Race and Policing in America

Rev. Curtiss Paul DeYoung

 
This article appeared in the Chicago Tribune Op-Ed Section on November, 25, 2014
 
As the father of an African­ American son, I was shocked by the shooting death of Michael Brown in
Ferguson, Mo.
 
I never thought about the effect of race on policing when I was growing up. I am a white man, raised in a middleclass
white suburb, with no personal experience of racism.
 
But race has been at the core of my work as a scholar who specializes in racial reconciliation. I work in South
Africa with Allan Boesak, a stalwart of the anti­apartheid movement and human rights activist. I attended
seminary at Howard University, a historically black college, where I learned from Calvin Morris and Bernard Lee,
members of Martin Luther King Jr.'s staff. Malaak Shabazz has encouraged me in my scholarship on her father
Malcolm X. And as executive director of the Community Renewal Society, a faith­based civil rights organization, I
am focused on racial and economic injustice.
 
Yet if a police officer beckons to me, I would never think that the color of my skin is the reason — or that my life
might be in danger.
 
The tension in Ferguson speaks to the disconnect between the differing experiences of people of color and whites
when it comes to racism, in general, and policing, in particular. An August poll by the Pew Research Center found
 
that 80 percent of African­Americans think the fatal shooting of Michael Brown by police Officer Darren Wilson
raised important issues about race and policing. Only 37 percent of white respondents thought so.
I have lived in places where whites are dominant. I have lived in spaces where people of color are the majority.
Having lived in both worlds, I have seen the huge gap in lived experiences that results in radically different
worldviews on issues of race. How do we bridge the divide of these often diametrically opposed perceptions?
Generally, people of color have an understanding of white perspectives because they live in and among the
dominant culture. But most whites have no significant relationships with people of color. An August study by
Robert Jones of Public Religion Research Institute notes that 75 percent of whites in the United States have no
friends who are people of color. Three­quarters of whites never discussed racialized policing with those most
directly affected by it. Ignorance is breeding more ignorance.
 
Ferguson, Mo., can become a teachable moment for white people about the urgency of addressing the racial divide
around policing. In my work on behalf of racial reconciliation, I have learned that whites, first, must listen to
people of color on this issue. Instead of immediately discounting the viewpoints of African­Americans in Ferguson
or other people of color about racism in policing, whites should pause, listen and consider the viewpoints of those
most directly affected. Greater awareness also comes through study of the history of race and police violence in the
United States.
 
With increased awareness must come legislation that ensures police accountability. Citizen review boards and use
of police body cameras can create greater transparency in policing. Racial profiling in policing such as stop­andfrisk
must be challenged.
 
Soledad O'Brien pointed out in her CNN documentary "Black in America: Black and Blue" that the New York City
Police Department made more than 5 million stop­and­frisk stops from 2002 to mid­2013. African­Americans and
Latinos accounted for more than 80 percent of them. In 88 percent of the stops, no arrests were made nor was
there evidence of a crime.
 
New York City hip­hop musician MADic critiques racialized policing and other social ills in his song
"AmeriKKKa." While he hopes for a more just society one day, he raps, "until then we hang the flag upside down."
MADic is my son. He is the offspring of my marriage to an African­American woman. And he deserves a just
police force. Until then, I hang the flag upside down. Until racial justice in policing comes to Ferguson, Chicago
and the rest of our country, we must all hang the flag upside down.
 
The Rev. Curtiss Paul DeYoung is the executive director of Community Renewal Society of Chicago and the coauthor
of "Radical Reconciliation: Beyond Political Pietism and Christian Quietism
 
Subscribe to CRS Main Feed