Law in Contemporary Society

Lack of Discernment when Cops are Afraid

-- By TaleahTyrell - 16 Apr 2021

Suspicion and Fear Damages Ability to Discern

Police Officers Discernment: De-Funding is Insufficient

The murder of George Floyd in 2020 re-sparked a movement against police brutality in America which propelled citywide budget changes across the U.S. One change that quickly gained popularity amongst young people was efforts to "defund the police" touted as a way to eliminate the problem altogether. The main goal of defunding consisted of re-allocating police resources to other services such as mental health counselors, community vigilante groups, and social workers, arguing that there should be alternative people for citizens to call for help during situations. Though ideal on paper, it quickly became evident that these plans would fail because police officers hold a valuable role in our society. They are trained to protect, serve, and keep law and order in communities. They cannot be fully replaced by mental health counselors as evidenced by similar approaches that have failed in the past. Eliminating officers altogether is not a solution, instead, the key is to train officers to have better discernment so that they respond with minimal fear and bias. Identifying why many police officers fail to discern when policing Black communities and then actively helping officers to strengthen discernment in those situations may provide a route to minimizing the unjust police murders of Black people.

Discernment: A Police Officers Greatest Tool

According to Merriam Webster, "discernment" means "the quality of being able to grasp and comprehend what is obscure" or "an act of perceiving." Police officers are tasked with discernment daily. They drive around neighborhoods examining individuals and situations, making quick decisions based on human dispositions, activities, clothing, demeanor, etc. With this input of information they must make quick judgments about whether to arrest, interfere, assist, help, or interrupt. Quality discernment becomes an officers most valued skill and a method to success in their field. This ability to quickly comprehend situations is not necessarily always a conscious decision. A good discern-er couples conscious thoughts with quick subconscious judgments that analyze those thoughts. For officers, after many successful arrests, de-escalations, or detainments, these subconscious judgments are inevitably trusted more and more, leading to a confidence that a good officer should have. The valued skill of discernment, however, can become diluted or weakened when its source is only derived from a subconscious experience. In these times, fear or anxiety may be confused as discernment and result in unjustifiable and unnecessary use of force.

False Discernment: A Police Officers Greatest Weakness

Though a common narrative now is that there as some "bad apples" that contribute to racism in the police forces, what is more likely is that many regular apples have adopted false discernment, which is a mix of fear, anxiety, and rash actions. False discernment is evidenced by the officer who shot 13-year old Adam Toledo. In the video, Toledo drops a handgun then turns to the police raising his hands. The cop immediately shoots him. As graphic as the video is to watch, more telling are the officers words of desperation as he chases Toledo down the alley "Hey! Don't F**move! Stop, STOP!"

An eerily similar sheer desperation is also reflected in the voices of the cops that scrambled to stop Daunte Wright. This time, the officer mistakenly shot her gun thinking it was a taser, killing the 20-year-old.

Eliminating False Discernment is Necessary to Properly Police those that look Suspiciously Different

The deep bias that has grown from years of portrayals of Black people in the media, the amount of Black people in prison, and the differences in cultures and experiences have all contributed to an appropriately heightened state some officers have when they encounter Black people. The current response to situations may seem justifiable to officers because they have consciously and unconsciously been taught to view Black people as a higher risk. However, to have equal justice under the law with respect to and from police officers we need to train officers to re-wire the disproportionate risk perception unconsciously attributed to Black people. Years of using discernment to identify tangible evidence such as guns, knives, age, and intangible evidence such as perception and attitudes of potential threats must also be modified through a different lens that adequately accounts for bias so that officers may have an appropriate response to situations.

Strengthening Discernment in Police Officers

Instincts are very hard to eliminate because they become automatic, however, the power of the human mind is that when one recognizes tendencies, they can re-learn a new way of addressing a problem. Unlearning this bias has to begin by acknowledging the fight or flight the emerges within officers when they encounter these situations. Through race consciousness training that is reviewed at least yearly, good officers will slowly learn to identify their tendencies. Police forces must prioritize this training, partnering with local Black consulting groups that provide engaging and informative learning experiences. After indoor training, exposure to uncomfortable situations needs to occur. Officers should have field exercises that involve driving around Black neighborhoods, visiting predominantly low-income Black schools and churches, and most of all meeting people in those communities. Events such as barbecues or cookouts, popular in Black communities may be a way of connecting with those they will serve in the future. The goal in these exercises should be to find commonalities that they share with those they will be policing. For officers, discernment calls for identifying irregularities because they warrant further investigation. However, if they are so unaware or unconnected with the people they police, they will perceive most situations as irregularities. By learning the people’s cultures, tendencies, and how they differ from policing perhaps a white community, their discernment will slowly grow leading to an ability to identify how much force is actually necessary during a conflict.

Information about what police academies actually do in their training of police would be very useful here.

Good officers already discern daily, now is an opportunity to strengthen that ability.

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r13 - 25 May 2021 - 22:05:54 - EbenMoglen
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