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A Thin Blue Line

A Thin Blue Line

This past semester, I was assigned to select an image I liked, was passionate about, and would end up writing about it and its meaning for my final paper. Throughout the semester, this image was used to complete multiple assignments. I would like to share my final paper to help show what I was thinking during school on police brutality. Obviously, the points used in my research a paper are not the only cause to police brutality and racial discrimination. We know that there are many different reasons like slavery, the civil rights movement, the red lines, etc. There are also many different ways to resolve this issue, like defunding the police departments, or hiring a completely new staff. I encourage you to read (I know its long) and try to better educate yourself on how to better your community during times like this. There are points in here not necessarily important, but that I needed to touch base on for the rubric purposes. Thanks, feel free to tell me what you think. Do you agree? Do you think there should be more research conducted?

Brooke Shields

17 April 2020

A Thin Blue Line

What makes America so great? It is a huge melting pot of different ethnicities and backgrounds that make up the American population. However, the thing that makes America so great, is the same thing that hurts it. Since there are several different races in America, some people feel as though not everyone behaves the same, therefore should not be treated the same. Prejudice views in America lead to police brutality and a divide in our country. Many police brutality cases in America involve a white police officer mistreating an African American. Research shows that with improved training and introducing more diversity to the occupation, police officers can eliminate prejudiced views on African Americans.

There is a long history of division within our country between people of color and non-minorities due to negative stereotypes. Since the early development of America, one group would want to be or feel superior from the others. Whether it was the Irish Americans, the Native Americans, the Japanese, or the Africans, the minority group would feel inferior, and were treated as such. After the civil rights era, Americans believed that this continuous divide would soon come to an end, but many people still had prejudicial views on minorities. In modern day America, there are numerous cases of conflicts between police officers and minorities. Numerous cases such as Trayvon Martin, Micheal Brown, and Douglas Zerby, are examples of black men getting murdered by police officers or white males due to racial profiling. Many people say they feel threatened and are fearful of black people. They believe that black people are criminals, thugs, or are violent. This negative attitude towards black people allows discrimination and harsh punishment towards the black community. This affects many minorities across the country as shown through cases of harassment, police brutality, false arresting, and killings of innocent African Americans. As this continues to go on, many communities fall apart, the news starts broadcasting biased opinions, and the mistreatment continues being seen as “normal.”

Prejudiced police staff leads to an over policing of minorities. To be prejudiced is to have a negative feeling against a group of people— not based on personal experiences or interactions, but due to learned negative stereotypes. One image I stumbled upon In The New Yorker news journal was titled, “The Future of Black Lives Matter”, which was captured by photographer Max Becherer. The image captures a group of protesters gathered angrily in Baton Rouge due to another police killing of a black man, Alton Sterling, while officers are armed forming a blockage on the opposite side of the street. One man stands in the middle of the two groups, trying to stop the violence and keep peace between the citizens and the police department. After Sterling’s case, pronouncing the officer not guilty, the black community in the Baton Rouge area grew furious and rioted the street. The image captures the continuous divide within our country, and the effects it has on cities all over by emphasizing the visual divide. The image clearly shows two separate groups of people fighting and disagreeing. Becherer used the rhetorical strategy pathos in his image to emphasize the emotions felt during the protest by showing both sides of the issue. He showed the pain and anger the protesters had by focusing on their facial expressions. He also showed the fear and frustration within the officers, as they stayed close to each other forming a thin blue line for protection. The image is meant to sympathize towards the community that is suffering due to prejudice views and racial discrimination in America. The audience starts to express different emotions towards the issue just by analyzing it. Some feel sorrow and sadness, while others may feel anger and frustration towards American policies or the American law enforcement.

Some may say the issue with law enforcement having these prejudiced views is caused by having police across the nation not working within a diverse field. Diversity helps bring new ideas, address new problem solving skills, judgement, and helps build cultural sensitivity. Police departments do not have a diverse staff to build cultural sensitivity or awareness. About 77% of officers in America are white, making it the most predominant race in the occupation (Census Bureau). We see in the image that all of the officers except one are white, while all the protestors are black. The photographer shows the unequal representation of Baton Rouge’s population within the police department. Baton Rouge is 56% African American, and only 37% white, but the police department is 90% white (Census Bureau). If police departments lack diversity within different races and backgrounds, how are officers supposed to understand different situations within their own communities better, learn how to problem solve better, or create judgment without a negative stereotype behind it. Cristal Harris, a law student at San Francisco School of Law, writes a research article called, “Dark Innocence: Retraining Police with Mindfulness Practices to Aid in Squelching Implicit Bias.” In the two hundred plus pages of research, Harris discusses the prejudice views officers have and how they affect the relationships within their community. One study on shooter bias concluded that white officers tend to react to shoot the black suspect quicker than they would react to the same crime for a white suspect (Harris 107). The evidence shows that many people have negative stereotypes on people of color, and tend to mistreat them more frequently than they would non-minorities. The stereotype that blacks commit more crimes than other races is the justification of officers wrongly arresting more blacks than whites. The lack of diversity and cultural insensitivity in this occupation is detrimental to the American people. In the image mentioned earlier, there is also the fact that not every black protestor is violent. There is a man in the middle of the police and the angry protestors. He himself is a  black protestor, however he is not displaying any anger towards either group. He is a peaceful protestor. He believes the issue can be resolved by working together, not attacking each other emphasizing logic and reason by using the rhetorical strategy logos.

For years, the black community has been trying to find ways to eliminate these confrontations. Even governors and other politicians see the issue and want to help resolve them. Improving the training and diversity within police departments will slowly bring Americans back together. In San Francisco, blacks and latinos are arrested and pulled over three times their white counterparts, while being less likely to engage in criminal activity (Harris 104). Due to high rates of arrests in the minority community, San Francisco’s Governor Jerry Brown signed and passed a new law to stop racial profiling, the AB 953. This California bill requires all police officers to record the race of each person they pull over. The goal was to “improve diversity and racial and identity sensitivity in law enforcement” (105). This will help raise awareness on the racial profiling that some officers may not have been aware they were preforming. This also helps improve the training of police officers, as they are now conditioned to not pull someone over because of their skin color. Improving the training will help protect all people and allow everyone to feel safe. Countless times, “[police] turn blind eye to crimes that whites commit, allowing police to hyper focus on people of color” (106). This shows that some police do in fact have prejudiced views on minorities and only see them as criminals and trouble makers, while not paying any attention to the white criminals. A multitude of officers also act irrationally and panic while working within the predominantly black community due to fearful thoughts (Chama 210). If training sessions about racism are improved, negative stereotypes would be addressed. There is also evidence that police wearing body cameras decrease harsh policing minorities and wrongful arrest. Many police officers would hide their identity when exposed to brutal behavior to avoid being accountable (Chama 207), but when wearing a body camera, it is difficult to avoid the evidence against oneself. Body cameras have been distributed within police departments all across the country, and more and more communities feel safe, relying on the equipment to give justice. While it will be difficult to turn around all of the police officers with these ideas and change their morals, it is great to have this training introduced to police departments across the county and add the equipment as a necessity.

Many prejudicial cases are presented in the media with a biased point of view, contributing to the divide in communities. For this image, ethos was used due to the credibility of the source. The New Yorker is a well known and popular journal due to the reliable news coverage and stories it presents. Since Becherer works under the news outlet, his image is considered reliable in delivering the true meaning of the image, without being biased to one side of the story. Anyone can be biased to one side of any story, but because he is a photographer for a huge journal, he is able to put his beliefs aside to present a fair and truthful story. In the news article, Black Lives Matter Movement, Crime and Police Brutality by Brian Chama, Chama explains how a series of cases of police brutality presented in the media are biased and contribute to dividing communities apart. Many news articles and stories broadcast these events with biased points of view. News articles like to show riots, protest, and anger, but they do not fairly explain why the people are angry. Brian Chama interviews people of all age groups and socioeconomic statuses across the Chicago area. He asks how they feel on different news articles, and their opinions on whether or not it is reported from a biased standpoint. He found that the New York Post has a conservative bias standpoint that made many black people feel as though it displays negative and inaccurate coverage. The New York Post also criticized the Black Lives Matter Movement and police brutality, “…blam[ing] the movement for triggering police confrontations with the black community” (Chama 206). This is allowing the public to see the movement as irresponsible and “perceived as a criminal organization.” Having a credible source allows the audience to build their own opinion and judgement on a topic. Becherer does an excellent job on concealing his point of view through the image. He captured the moment so that the audience can make their own opinions. The image makes the audience stop and think about what their views are, and how they can contribute to strengthen their community. 

Police brutality is the result of prejudiced views on minorities, resulting in protest, riots, violence, and many broken cities. This image along with many years of different research, is meant to spread awareness of police brutality and policies the U.S. should change in order to protect everyone equally. With more diversity introduced, and better news coverage, the damaged relation between the law enforcement and minorities can improve. This has been a reoccurring issue in American history, but many Americans think if it does not directly affect them, why try to change it? But the fact is, it affects everyone. If one does not care to improve police relations with minorities, then there will just be more and more violence, higher crime rates, and an unfair judicial system. When policies come up, if not enough people care to vote or are educated on the issue, then there will be no change for those that need it. If there is not enough diversity within the police departments, then it will be thought of as a “white only” occupation, and many minorities will not want to associate with it. More and more people will be fearful of the police, and will not feel safe to reach out for help. A bigger divide will grow between minorities and nonminorities unless everyone makes the effort to change. With improvement of police training, providing more equipment and diversity, more and more Americans will feel safe. There will be less violence, arrest, and riots nationwide. 

Works Cited

Chama, Brian. “The Black Lives Matter Movement, Crime and Police Brutality: Comparative

 Study of New York Post and New York Daily News.” European Journal of American

     Culture, vol. 38, no. 3, Sept. 2019

Cobb, Jelani. “After Dallas, The Future Of Black Lives Matter”. The New Yorker, 2020, https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/after-dallas-the-future-of-black-lives-matter

Harris, Cristal. “Dark Innocence: Retraining Police with Mindfulness Practices to Aid

 in Squelching Implicit Bias.” University of San Francisco Law Review, vol. 51, no. 1, Mar. 2017, pp. 103–125.

“Police Officers | Data USA”. Datausa.Io, 2020, https://datausa.io/profile/soc/333050/#demographics.

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