“The people in this building are just as upset over that piss as you are.”
That’s what 22-year NYPD veteran Eric Adams told a rookie cop when the two entered an elevator in a New York public housing project. The puddle of urine in the corner prompted the new recruit to offer the following appraisal: “these people are all animals; they don’t deserve anything.”
Adams — who was a captain by the time he retired five years ago to pursue a career in politics — is African American and says police too often stereotype entire communities based on the offenses committed by a “numerical minority.” One might be inclined to view minorities' disproportionate share of lethal police shootings involving unarmed suspects as evidence of this dynamic.
Some suggest that hiring more African American police officers would help to ameliorate the situation.
The problem, according to NYPD commissioner William Bratton, is simple: too many African Americans have spent time in prison. The Guardian has more:
What an officer does, in essence, can make or break community trust – and even keep black applicants away from the NYPD. Even as the NYPD is more diverse over all than it’s ever been, in late June the police academy will graduate one of its smallest percentage of black males since the 1960s..
While increasing numbers of Hispanics and Asians, especially men, are joining the NYPD, the future looks bleaker for black applicants. One number in particular is jarring: black males make up only 6.86% of the 2015 police academy recruit class that will graduate this month, with black females just under 4%, for a total of 10.86%, while black residents total about 22% of the city’s population.
For comparison, black recruits totaled 7.3 % in 1970 at the end of the Civil Rights Movement, almost all of whom were men.
Commissioner William Bratton is blunt about probable causes. “We have a significant population gap among African American males because so many of them have spent time in jail and, as such, we can’t hire them,” he said in a 20 May interview. Because many black men have been convicted of a felony, they are automatically disqualified.
The irony, of course, is that one reason so many African Americans have spent time in jail and thus cannot become police officers is poor policing.
A complicating factor is what Bratton calls the “unfortunate consequences” of an explosion in “stop, question and frisk” stops in the last decade that caught many young men of color in a summons net.
Those summonses are not automatic disqualifications. However, after passing the exam, a candidate moves to the more subjective background investigation, which includes criminal records. A pot arrest without indications of gang activity might not disqualify a candidate, but a series of summonses could. As a result, Bratton is concerned that the “population pool is much smaller than it might ordinarily have been”.
Bratton is often blamed for New York’s stop-and-frisk era – 4.4m stops; 92% non-white from 2002 until 2012. The controversial policy was struck down in 2013 by a federal judge, who called the practice blatant racial profiling.
Trevena Garel, a retired African American NYPD veteran of 21 years whose father was an NYPD detective, is not optimistic about the future for relations between police and African American communities. In fact, she tells her own son that if he is ever pulled over he should immediately place his hands on the steering wheel, refuse to say anything, and ask for an attorney. Here's her rationale:
“I may piss off my law-enforcement colleagues, but I want to keep my son alive. That’s something that, unfortunately, I have to do, and my white counterparts don’t have to do. That’s what America’s ugly history has taught.”
Needless to say, that rather grim assessment does not bode well for the future of race relations in America.