PHOTO: The 67th Men’s Little 500

Aptly named like its famous Hoosier cousin, the Little 500 was inspired by 500 laps taken annually at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. This year marked the 67th running of the race for men and the 30th for women.

The following photos were captured during the 200-lap race at the fourth turn of the track in Bill Armstrong Stadium.

 

Race and Policing: All Things Being Unequal

For centuries, racial minorities in the United States have felt the sting of oppression. While overt oppression has become less common, the problem of racism in America is far from eradicated. Specifically, within the realm of policing, issues still exist that walk a fine line between justifiable disparities and racial discrimination. A disconnect exists between minority communities – particularly black, urban communities – and the officers patrolling them. Officers are often seen using their discretion to harass and oppress people of color. These interactions succeed in making policing a community more difficult for officers and making residents feel less safe. As such, taking the time to police the police, ensuring their execution of their job is fair and legal and rebuilding their broken relationships with the communities in which they work will be vital to improve the current state of race and policing.

The United States is in the middle of a police legitimacy crisis. Videos circulating around the internet show officers abusing their power. Widespread distrust of authority is nothing new within the African American community. During the time of slavery, people acting as law enforcement captured escaped slaves and strictly enforced slave codes (Class Notes Mar. 21). This style of policing was adapted into Jim Crow Laws post-slavery and is still seen today in many officers’ use of occupational discretion (Class Notes Mar. 21). These historical issues have developed into similar, subtler discriminatory tactics, specifically racial profiling, an excessive use of force against people of color and a lack of accountability for officers.

The U.S. Department of Justice has reviewed multiple police departments in response to complaints and protests evidencing civil unrest. Recently, reviews of both the Ferguson (Missouri) and Baltimore police departments have found evidence of racial profiling and racial disparities in police actions. In Ferguson for example, from 2012 to 2014, “African Americans [accounted] for 85% of vehicle stops, 90% of citations and 93% of arrests made by FPD officers despite comprising only 67% of Ferguson’s population” (DOJ Mar. 2015). This kind of disparity in stops and arrests is clearly racially charged and has increased tensions between officers and Ferguson residents. An investigation of the Baltimore Police Department the following year found that “there is overwhelming statistical evidence of racial disparities in BPD’s stops, searches and arrests…[demonstrating] a discriminatory impact on African Americans” (DOJ Aug. 2016). According to a national survey, these are not isolated incidents within departments. A survey released in 2014 by the Bureau of Justice Statistics shows that, in 2011, 13 percent of African American drivers were stopped at least once, compared with only 10 percent of whites or Hispanics (Soffen 2016). While the Hispanic community also feels the tension of racial profiling, instances of these injustices are more difficult to document due to inconsistency in the labeling of a person by their race – white or black – or by their ethnicity – Hispanic. As such, these numbers, appearing only slightly increased from whites, may be indirectly skewed.

Along with documented cases of racial profiling, there are cases of excessive use of force against people of color. Officer William Martin of Fort Worth, Texas, is one of the most well-known officers to have been filmed using excessive force (Class Notes Mar. 21). Martin’s aggressive behavior and caustic language eventually turns into physical violence against an African American woman and her daughters. His behavior is now dangerously common. In 2015, 965 people were fatally shot by police officers nationwide; black men, although accounting for only six percent of the population, made up 40 percent of fatal shootings that year (Kindy, Fisher, Tate & Jenkins 2015). This extreme use of deadly force leaves people wondering who answers for these murders.

Generally speaking, police officers are reprimanded within their departments by internal review boards comprised of members closely tied to the officers being investigated. Looking again at the Baltimore Police Department, it has been found that the BPD discourages people from filing complaints, closes complaints on an arbitrary and premature level and delays investigating received complaints (DOJ, 2016). Police often go unchecked or receive the minimal punishment needed to quell complaints. Baltimore is only one example of a clear breakdown in the reviewing of and disciplining of police officers who overstep their boundaries.

Knowing what problems exist between police and people of color, it is important to seek solutions that both decrease the instances of injustice and help to heal community-police relations. This can be addressed by allowing for external oversight of police officers by citizens, demanding more scrutiny in incidents where force is used and increasing diversity in police departments.

For years, citizens have complained that police reviewing their own misconduct leads to inaction. Many civil rights organizations say citizens should be the ones policing the police (Walker, Spohn & DeLone 1996). These requests have been met with heavy opposition by police departments but have still spread in some areas. People believe independent review of accusations of police misconduct creates more confidence among those who wish to lodge a complaint and allows them to do so without a fear of retaliation (Walker, Spohn & DeLone 1996). Adding mandated civilian review boards to all police departments could bring about increased accountability in police departments.

Limiting the use of force against citizens will also serve to better community relations and increase police legitimacy. It has been found that people were more likely to have favorable attitudes toward police when they felt they were treated fairly, understood the situation and experienced polite interactions (Walker, Spohn & DeLone 1996). This level of civility is necessary in any situation where police want respect. By mandating something as simple as a detailed report from any officer who uses force in an interaction, officers are discouraged from using excessive force when simply taking control of the situation will do. Acting to prevent abuse of force is one of many ways people will see police less as tyrants and more as respectable authority figures.

Along with increased scrutiny, the face of the police force needs to change. For years, police departments have been mainly comprised of white males. Despite Baltimore being 63 percent African American and Ferguson being 67 percent African American, their police forces remain mainly white (Ashkenas & Park 2014). There is a similar lack of Hispanic and female police officers nationwide. This kind of racial disparity results cultural differences and misunderstandings. While the number of African American officers nationwide has risen from 3.6 percent in 1961 to 11.7 percent in 2003, there is still a large gap in the number of African American officers versus the number of African American being policed (Walker, Spohn & DeLone 1996). Similar proportions have been seen in Hispanic communities. An increased proportion of minority officers will help decrease tensions between officers and their communities.

There is no denying that a racial disparity in policing exists in the United States. African Americans have been unequally and often unjustly exposed to excess police scrutiny, violence and oppression for years while white citizens at times receive preferential treatment. Problems with racial profiling, excessive use of force and a lack of officer accountability have led to a police legitimacy crisis across the nation. This problem can only be fixed through citizen oversight, discretion in use of force and an increase in the number of officers of color. By making these changes, police will reclaim their position as authority figures who work to protect and serve their communities.

 

Works Cited

Ashkenas, J., & Park, H. (2014, September 04). The Race Gap in America’s Police Departments.   Retrieved April 24, 2017, from https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2014/09/03/us/the-race-gap-in-americas-police-departments.html

Gaston, Shytierra (2017). Class Notes. Race, Class and Crime. March 21, 2017.

Kindy, K., Fisher, M., Tate, J., & Jenkins, J. (2015, December 26). A year of reckoning: Police fatally shoot nearly 1,000. Retrieved April 24, 2017, from                        http://www.washingtonpost.com/sf/investigative/2015/12/26/a-year-of-reckoning-police-fatally-shoot-nearly-1000/?utm_term=.4d3431bb0f43

Soffen, K. (2016, July 08). The big question about why police pull over so many black drivers. Retrieved April 24, 2017, from                                                                                                           https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2016/07/08/the-big-question-about-       why-police-pull-over-so-many-black-drivers/

United States, Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division. (August 10, 2016). Investigation of the Baltimore City Police Department (pp. 1-164).

United States. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, (March 4, 2015). Investigation of the   Ferguson Police Department (pp. 1-105).

Walker, S., Spohn, C., & DeLone, M. (1996). The Color of Justice: Race, Ethnicity and Crime in   America (5th ed.). Belmont: Wadsworth Pub. Co.

 

Race and the Media: Are We Looking at the Same Person?

I grew up in a predominantly white suburban neighborhood about an hour southwest of Chicago. Despite that, my parents knew well enough to raise me color blind. While I see a vivid spectrum of colors in the world around me, something I very rarely see is race. I was never taught to differentiate between white and black and African American (which are different to some people) and Hispanic and Asian and anybody else you can imagine because it just wasn’t important. It was a “God makes people in all different shapes and sizes (and colors)” kind of household and it made me more aware of the egregious injustices that can plague minority races in this country. Because the media is run predominantly by a single demographic, that being an older white male, it has a terribly habit of distorting representation of people belonging to ethnic and racial minorities in a way that they become almost unrecognizable.

Like I said, I am color blind when it comes to people, but that doesn’t mean I don’t see patently offensive and what I consider to be highly unethical choices made by the people disseminating news and entertainment. While the news is supposed to contain an unbiased representation of the facts, people often play subconsciously into stereotypical traps, or worse, theatrics. Take, for example, a mug shot shown in the paper or on television. Those pictures are not the most flattering or human images of people, and, in fact, they tend to make us believe a person is guilty. This is especially true of a white audience looking at a black man’s mug shot. “Pictures of black men that flash on the screen leave an indelible image that anyone, with the exception of somebody white, is guilty,” and this is a huge problem (Smith). The stereotype created here makes black men out to be violent criminals while white men tend to be misguided, from a bad home or mentally disabled. The fact of the matter is that any man (or woman) can be violent and any man (or woman) can have life factors that predispose them to committing crime.

In the entertainment media world, the divide only gets worse. For black men, “[t]he typical roles are all too often the black sidekick of a white protagonist, for example, the token black person, the comedic relief, the athlete, the over-sexed ladies’ man, the absentee father or, most damaging, the violent black man as drug-dealing criminal and gangster thug” (Smith). Even though we don’t think it will, these images affect our perceptions of people in our everyday lives. They cause us to cross the street at night when we see somebody coming, even if we don’t know why. They cause us to create criminals and ignorant people where they do not exist. Black people are not the only ones plagued by this kind of stereotyping; everybody from Asians and Hispanics to blondes and big-boned women suffers from this kind of snap judgment. The issue here is that the media is in many ways reinforcing the stereotype. People don’t necessarily want to see a black protagonist, at least not unless he is fighting the odds to stay off the streets. We have been sadly conditioned not to know how to respond to such a story otherwise.

The media is a powerful tool. It can set agendas, start trends and send ripples through society. When used properly, the media is equipped to make a change in our color-obsessed society. It can show you that a person is a person no matter what you may see or hear when you interact with them. Darron T. Smith puts it best in a Huffington Post article when he says, “[u]nfortunately, images and words wound and are difficult to erase from the mind.”  Once people are exposed to these damaging images, it is nearly impossible to remove them. I say nearly because it can be done. An intelligent, tolerant person can fight through the media distortion to realize that the stereotypes perpetuated in the media are nothing if not horribly inaccurate.

There is still hope that people can live wonderful color blind lives together. It doesn’t take much effort if you are already there, but if you aren’t, I assure you the task is worth the effort. Life becomes much easier when we don’t hate or form snap judgments. I personally know people who just don’t fit into any stereotyped roles. I see them and wonder what a producer would do if they met them. How would they handle an encounter with such a unique, human person? While the media hasn’t caught on to this just yet, I hope that we may see a full spectrum of people of all races fitting all personality types that truly apply to people. I hope that we can see characters not for their color, but for their humanity.

Ta-Nehisi Coates Letting Us into His World

Coates
Ta-Nehisi Coates was an absolute pleasure to hear speak. Photo via: Music Arts Center Handout

After sitting in on Ta-Nehisi Coates’ lecture and reading of an excerpt from his book, I can see why all the tickets were gone four hours after they were available to the public. Coates spent the bulk of his time talking about his book, “Between the World and Me,” but what he was really talking about is race in America and the societal wrongs we have been perpetuating over the last few centuries and quite likely longer than that. Brian Watts of the School of Public and Environmental Affairs introduced Coates with a host of titles, but by far, the most important one was “truth-teller.” In listening to Coates speak, I believe he can move people to change, to want better things for American citizens of all races, socioeconomic backgrounds and different kinds of people.

Coates is an inspiring man, and he took the time to inspire me in a way I didn’t even know I needed. In the beginning, before he read from “Between the World and Me,” he spoke to all young writers in all mediums and said some of the most important words I have ever heard: “Don’t quit. Don’t ever quit.” Now, I’ve heard that idea from a host of people in a host of different ways before, but knowing the adversity Coates faced in growing up in West Baltimore and on a social plane that I can’t even begin to understand, hearing him tell me not to quit, that I will fail, that he still fails and that all of that is perfectly fine had a profound effect on me. In essence, I believed him.

“A book is a crafted thing,” Coates said. He then went on to tell us the shallow and the deep reason behind writing this book. He talked about Prince Jones, a friend of his from Howard University who was killed by police officers. Jones became the beginning of a platform to talk about race and what people are afraid to be black in America. I knew these things were true. I have an awareness of history that spans more than just American pride. I see what kinds of headlines about cops make the news. I know these issues are out there, but for me, they are so distant that I really can’t fathom them on my own. Hearing from Coates, letting him tell from first person experience what it is like to be so fearful and have so little control moved me. I tweeted him after the show that I couldn’t get to the microphone for the question and answer portion, but I wanted to know what a person like me could do to start changing the way these things happen. I do hope he will respond.

I found Ta-Nehisi Coates to be a very well educated and well-spoken person on the matter of race in America. He absolutely shocked me when he explained that “white supremacy is a matter of cash.” I had never considered it in that way, but listening to his exposition and elaboration of the idea that slavery was what built the American economy from the ground up, it made sense. “The problem isn’t to get people to hold other people’s hands,” he said. “It’s to get people’s hands out of other people’s pockets.” It still amazes me to hear stories about black tax dollars going to fund public education in schools that wouldn’t accept their children or to promote community projects in which they could not participate. I don’t believe that kind of injustice has gone away; rather, it has a new face and marches around behind the guise of mass incarceration.

I am extremely grateful that I was able to listen to Ta-Nehisi Coates. His statements were bold and thought-provoking and his manner was one of understanding and respect. As both a writer and a student, he inspired me. He made me want to keep failing and keep getting better and he made me want to do what I can to point out injustices in the world through my work.