Culture Wars/Current Controversies

White people can compartmentalize police brutality. Black people don’t have the luxury.

The difference is that not only are blacks more likely to have negative experiences with the police relative to population size, but blacks are accustomed to having an “outsider” status. When a cop harms a black person, many other blacks take it personally and see it as an attack on their entire community by an unjust system. When a cop harms a white person, other whites typically see it as an isolated incident perpetrated by an individual bad cop, not as a collective threat or systemic process. Blacks tend to think of themselves as collective identity, while whites are more of an amorphous mass of light-skinned people divided into all kinds of subgroupings (class, occupation, geography, religion, politics, culture, lifestyle, etc.). Similar differences can be found among blacks as well, but collectively blacks have the heritage of having been a legally-defined subordinate caste (similar to the Dalits of India), while whites have no such collective distinction.

By Radley Balko

Washington Post

Four years ago, a white man named Daniel Shaver was shot and killed by a police officer in Mesa, Ariz. Shaver, who worked in pest control, was in Mesa on business. While in his hotel room, he showed two acquaintances a pellet gun used to shoo birds out of stores. Someone outside the room saw the gun flash outside the window, and called police. In body cam footage that police were later forced to release, Shaver can be seen unarmed and on all fours, pleading for his life as officers shouted contradictory commands at him. When Shaver reached back to pull up his shorts, Officer Phillip Brailsford shot Shaver dead.

The Shaver video is one of the most haunting and horrifying recordings of police abuse you’re ever likely to see. Brailsford — who had a history of excessive force and had engraved the words “You’re F****d” on his service weapon — was later acquitted by a jury, reinstated and allowed to retire with a pension and disability pay for the trauma he said he suffered as a result of killing Shaver.

Shaver’s death is often brought up by people who are sympathetic to the argument that policing has grown too aggressive and militaristic, but who are skeptical that race has anything to do with it. They ask: Isn’t Shaver’s death proof that policing isn’t necessarily racist, but just too aggressive against everyone? And why didn’t Shaver’s death spark protests like those seen in Minneapolis and elsewhere since the death of George Floyd?

The answer to the first question is easy. The problems in policing — from militarization to lack of transparency, to misplaced incentives, to the lack of real accountability — certainly do affect everyone, not just black people. According to The Post’s database of fatal police shootings, since 2015 police have shot and killed about twice as many white people as black people.

But while police abuse and violence have the potential to harm anyone, as with virtually all of the other shortcomings of the criminal justice system, it disproportionately harms black people. Cops may shoot and kill twice as many white people as black, but there about six times as many white people as black people in the United States. Proportionally, black people are much more likely to be shot and killed by cops.


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