Compliance Is No Guarantee of Safety

by Senior Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Sandra Wilborn

 

As I awoke to the news of yet another young, black man being shot and killed by police, my heart began to ache. As I sit here searching for words, I am overly aware of my shock and disbelief. Numb to some extent, because I know that life goes on and there are those who count on me to be functional. I feel for family members and friends of those who are lost, and I know quite well, deep down, as a person of color; I can be touched by blatant or unconscious bias related violence at any time. It can happen to me. This is not to say that I am more at risk than most, which is definitely not to say that I am equally at risk as a black man is, I am not. However, being a person of color does make one keenly aware that instances of bias related violence, blatant or otherwise, occur significantly more often to people of color than to whites, statistically speaking. It’s a different point of view for some, and a very different world for many.

“In 2007, ColorLines and the Chicago Reporter conducted a joint national investigation of fatal police shootings in America’s largest cities, each of which had more than 1 million people in 2000. The Chicago Reporter found that Blacks are overrepresented and Latinos a rising number of those fatally shot by police.”  http://colorlines.com/articles/killed-cops

For recent statistics on individual events, The Washington Post has designed a database called Fatal Force. Utilizing news reports, public records, social media and other sources, it displays and keeps up to date information on individuals shot and killed by police thus far in 2016. Started last year, you can also see statistics and information from 2015.

We should be keenly aware of such statistics and instances and have knowledge about the potential for things to go wrong when law enforcement encounters a person of color to avoid falling into our own bias trap when we hear of such events. For instance, if it was just about following the officer’s directions, things would be simple. To state that it’s a matter of compliance would be to irresponsibly simplify the complexity of bias and perception, not to mention stereotypes. It’s important to note further the internal processes and reactions of our peers who know from personal experience that as a person of color, individuals may literally feel like they are taking their lives into their own hands every time they leave their homes. How might that perception impact my own innate sense of self-preservation? How might that perception impact my quality of life, the quality of my relationships, my every decision? Now, and always, how can I assure that I am the best ally, and how can I/We gently support our co-workers who are impacted by this?

We are beyond questioning whether bias related unreasonable use of force by some in law enforcement is an issue; it IS an issue. How can we diminish its impact on our world and how can we support efforts toward accountability to ensure justice?

 

Resources

Campaign Zero

NAACP

Bureau of Justice Statistics

Black Lives Matter

U.S. Department of Justice

Basic Rights Oregon

ColorLines