I live in a large town transitioning into being a small city. When we moved here over twenty years ago, murders were so rare, generally less than one a year, as to be remarkable. Now we have them far too often. The minority population was low, less than ten percent, but now it’s approaching twenty percent, and those minorities are almost entirely Hispanic and Native American. We also have a definite drug problem, although some of it is fueled by the fact that we’re located on I-15, which has become a major highway transport link from both Mexico and Southern California so that every week there are drug arrests by the Highway Patrol involving significant amounts of hard drugs. There is also a continual effort to weed out [pardon the pun] illegal marijuana “plantations” concealed in the neighboring and extensive national forest lands, and the amounts grown and confiscated have been in the hundreds if not thousands of pounds.
So far, at least, we’ve had no cases of anything remotely resembling police brutality, even with law enforcement agencies that are largely white, but we have had quite a few attacks and assaults on law enforcement personnel. One officer took a shotgun blast to the chest and despite his vest, almost died. Another in a neighboring county was shot and killed by a drug dealer, and on at least three occasions I know of, lawbreakers shot at and wounded law enforcement personnel responding to reports – before the officers even were within yards of the lawbreakers. And a local senior law enforcement officer said bluntly, and very much off the record, that the combination of these events with the national negative publicity about law enforcement was making it harder and harder for law enforcement agencies in Utah to obtain the quality of new officers that they’re striving to maintain… and that more and more senior police are looking forward to retirement – which wasn’t the case a decade ago.
By comparison, nearly seventy percent of the population of the city of Baltimore consists of minorities, the largest component of which are blacks, at roughly 64%. The mayor, the chief of police, the prosecuting attorney, and three of the six officers charged with homicide in the Freddy Gray case are black. Police brutality issues and charges have also been a problem in other cities with high levels of black populations and black mayors, just as they have been a problem in cities with white mayors and large white populations.
The point that is in danger of being overlooked is that police brutality can occur regardless of whether the political authorities are black or white, and whether the police officers involved are black or white or brown. While correlation does not prove causation, police brutality seems to be linked in some fashion to high crime areas and areas with high levels of minority populations, regardless of who is in charge and who is patrolling.
Is it that the stress of patrolling such areas wears down officers? Or that officers strong enough or moral enough won’t accept jobs in such cities? Or that political pressures to make arrests and “find someone guilty” eventually brings out the worst in some officers. Are we as a society asking too much of police officers? I’m not about to offer an answer, but it’s very clear to me that there’s far, far more involved than just the simple explanation of “racism,” much as racism is certainly a contributing factor. And it’s also equally clear that slogans and politics as usual won’t contribute much to the solution, either.