Police an Uneducated Lot

I have struggled for a while, trying to “explain” what I have long observed: the vast majority of police officers are young, white men…with little more than a high school education.

Not only that. Many of them come from all-white environments; many have never known a black person before they come onto their respective police forces. All they have are the myths about black people that were begun long ago and which are perpetuated by their families, their churches, the media.

They come onto the force thinking black people are just bad.

And because they know few, if any, black people, they come on the force afraid. Black people are an “unknown” that they have been taught should be feared.

Honestly, I think that’s where the impulse to shoot first and ask questions later comes from. White people in general in this nation have been taught that black people are bad; that’s called “criminalization.” And they have been taught, albeit subliminally in many cases, that black people are less than human. That’s called “dehumanization.”

But there is something about our law enforcement system that has been ignored: these young guys (and women) have very little education. They are not made to take sociology or psychology. They are not made to study the history of police relations with minorities. They are not required to be licensed, like a psychologist or doctor or teacher.

They simply go to the police academy. They go through a kind of basic training. They are physically fit, yes. But they are lacking in social skills. They are not taught about the neighborhoods into which they will venture. They are made physically fit; they pass the qualifying exam, then are given a badge and a gun. They are given permission to kill. And they do, largely because they are afraid.

They DO put their lives in jeopardy, but they put the lives of black, brown and poor people into jeopardy as well. They do not know us, black people. They do not know how our parents have struggled to make a living – much like their parents did. They do not know, do not believe, that black people have “family values.” They just know what they have been taught: that black people, especially black men, are bad news.

Georg Wilhelm Frederich Hegel, a popular and widely studied Western philosopher and theologian, wrote something that made my spirit roll up. He wrote: “It is the essential principle of slavery that man has not yet attained self-consciousness of his freedom, and consequently sinks down to a mere Thing – an object of no value. Among Negroes moral sentiments are weak or, more strictly, non-existent.” (The Philosophy of History). 

Black people were not humans; they were things, and he, a person who theologians and teachers and preachers would turn for knowledge, would write much that supported the notion that black people were inhuman. He wrote, “What signify these races to us? Who cares particularly for the Negro, or Hottentot or the Kaffir – Destined by the nature of their race to run, like animals, a certain limited course of existence, it matters little how their extinction is brought about.”

How in the world can the white race, burdened as it is by such racist underpinnings, be expected to rise above that – except that they be educated? The history is there. We are not taught it in school, but it is there. It is undeniable. It is there, in black and white, stories of how white people have systematically, and with government and law enforcement support,  decimated, killed and harassed black people in this nation. To our credit, we have not given up …but the struggle has been immense.

What would be the difference in police departments if the new recruits HAD to take sociology, psychology, history? What would be the difference in their behavior as they learned the critical difference between myth and reality? I would bet that for some, the fear would be abated. At the worst, they would go into black communities armed not only with guns…but with knowledge. The mere presence of black people might not terrify them so much. They might listen …and not attack, as they are so often wont to do.

Education does something to one’s spirit. It sucks up ignorance and makes room for growth. It opens eyes and provides answers to questions we didn’t even know we had.

Police officers, young white boys just out of high school, need to be educated.

A candid observation …

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