If only it were that simple. Unfortunately, a perceived problem distorts the actual problem. The perceived problem is that law enforcement officials police through racial bias and intimidation and utilize force unnecessarily because they are out to get the general public and profit from the interaction. The actual problem is that law enforcement is not well understood, nor is how and why law enforcement officers take action. As a whole, law enforcement utilizes intimidation too frequently, but in many situations, intimidation is required to ensure safety.
An ancillary problem is that law enforcement by and large operates through a socio-economic lens and bias. In other words, I believe law enforcement is biased against poor people rather than against people of other races. The media’s focus on race inflames the situation and helps to conceal the underlying issue that affects all races – how the police deal with poor people. In addition, the current environment is very hostile to law enforcement, which further alienates the brave men and women who answer the call to serve.
The Washington Post completed a comprehensive breakdown of officer-involved fatal shootings starting in 2015. This breakdown included gender, weapon, race, signs of mental illness, age, and threat level. While this information was enlightening, it did not include the socio-economic status of the individuals shot and killed.
The Prison Policy Initiative did conduct a study in 2014 focusing on the economic level of people incarcerated in prison, but there is no database that records the economic status of individuals contacted by law enforcement or arrested and put in a county jail. Because of this, the problem has to be worked backwards. The progression is, people are contacted by law enforcement, arrested and placed in a county jail, and then incarcerated in a prison. The Prison Policy Initiative determined that, prior to being incarcerated, 72% of all incarcerated women made less than $22,500 a year and 57% of all incarcerated men made less than $22,500 a year. These numbers hover just slightly above the poverty level.
Once we become aware of the actual problem, we can begin to make strides to improve it.