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Race and policing: America has a problem

August 23. 2014 9:40PM

A Pew Research Center poll last week confirmed what anecdotal evidence on social media has shown for weeks: white Americans view the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., very differently than black Americans do. And that is a big problem.

Pew found that 80 percent of blacks said the shooting raised important questions about race in America. Only 37 percent of whites held the same opinion.

That disparity raises another question: Are white Americans paying any attention to what is going on in the non-white neighborhoods in this country?

A Huffington Post/YouGov poll found that 76 percent of blacks said Brown's shooting was part of a pattern of police behavior toward black men; only 40 percent of whites did. Whites and blacks in this country have vastly divergent experiences with, and views of, the police.

In New Hampshire, it would be easy to shrug and say that where crime is high, of course people have a different relationship with the police. But are we really so naive to believe that there is nothing else going on here?

Did we not just witness police officers abusing their power right here, most recently in Seabrook and Weare, where an unarmed Hispanic man was shot and killed by police?

In Ferguson, police officers have been recorded aiming rifles at civilians who dared to photograph them.

In the last few years, cellphone cameras have caught police officers intimidating citizens and beating suspects who appear not to resist.

One does not have to subscribe to the theory that the police are institutionally racist to see how black Americans living in higher-crime municipalities might experience a higher proportion of these types of interactions.

When police are militarized, the adversarial nature of their interactions with the citizenry only worsens. The military equipment police are given these days is only part of the problem. In some places, their training is militarized as well.

When police are equipped and trained for occupation rather than public service, occupation is what we will get. America is not there yet, but that is the direction we are headed.

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