Giving Compass' Take:
- Rashad Shabazz, a geographer, and scholar of African American studies explains the roots of anti-blackness in policing and the impact that it has on Black officers.
- Research indicates that Black police officers also have anti-black biases. What solutions in police reform exist beyond diversifying police forces?
- Read about the effects of police violence in Black communities.
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Once again, Americans are left reeling from the horror of video footage showing police brutalizing an unarmed Black man who later died.
Some details in the latest case of extreme police violence were gut-wrenchingly familiar: a police traffic stop of a Black male motorist turned violent. But, for many of us, other details were unfamiliar: the five police officers accused of using everything from pepper spray to a Taser, a police baton, and intermittent kicks and punches against the motorist were also Black.
After pulling over 29-year-old Tyre Nichols for what they said was reckless driving, Black officers in the Memphis Police Department’s now disbanded SCORPION unit beat Nichols, ultimately to death.
YES! partner publication The Conversation asked Rashad Shabazz, a geographer and scholar of African American studies at Arizona State University, to explore the societal conditions in which Black police officers could brutalize another Black man.
The Conversation: What could influence Black police officers to savagely beat a Black motorist?
Rashad Shabazz: Policing in the U.S. has, from its inception, treated Black people as domestic enemies. From the slave patrols, which some historians consider to be among the nation’s earliest forms of policing, to the murder of George Floyd, and now the death of Nichols, law enforcement officers often have viewed Black people as what sociologist and civil rights activist W.E.B. Du Bois, in The Souls of Black Folk, called a “problem.”
American society assumes that Black people are prone to criminality and therefore should be subject to state power in the form of policing or, in some cases, vigilantism—as in the killing of Ahmaud Arbery. This is a link deeply woven into American consciousness. And Black people are not immune. In this way, the long-held targeting of Black men by police and widely held negative beliefs about them are a powerful cocktail that can compel even Black officers to stop, detain, and brutally beat a man who looks just like them.
The Conversation: Could their actions have been motivated by anti-Black bias?
Shabazz: It’s hard to investigate the minds of the officers who beat Nichols so savagely and say for sure what motivated them. But there is ample research that suggests anti-Blackness is a factor in American policing. And Black officers, agents of an institutionally racist system, are affected by this. Anti-Blackness affects Black people, too. And this might explain why Black police officers exhibit more anti-Black bias than the Black population as a whole.
Read the full article about anti-blackness in policing by Rashad Shabazz at YES! Magazine.