The ‘real’ pandemic: systemic racism and the weaponization of 911 calls
Updated: Apr 6
The killing of George Floyd, a black man from Minnesota, and recent Georgia murder victim, Ahmaud Arbery, has proved once again that being a person of color in America entails the same generational subjugation and disproportionate policing that has oppressed and exploited black people since this country’s founding.
The residual effects of centuries worth of enslavement, exploitation and segregation perpetuates the unspoken racial hierarchy in cancerous ways, putting the black community at an economic or social disadvantage in almost every aspect of American life. This inequality is further fueled by their toxic relationship with law enforcement and the weaponized use of emergency services.
911, a basic lifeline for many, is the cause of death for others, namely people of color. This, however, is not a recent development; the creation of police departments and the decision of who they serve dates back to the days of slavery.
According to the National Law Enforcement Museum, sheriffs and the earliest acts of “policing” were used in the United States as a way of controlling minorities like African and Native Americans.
These “patrollers” embodied the white Southerner’s “one eye open,” as many feared imminent rebellion or the escape of those they enslaved. They vowed to find and return fugitive slaves and instill terror in the slaves they patrolled to prevent future rebellion.
“I, [patroller's name], do swear, that I will as searcher for guns, swords, and other weapons among the slaves in my district, faithfully, and as privately as I can, discharge the trust reposed in me as the law directs, to the best of my power. So help me, God.” - The Slave Patroller’s Oath, North Carolina.
These patrollers are generally suspected to have ties to the formation of the Ku Klux Klan, which arose following the conclusion of the Civil War, after the explicit use of brute force was decidedly no longer socially acceptable.
Legislation, however, did not repeal the white disposition that a “subhuman” status increased the likelihood of criminal activity and a subsequent threat to white society. These Klansmen and lynch mobs used their unrestricted authority and notion of “servitude” to reinforce black people’s second-class citizenship well into the 1960s.
This racialized image of crime later enabled the mass incarceration and brutality of black people through legislation in the name of “law and order,” during the “war on poverty,” “the war on drugs” and the “war on crime” which all disproportionately affected black communities.
This narrative of terror prevails even today.
While over the centuries police departments and internal defense agencies have broadened the palette of colors they choose to serve, the 21st century continues to remind us that the police force is not loyal to communities of color in the way it is for whites. For white citizens, the application of “innocent until proven guilty” is unconditional. For people of color, the proven instinct of many officers is to “shoot first and ask questions later.”
This is not to say that the officers who behave objectively are the minority, but police brutality is a cumulative issue that comprises the officers who are passive in times of tension and those who do not report abusive associates, not just those who pull the trigger.
The unwillingness to prioritize this human rights violation is evident in the installation of body and dash cameras before education on policing with racial equity and sensitivity is enforced.
The generational trauma and tension between colored communities and law enforcement continues to be exploited by white citizens capitalizing on their inherent privilege; the prevalence of this behavior and it’s deadly implications was made evident on multiple occasions this month alone.
The deaths of Floyd, Arbery and the felony accusation against Christain Cooper are just three of the recorded instances that stand as a testament to the resurgence of the weaponization of 911. These incidents occur much more often than what national news outlets show.
To call 911 on a colored person without justification reveals obvious intent to inflict harm on that individual, whether that entails wrongful incarceration or death.
Excessive use of force and subsequent manslaughter occurs at a significantly higher rate against black people than any other community. Victims like Floyd, Eric Garner and William Green were blatantly murdered by officers despite holding no threat to them or bystanders. All three of these men were killed by the responding officers after already having been detained.
The lack of justification in these and hundreds of other murders, especially when compared to the treatment of white counterparts, signal that race was an undeniable factor in the officers’ choice of action.
Floyd, a black man who is said to have allegedly provided a counterfeit $20 bill to a local grocery store, was suffocated to death by former Minneapolis officer, Derek Chauvin, after Chauvin was recorded kneeling on Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes. Floyd, who was already in handcuffs, can be seen begging for his life in the viral video of his arrest, complaining of stomach pain and his inability to breath, similar to what was seen in the case of Garner.
Floyd is seen slowly losing consciousness and is confirmed to have no pulse on video, by a responding paramedic, yet prosecutors argued that the cause of death was a result of a suspected “overdose” from substances they claim made him inebriated before their arrival. It was not until a private autopsy commissioned by Floyd’s family confirmed that his cause of death was mechanical asphyxia induced by homicide.
Floyd was restrained and murdered over an alleged felony crime before he ever made it inside the police car. Before being honored the right to a fair trial, he faced public execution in 2020.
In a starkly different turn of events, white Connecticut murder suspect, Peter Manfredonia, who is accused of two counts of murder, assault and kidnapping, was “peacfully” taken into custody by officers the same week as Floyd’s murder.
He was taken into custody alive and unharmed.
For officers who use excessive force and for those who are complicit, criminal punishment does not necessarily have to fit the crime but is designed to fit the race of the accused. This principle has a causal role in the racial discrepancies of sentencing, media coverage on crime and the demographics of the wrongfully accused.
In addition, according to the National Police Misconduct Reporting Project, law enforcement officials are half as likely to be convicted for “use of force” crimes than the general population, partially because instances of misconduct are often investigated by the same departments for which the accused officer is employed. This allows said departments to privately decide whether they believe the action was justified or, if not, how to discipline the officer in question.
The irony is that justice has a tendency of being conveniently decided for those sworn to ensure its objective application.
In the case of Floyd, Chauvin was effectively fired from the Minneapolis Police Department and convicted for his murder. While any ending that results in a degree of accountability for the perpetrators of hate crimes is a victory in itself, the issues with Chauvin’s first conviction reaffirm the power of privilege and the shield.
Chauvin was charged with the manslaughter and third degree murder of Floyd. Minnesota statutes state that murder in the third degree resulting from an altercation was “accidental,” and lacks the malice or premediation to suggest there was an intent to kill.
This is not what occurred in the case of Floyd; the “knee-to-neck” restraint used is a move discouraged by many police departments and other officers due to the dangerous implications of such pressure. While Minneapolis may allow such a tactic in the case of resistance, the visible and vocalized deterioration of Floyd’s condition in conjunction with the amount of time pressure was applied makes his death far from accidental. This confirms
Chauvin was inappropriately charged.
It was not until after nearly two weeks of international protests, looting and President Trump’s threat to implement martial law to quell public outrage that Chauvin was additionally charged with murder in the second degree. Though the defense continues to argue that Floyd’s death was “unintentional,” it is now acknowledged that his death was a result of an assault in progress with Chauvin having a visible intent to inflict harm.
It also took those two weeks for the three complacent officers to be charged for aiding and abetting in Floyd’s murder.
Minnesota is also a “mandatory maximum” state, mandating that all first degree murder perpetrators be immediately sentenced to the maximum sentence for that crime, while perpetrators of the second and third degree follow suit only if they have committed a “heinous crime” within the last 15 years.
The likelihood of the latter’s application to Chauvin would be undeniable given his 18-count history of undisclosed misconduct, but since all of these incidents were privately excused by the police department, the guarantee of a maximum sentence no longer applies to him. Without the application of this mandate, it is unlikely that Chauvin will serve the full 40 year maximum for third degree murder, confirming he will likely be inappropriately sentenced.
Cases of assault and murder, both federal crimes, against people of color seldom result in appropriate punishment or punishment at all. According to Data USA and Mapping Police Violence, though black people are three times as likely to be killed by white people, more than 70% of U.S. officers are white and police kill an average of more than 53 people per month, 99% of officers are not convicted for their crimes.
This is the criminal power of the majority; instilling terror to perpetuate their racial hierarchy, knowing that the justice system is on their side. This is America’s timeless narrative.
For non-people of color, it is long overdue to have the uncomfortable conversation acknowledging that black community’s toxic relationship with law enforcement is a white issue, not the adverse effect of having minorities in America.
Public schools operate on a Eurocentric and Western-dominated curriculum that excludes a majority of African American historical figures and their contributions to literature and history. For example, in the Florida Statutes, a definitive line is drawn between “American history” and “African American history.”
Black history is American history, though the American education system refuses to make room for their achievements and contributions.
The issue is that African Americans are one of the most displaced ethnic groups in the world, with their familiar ties to Africa having slowly dissolved throughout their centuries of enslavement, and generations worth of black history having been made in the country that oppresses them.
Much to the detriment of future racial equality, K-12 education is the hotbed of segregated thought and racial censorship, perpetuating the understanding that “America is white and blacks used to be slaves.”
This, as the extent to which children learn about black culture aside from the recycled names and dates from the Civil Rights movement, reaffirms America’s racial hierarchy and the concept of racial division to newer generations each year.
The system’s unwillingness to center ethnic children in the way it does white students correlates with black student’s disproportionate lack of knowledge about financial assistance opportunities and college credit programs that would enable those from low income homes to attend higher education institutions.
In Florida’s 2018-19 academic year, only 6% of Florida Bright Futures scholarship recipients were black. White recipients account for more than half of this disbursement list.
Living off a high school degree typically forces these students into low income neighborhoods to work blue collar jobs. The difficulty of economically surviving on blue collar income drives reliance on crime and results in subsequent dealings with law enforcement, propelling mass incarceration and making opportunity for more police brutality and unjust killing.
A Human Rights Watch Report reveals that one in 20 black men over the age of 18 is in prison, compared to one in 180 for white men.
The cycle of poverty and reliance on crime is further perpetuated by the difficulty of attaining work after being incarcerated, since criminal history questions are common on job applications.
The American Journal of Sociology confirmed that Black men face copious collateral consequences of incarceration, complicating their reintegration into society. One of these complications is the unlikelihood of employers hiring former convicted felons, especially minorities. Their lack of higher education and financial security makes not returning to crime exceptionally difficult, and results in more interactions with law enforcement and racial targeting.
The exponential rates at which black people are incarcerated or killed as a result of racial profiling and systemic reliance on crime combined with the consequences of job scarcity and the loss of the right to vote compose the modern Jim Crow.
Even for those who complete higher education or maintain a middle to high economic status, implicit bias puts people of color at an inevitable disadvantage in terms of loan distribution, job attainment and other economic areas, hindering the sustainment of family wealth and jeopardizing financial security for future generations.
Black people are systematically put in a place of vulnerability that enables police violence.
Those who are responsible for the weaponization of 911 or who abuse the power of their badge implicitly acknowledge the corruption of this country’s justice system and therefore delegitimize it. If the promise of “justice for all” was truly exercised, there would be no racial discrepancy in its application.
To make a conscious felony claim against a black individual or to use a position of authority as an outlet for racial tension without fear of repercussions is to accept and exploit the fact that the justice system is biased, making justice an exclusive concept and contradicting this uniquely American declaration.
These racial undertones embedded in American democracy compromise the legitimacy of the court systems and law enforcement, dampening the integrity of the country as a whole.
For America to truly be “great,” then, it has no other choice but to enforce racial equity. This holds true for our education and economic system, since all instances of racial inequality signal a compromise of integrity.
This knowledge is not to necessitate hatred toward white people or law enforcement, but to place responsibility on those with white privilege to take accountability in dismantling the system they inherently benefit from. This information also does not question the fact that the minority of abusive officers are not representative of law enforcement as a whole, but simply acknowledges that this agency in its entirety was made racist by design.
Relentless and senseless killing, however, is an issue of great urgency that requires immediate prioritization.
While dismantling racism will take time and legislation, the most immediate action that can be taken is to de-weaponize public servants operating on ignorance and bigotry. This starts by requiring law enforcement officials to earn a higher education degree before being permitted to begin police training.
It is only fitting that those who are responsible for the equitable enforcement of the law and the protection of human life be at least equally as educated as other professionals who hold the same obligation.
Lawyers, who are accountable for the impartial application of the law and the preservation of justice, require an undergraduate degree and a law degree after a total of seven years of schooling.
As the first line of defense against illnesses and injuries, doctors generally spend eight years in school and up to seven years in residency in order to effectively and safely maintain human health.
The Police Academy, on the other hand, only takes between 13 to 19 weeks along with at least a high school degree.
The National Police Foundation reported that about less than a third of all U.S. officers have four-year degrees. About half of all officers have two-year degrees.
The main difference between these occupations is that officers are armed and are severely undereducated for the amount of power they have in the enforcement of justice and the preservation of life.
A 2014 Michigan State University study concluded that officers who earned at least a four-year degree were less likely to resort to force as a first option and had a “greater acceptance of minorities,” subsequently reducing the risk for racial targeting and police brutality. The Journal of Criminal Justice Education, alongside copious other studies, confirms this.
Higher education is a vital component of effective public service and is necessary to create critical-thinking and culturally-educated officers.
A higher education degree should therefore be a requirement in conjunction with practical, but regulated, training. De-escalation tactics and cultural sensitivity training are a few police reforms necessary to cease mass incarceration, racial profiling and senseless murder.
The enemy is racism in itself and the solution requires collective action and cultural education.
At this point in time, especially when supporters of people of color undoubtedly outnumber the racist adversary, to be non-racist and silently complacent is equally as harmful. There is no longer an excuse for ignorance.
By Haley Hartner