Saturday, December 6, 2014

Police, Racism, and the Role of Community.

Only two months after being appointed the Acting Police Chief of Sunbury, Pennsylvania, Brad Hare shot a man.

He was called to a scene where 22 yr. old, Erick Trometter, had allegedly beat his 67 year old grandmother by hitting and kicking her in the face. Trometter had been jailed two years earlier for a similar incident, stabbing his grandmother in the back with a spoon for not making him lunch.

The officer approached the young man, who was walking away from his grandma's house on a rural road in the northwest corner of the city.

According to Officer Hare, Trometter had a large knife, and approached the officer with it. Chief Hare pulled his taser on the suspect, but the man would not go down. Hare tried tasing the man twice more before shooting him once in the abdomen. Trometter was hospitalized in critical condition, but has since been released.

Trometter is white. He is from a very white community, but the demographics are changing.

Sunbury changed from 95.26% white in 2000 to 88.6% white in 2010. The decrease in the white population is just about equal to the percentage of people who moved out of the area in that decade. Sunbury's total population change from 2000-2010 was negative 6.6%.

The highest demographic increase was in Hispanic populations, which increased almost 4 points points from 3.09 to 6.7%, due mostly to migrant agricultural workers who stayed in the area. The black population increased about 1% from 2.3 to 3.4 percent of the population.

Crime has increased. Officer Hare does not blame race for the increase in crime. He blames poverty.

Dianna Dunn, of Undoing Racism-The People's Institute for Survival and Beyond, agrees. She says people of color have been historically locked out of participating in key community institutions, leading to dependency, instead of empowerment.

She explained that racism is not as much about oppressing some people as it is about favoring others. The police department ends up dealing with problems that result from community institutions, like schools, and workplaces, failing individuals, Dunn says.

For the city of Sunbury the rise in a spanish speaking population was difficult for years, because there was no one in the community that spoke spanish to act as an interpreter when problems arose. Workers travel to Sunbury for agricultural work, and when the season is over, they stay. The city now has access to one interpreter, but he is not always available, says Chief Hare.

The People's Institute has been undoing racism with anti-racism training for 34 years. They are lauded for having the most effective anti-racist analysis. A main focus of The People's Institute training is teaching a history that is not provided in our schools.
"If we take away knowledge about how racism was formed, we cannot undo it," says Dunn.
Training also focuses on power relationships and empowering communities. Dunn says training sessions require many stakeholders in the community to go through the training together, including police, schools, community organizations, and community representatives.

Pennsylvania, the state Officer hare serves, has come under fire for being a racist region. The late Representative John Murtha of PA famously announced that he represented a racist area during the 2008 presidential campaign. Pennsylvania is ranked number 15 on the Top Ten's list of racist states, and an investigative report was released earlier this year calling racism in central PA school sports, Unchecked, Unchallenged and Unabashed.

"Is there racism in Sunbury?" I asked Officer Hare.
"Racism is everywhere," he said,"it will probably never go away. It is hard to control and a shame."
There may always be bigotry and hatred, says Dunn, but that is not how The People's Institute defines racism. She and her organization look for equity in institutions, a situation where institutional outcomes cannot be determined by race. In order to undo racism, Dunn says, institutions must empower people to change their situations by having meaningful, directing roles in the institutions that frame their community.

Officer Hare says that he would be interested in a program such as Dunn's to address racism in his community.
"People live in a bubble," Hare says, "and it is my job to make sure that that bubble stays intact, it is my job to maintain civility."
He says that the cops see the dark side of community and it is rude, edgy and unprofessional. His job is to make sure the citizens don't see that side. "The 21st century isn't so nice. If I can't keep that bubble intact, it's chaos."

In the shadow of the Michael Brown case

 

Officer Hare believes that he is as comfortable facing a black man as a white man in a tense situation. He says he is comfortable with Sunbury's changing demographics because his family is multi-cultural. He feels that diversity in his community will benefit the younger generation.

He doesn't like people playing the 'race card.' "It's a job,' he said, "and we are there because we were called."

His department doesn't receive diversity training, but officers have required annual training from MPOETC, a municipal police training center.

Chief Hare confirmed that training includes reinforcement and practice of using deadly force as a last option. Officers are not supposed to discharge their weapon unless they fear 'imminent danger or death.' "It always comes down to your own judgement," said Hare.

Hare will go to trial for shooting Trometter, but is not at liberty to talk about it.

A police chief from Deluth, Minnesota, went through the Undoing Racism training and commented that the program is, "as important for police to learn as CPR."
"If CPR can save lives, so can this program," says Dunn.
Hare said that apart from funding, which is leaving his department understaffed, he is grateful to have strong support from his community. "Things changed after 9-11, people started to respect cops more. People started coming up to us and saying, thank you. It is still a little shocking."

Hare blames news and social media for eroding respect for the police. "Media over sensitizes people, exaggerating bits and pieces of negative events without context." He said. The best thing the people can do for the police is to be aware of their environment, says Hare.
"If you think something is wrong, don't be afraid to call us."
Individuals are not as much to blame for inequity as the systems we are brought up in, says Dunn, who has been working in her field for almost 40 years. She says, Philip Zimbardo, a renown social psychologist who has written and spoken extensively about how good people can be led into evil actions has a great message for US society:
"Focusing on people as causes of evil then exonerates social structures and political decision making for contributing to underlying conditions that foster evil: poverty, racism, sexism and elitism."