Everyone has had the experience of being a child.
For some, being put to bed earlier than the adults in the family created a sense of separation, and that might have led to anxiety, or even some fear. Asking for another story to be read, for a light to stay on, a glass of water; children learn they can ask for reassurance.
Several recent events have had me thinking about this as a metaphor.
As the history of racism in Culver City was discussed at the Mayme Clayton, as the drone program was discussed at the council meeting, as the yearbook photo of an ‘inappropriate’ Halloween costume was discussed at the school board meeting – I have to tell you, I hear you – and facts reflect that the cops are better, and the fear is still real.
When I started covering news in Culver City a decade ago, getting any information out of the police was next to impossible. There was a press release that came out every week called The Police Blotter ( an old journalistic tradition in many places) that offered a list of four crimes that police had been called to in the last week, all of them fairly mild – graffiti, a mugging, maybe a broken window. It left the people of Culver City with the fictitious assurance that this was ALL the crime that happened last week, and that was never true.
I stopped running the Police Blotter in Culver City Crossroads because it felt dishonest. It wasn’t that the crimes in the blotter didn’t happen, but what was being omitted was the more important story.
Today, there is so much information from the the police, it’s an embarrassment of riches. There is the website, the reports on Nixle, the community outreach events like Coffee with a Cop and National Night Out – all of these are sincere efforts by the cops to connect with the community they serve. While the community relations desk turns often – there is a new face there every few years – they do answer questions.
And, with all that, the fear of the police is still vivid and real and, in some situations, absolutely correct.
I was at a panel this past month at the Hammer Museum on Journalism, and one of the facts offered there was that the ratio of crimes committed by black men to crimes committed by black men featured on local news was grotesquely out of proportion. When the tabloid credo of “If it bleeds, it leads” is practiced by a racist publication or tv station, it leaves people with the feeling that all violent crime is committed by black men. Anyone else remember the local paper with the banner headline BABY KILLERS? over a photo of black faces? Cheap sensationalism and racism often go hand in hand.
Given the same crime committed by a white man and a black man, most corporate news will use different language, and different images. Everyone in America sees this, but not everyone perceives the difference it makes. Consuming news like this reinforces and in some cases even creates prejudice.
Prejudice cuts both ways; to think that any police officer or every police officer is only looking at skin color is incorrect. If you know that police do not treat people who look like you fairly, take every precaution.
While technology does not look at skin color, the people who use it might. At the council meeting, calls for a citizen committee to oversee the drone program ran the spectrum from the absolutely reasonable to the totally paranoid.
While the empirical evidence shows that CCPD is measurably better that it was ten years ago, that is not evidence that there are no police officers acting on their own personal prejudice.
Not everyone has had the experience of being a visible member of a minority. Not everyone has had the experience of being treated unfairly by the police.
There are still more stories we need to hear, and as for asking for that glass of water – there may be many more reassurances that are needed for all of us to be able to sleep.