence attitudes in a predictable manner. Also, residents’ initial attitudes about the police play a critical role in shaping their judgments of subsequent direct and indirect experiences as well as their future attitudes. The findings are discussed in terms of stereotypes about the police that are resistant to change.” (Rosenbaum, Schuck and Costello, 2005)
Based on the work of James Q Wilson’s “Broken Windows”, New York City Police Commissioner Bratton implemented Zero Tolerance Policing during the administration of Mayor Rudolph Giuliani from 1994 through 2001. The Zero Tolerance Policing certainly did clean up downtown New York City and reduced crime there. Consequently, some of the crime that was happening in New York City moved to surrounding areas. The policy of arresting harmless people like vagrants and panhandlers caused much resentment of the police by residents. A 2016 article published by Pew Research Center titled: “The Racial Confidence Gap in Police Performance” says; “Blacks and whites have dramatically different views on causes of fatal encounters between them and police.” The deep racial tension seen in many areas of American life underlie how blacks and whites view police in their communities, as well as their reactions to the deadly encounters in recent years between blacks and law enforcement officers, according to a new survey by Pew Research Center. “Only about a third of blacks but roughly three-quarters of whites say police in their communities do an excellent or good job in using the appropriate force on suspects, treating all racial and ethnic minorities equally and holding officers accountable when misconduct occurs. Roughly half of all blacks say local police do an excellent or good job combating crime – a view held by about eight-in-ten whites.” (Morin and Stepler, 2016).
Other than through reading and research, my opinion about many of the questions concerning the relationships and attitudes between minority citizens and law enforcement is based on my personal experience in South Carolina. In recent years we have had African Americans serve as Director of South Carolina Department of Public Safety, Commander of the South Carolina Highway Patrol, Commander of the State Transport Police, Commander of Protective Services, Director of the Criminal Justice Academy, Chief of SLED, U.S. Marshall, Solicitors, Sheriffs, Police Chiefs, and many policemen and state troopers.
I am not naive enough to believe there is no residual mistrust of law enforcement officers. I do believe that in South Carolina our law enforcement and our minority residents have gained a lot of respect for each other. Single local incidents of police brutality such as the white North Charleston police officer stopping a black man for a burned-out light and then shooting him multiple times in his back as he attempted to run away do great harm to minority trust of our law enforcement officers.
Morin, R and Stepler, R (2016) Pew Research Center
Rosenbaum,D.P. and Schuck, am and Costello, S.K. (2005) Police Quarterly
Frank Barron, served as Coroner of Richland County, South Carolina for 22 years, was President of South Carolina Coroners’ Association seven times, is a graduate of The Citadel having earned a bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice.