Despite making up just 13 percent of the U.S. population, Black Americans continue to be the most likely group to be targeted and killed by police. A 2017 police violence report found that Black people were more likely to have been unarmed and less likely to be threatening someone when killed by police. As of Feb. 7 of this year, police around the country have shot and killed 108 people, 20 of which were Black, The Washington Post reported.
On the first day of Black History Month, D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine along with representatives from Washington Bar Association and the Metropolitan Police Department gathered at the Old Council Chamber to discuss the relationship between police and African- American communities in Washington, D.C.
“We’re here today to focus on the state of policing in Black America,” said Racine, who is African American. “And of course, the repeated high-profile deaths of young African Americans around the country at the hands of the police make this conversation even more important.”
Moderated by Racine himself, the panel consisted of three attorneys and the police department’s inspector, all of whom took questions from the attendees throughout the two-hour panel discussion.
“Policing in this country when it comes to misconduct is about accountability and transparency,” said Donald M. Temple, an attorney on the panel. “Police have problems self-policing and holding other police accountable.”
In contrast, Inspector Vendette Parker, another panelist, said that police officers “police themselves informally.”
“They will correct their peers if their peers are doing something wrong. They will shun peer activity if that activity is not above board,” Parker said. She added that police officers are less inclined to file formal complaints, which would lead to disciplinary action for misconduct. “But we do have informal checks and balances.”
Practices such as oversight and training can “overcome” police misconduct, said William Martin, a trial attorney and panelist. “If there’s no oversight and further training, then we have a serious problem…The MPD [Metropolitan Police Department], the mayor, the attorney general and the U.S. attorney can control this,” Martin added.
The MPD, however, does a different kind of training. MPD officers are now starting to take a 10-hour crash course on the dark history of law enforcement in America and the role police authority played in the Black community since the country’s founding. The critical race theory course takes place in National Museum of African American History and Culture and is taught by George Washington University faculty.
“It’s a pedagogy of teaching American history from the perspective of race, not from the perspective of George Washington or Thomas Jefferson or Abraham Lincoln. So this is a 10-hour course on understanding American history and its effect of White supremacy for 350 years,” said Bernard Demczuk, the course’s instructor, who is George Washington University’s Assistant Vice Principal for D.C. Government Relations.
The top brass at the D.C. MPD took the course June of last year. Demczuk, who is White, said that 150 officers have taken the course, and the remaining 4,000 are expected to take it as well.
“The officers come to understand why they are the face of White supremacy in our city, in our country and in our culture.”
While the D.C. MPD tries to educate its officers not to be racially biased, only one percent of the officers who were involved in police shootings in 2017 were charged with a crime, according to an extensive study on police violence.
In fact, even with the prevalence of social media and police body cameras that often expose officers’ misconduct, Brandi Harden, an attorney on the panel, said it does not always produce results.
“While it does illuminate what’s going on between police and citizen encounters, it does not manifest itself in any type of accountability with respect to the police officers,” Harden said. “There is absolutely no accountability. Nothing happens.”
Racine said that progress is still yet to be made in all corners of the country. “It’s important for us to be honest and vigilant in [regard] to the kind of progress and change we hope to see.”
“The community very, very clearly made the point that it really wants to participate in police transparency, accountability,” Racine told the AFRO. “And while it has faith generally in what the police in D.C. are doing it really needs to hear more about the actions the department take when police misconduct occurs.”