Eva DuVernay’s docuseries When They See Ustakes us inside the story of four innocent black teenagers who were convicted and imprisoned for a crime they never committed. It’s a hard and painful look at police corruption and systemic racism in the criminal justice system. However, as gut-wrenching as she portrays the problem, she didn’t tell the half of it. Police corruption and criminal justice system is far worse than she brilliantly describes. The massive injustices done to blacks by racist white police officers and complicit black officers are mindboggling in scope and nature. Below I offer my perspective as a pastor, attorney, activist, and victim.
In law school, my criminal procedures professor, Professor Irving Joyner, shockingly stated to the class that, “police officers are some of the most crooked, dishonest, and corrupt people we would encounter as attorneys.” This statement shocked me as it does most Americans, including Black Americans! My parents taught me police officers are generally honorable. Hence, I was gullible like most blacks and believed the best of the police.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I knew from my childhood the police nearly hated the black community. I’ve seen police officers beat black men and target the black community. I remember the Rodney King beating and its aftermath as if it were yesterday. I know traditionally they’re the long arm of justice for the white population, mainly white businesses. Further, I know policing in America began as slave patrols, and today they’re still in place to control the black community. I knew all of that, but to hear Professor Joyner describe police in those disparaging terms was again shocking.
Fast forward twelve years later as a criminal defense attorney and my eyes have been opened. My colleagues and I have caught many police officers in lies literally while they testified under oath. I now know police officers are more corrupt towards blacks than Professor Joyner had warned us! To be more specific, law enforcement routinely racially profiles, lies under oath, murders, steals, engages in cover-ups, plants evidence, and do so much more to black people.
Why Are Police Officers So Corrupt Toward Blacks?
Many white officers are racists, and Black officers are often implicit in white racism. Sadly, many black officers often honor their blue uniforms over their black skin by remaining silent to protect their careers and pensions. The US Supreme Court (SCOTUS) has handed over considerable power to police officers. Repeatedly, the SCOTUS has backed the police and made them almost invincible in the streets. Police training academies embedded this power into their training manuals, knowing full well the SCOTUS backs them. This power has created a sense of invincibility with police officers, causing them to believe they can get away with anything. As Denzel’s character, Alonzo Harris, said in Training Day, “I’m the police, I run sh*t around here. You just live here…King Kong ain’t got sh*t on me!”
What’s more, whites will always side with the police. When whites are on grand and regular juries, they can be counted on to absolve police officers despite videotapes and eyewitnesses showing police misconduct. This racist ideology of “protect the police” or “back the blue” at all cost again stems from the racist history of policing in America. Reform is needed to place police oversight in the hands of citizens rather than grand and regular juries as well as prosecutors. I’m a huge fan of civilian review boards.
Some Blacks Still Aren’t Convinced
Sadly, some blacks still believe the police are honorable. No race of people in America has seen the worse of police officers like blacks, but deep down inside, despite docuseries like When They See Us and the frequent unjustified police shootings of black men, many blacks still believe police officers are honorable. Before going to law school and becoming an attorney, I too thought the best of the police despite seeing and experiencing police corruption firsthand.
How bad is police corruption in black neighborhoods? Here’s some data:
- Black people accounted for 31 percent of police killing victims in 2012, even though they made up just 13 percent of the US population.
- The high rate of unarmed African Americans being killed at the hands of police has caused more incidents of depression, stress, and other mental health issues among blacks.
- Young black men were about 14 times more likely to experience a Chicago Police Department use of force than young white men.
If these stats don’t convince you of rampant racist police corruption in African American neighborhoods visit this website. You’ll see the faces of a few young black men recently killed primarily by white police officers.
There’s more proof than mere anecdotes of police corruption in African American communities. That proof includes the many consent decrees between major cities and the Justice Department that came about when Eric Holder was Attorney General (AG) during the Obama Administration. These consent decrees are voluntary agreements between police departments and the Department of Justice that address racial profiling, excessive force cases, and so much more. Former AG Jeff Sessions for the Trump Administration predictably weakened these decrees, but many still exist to curtail police corruption in black neighborhoods. Consent Decrees still exist, for instance, in Ferguson, Chicago, Baltimore, Seattle, and other cities.
Ask yourself, why are these consent decrees needed? The answer is apparent — Professor Joyner was categorically correct when he claimed many police officers and police departments are corrupt and untrustworthy. I hate to bring this bad news, but it’s time we wake up and organize for change. Protesting for a few days following a police officer shooting, without more, will not bring about any change. That’s nothing more than blind rage!
Black Police Chiefs
Having black mayors and police chiefs often bring little change because the culture of most police departments is wholly corrupt from over 250 years of racism and white supremacy. White police unions fight strenuously to immobilize black mayors and black chiefs who try to change the white supremacy culture and status quo of police departments. And some black mayors and black chiefs are pro-police and are NOT trying to bring change. Consequently, even under the tenure of black city officials, many police departments continue to mistreat and significantly contribute to mass incarceration and the destabilization of African American men especially.
It’s Personal For Us Now
My family and I had our own experience with police corruption. Eight police officers falsely accused three of my family members, including me, of committing several misdemeanors we didn’t commit. Many people, including black people who know us, believe the allegations merely because it’s the police making the allegations. We’re in the dubious position of proving our innocence rather than the police proving our guilt. That dilemma is another vital reason police officers have gotten away with corruption in the black community for so long.
Our personal experience caused us to get very serious about fighting police corruption. It gave me an improved perspective on police corruption as a criminal defense attorney. I’ll never again doubt anyone who claims police corruption. We’ll always question everything the police claims. We’ll vet every word of the police. If the police will lie on my family and me, and we’re pastors and attorneys, I can only imagine what they’re doing to other black families.