Police and racism: it’s still a systemic problem

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In 2014, Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke fired 16 shots into the body of Laquan McDonald. The 17-year-old was reportedly armed with a three-inch-blade and died on the way to the hospital. Former Fraternal Order of Police spokesperson Pat Camden was on the scene when reporters arrived.

“The boy lunged at police, and one of the officers opened fire,” Camden told reporters.

He would later acknowledge that this information was unsubstantiated, but the narrative had already taken root.

The following day, the Chicago Police Department released a statement claiming that McDonald “refused to comply with orders to drop the knife and continued to approach the officers.”

Other on-scene officers echoed this same false narrative, confirming that McDonald posed an immediate threat to Van Dyke and other officers.

Thirteen months later, Chicago officials released the dash-cam video of the shooting. At the time Van Dyke fired the first shot, McDonald made no threatening movements toward any of the officers. The teen did not pose an immediate threat to anyone.

The events surrounding McDonald’s death are all too familiar. He is not the first person of color to be so severely mistreated at the hands of the police. What’s new here, however, is Chicago’s reaction to the civic outrage that followed.

In December 2015, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel formed the Police Accountability Task Force to conduct a thorough review of the Chicago Police Department. The primary mission of the task force is to “lay the foundation for the rejuvenation of trust between the police and the communities that they serve by facing hard truths and creating a road map for real and lasting transparency, respectful engagement, accountability and change.”

Chicago’s most significant contribution to the issue of police misconduct is the city’s admission of racism. Last week, the task force released a 189-page report. In the report, the group affirms that the Chicago Police Department’s “own data gives validity to the widely held belief the police have no regard for the sanctity of life when it comes to people of color.”

It’s in this report that we finally see acknowledgment of the systematic racism that exists in a government institution. Although Chicago — labeled the “false confession capital of the world” — has a long history of city-wide corruption, the task force’s report prompts us to take a look at the entire country’s racist past and the fragments of it that remain today.

In 2007, social psychology researchers from the University of Chicago and the University of Colorado at Boulder published a study that used computer simulations to investigate the influence of race on the decision to shoot someone. When non-black study participants read news stories about black criminals or were shown a disproportionate number of black targets with weapons, they tended to make more shooting errors against unarmed black targets.

Unfortunately, this implicit bias against black Americans is re-enforced daily. News outlets across the country over-represent black Americans as perpetrators of crime, but this doesn’t mean black Americans are committing a disproportionate amount of crime.

When law enforcement officials across the country are subject to implicit biases that threaten minority lives, primarily those of black Americans, systemic racism cannot be dismissed. The factors that reinforce these biases are the result of a country that still struggles with both conscious and unconscious racism.

Our distrust in an institution with a primary purpose to protect and serve cannot be resolved until we acknowledge race as a factor in police misconduct.

We need to admit that minorities are more likely than white Americans to be victims of abuse at the hands of law enforcement officials. This admission does not minimize the severity of police misconduct against white Americans — it targets the origins of the issue as a whole. From there, the rest of the country can follow Chicago’s lead toward more thorough and long-lasting reform.

Opinion columnist Sonja Aune is a Spanish senior and may be reached at [email protected]


  • Sonia, Sonia, Sonia … what are you … a Zombie?

    You would make a great female candidate for walking through ISIS held areas spreading peace and tolerance. Of course you should wear a tracker so they can find your body later. Several gullible girls have already found that out.

    I agree that Laquan McDonald’s death was overkill … he should have only been shot 14 times. Just kidding.

    Laquan McDonald was a Chicago Thug plain and simple. He was high on PCP, and was menacing police and public safety, and the police were only trying to do their jobs of protecting the public.

    I agree Laquan shouldn’t have been shot so many times, but that’s besides the point. Thug idolatry by the media has inflated these people to saintly status. The people in those areas have rioted multiple times, destroying their own local areas, and gullible business owners stupidly rebuild only to be destroyed or looted again in riots.

    Why are black thugs always treated with kid gloves with the media? They are presented in graduation photos, or pictures of them as youngsters, but are not brought into the light showing their current thuggery. They are always seen as angels who were wronged by police, and nothing could be further from the truth.

    Compared to the multiple dozens shot or killed in Chicago on an average weekend, situations like Laquan McDonald or Mike Brown are very rare. Yet the drive-by media presents them as daily occurrences, so gullible Spanish seniors like one girl I know are compelled to write it as Black victimization. If there is anyone that has victimized Blacks its the SocDems. The KKK was a military wing of the Democrat Party, born at a time when Black Republican Senators represented Louisiana and Mississippi from the mid-1860’s to the early 1880’s.

    Do you Sonia see police officers are being family men and women? They are, just like any civilian. They want to get home to their families safe and sound after every shift.

    I took a Citizen Police Academy a while back, and learned about police procedure and met many police officers. I did not see them as murders, but I did understand the pressures that are placed on them in high-stress situations. Academy students were put in simulated positions of acting as the police, and the actual police played the bad guys in the scenarios. And I admit, I had to shoot in my scenarios, which is not a good feeling, but like I said, every officers goal is to get home safe and sound to their family.

    I believe you believe that Black Lives Matter. I believe All Lives Matter.

    But actually Black Lives Do Not Matter:
    – in Abortion Clinics
    – Chicago on the weekends
    – among drug dealers
    – among gangs
    – etc.

    White SocDems have destroyed many Black Lives. Their family structure has been destroyed by Welfare. SocDems have robbed them of self-pride, self-esteem, self-image, self-confidence, all designed to keep them down and voting Socialist Democrat, which they dutifully have.

    I would wish that you put yourself in the shoes of the police for once. Maybe you might learn something.

  • People have eye balls………..people notice patterns………….people are people………the human condition applies to people………….implicit bias is part of the human condition………….stop fighting the human condition……….Fun Fact:……………… Definition of racism: “the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races.”………………….Therefore, white privilege = racism………….

    • Fun fact: folk taxonomies are alive and well. Those who refuse to recognize the racial bias in our system are only helping to perpetuate it; they fear a change in the status quo and their “privilege” , and will fight to keep that status quo in place by whatever means is at their disposal — including making moronic comments in student newspapers.

      • Sounds like a conspiracy, racial bias is part of the human condition (I already said this), I don’t think anyone disputes that. Go tell the poor whites in coal mining towns and throughout Appalachia about their “privilege”, they will look at you like you have a d*** growing out of your forehead. Please point the racists out so we can fight them together, not finger pointing at an entire race and saying “racism”.

        • Folk taxonomies are not “inherent” , they’re taught. Actually, no there is no racism gene in the human genome, so, again, no, it’s not part of the “human condition.” It’s a social construct usually taught from early childhood. No human being is born thinking, “that person with a different color skin or religion is somehow inferior.”

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