As someone who has resided in Midtown Kingston for well over 30-plus years, I have certainly seen the ups and downs in and around my community. Needless to say, I have witnessed crime at its height and I have also witnessed revitalization where residents “decided” to move into the neighborhood and buy homes. I have witnessed the community caring for one another and lending helping hands to someone in need, whether it be distributing free back-to-school supplies, distributing clothing or starting Gofundme campaigns to help families dealing with housing insecurities.
I have also witnessed the ongoing turbulence between police and people of color. We would like to think there is no disparity between the way we are policed and the way our counterparts are policed. I recently had my own encounter with law enforcement which I would certainly deem “suspect,” but I digress. Unfortunately, until law enforcement admits there is a problem, there will continue to be a problem.
Here’s the issue with DA Carnright’s statement that cops are handcuffed in trying to make Midtown Kingston safer. Blacks really do experience enough casual, reflexive racism from law enforcement officers to make them understandably fearful that racism permeates the criminal justice system. I know there is much of our American history that one would like to forget. Truth be told, we as Americans seem to have short memories when it comes to uncomfortable reality or truth that interferes with our way of life. For instance, if I bring up how our enslaved ancestors were treated, the response is often, “What does slavery have to do with anything? I am not responsible for something that happened over 400 years ago.” What the law enforcement community fails to realize is that our past is the root of problems today.
The fact that there were “slave patrols” plays a huge part of why there is such distrust between police and African-Americans. When runaway slaves escaped, warrants were issued, led by the sheriff, to basically do as they pleased if that slave did not have written documentation giving permission to be off the plantation. This included — but was not limited to — beatings, rape, assault and even hangings for those found to be in violation of the law.
The running list of black men and boys who have been shot and killed by police under suspicious circumstances can serve as a tragic reminder of the danger they face upon being born into a world of hate that branded them as suspects since birth. Because we know the history and have witnessed over-policing and excessive aggression by law enforcement, it is a natural inclination to be cautious. Today, African-American parents have “the talk” with their children concerning the police.
DA Carnright mentions we need to get back to “proactive policing.” As cited in the National Academies Press, the high rates at which non-whites are stopped, questioned, cited, arrested, or injured by the police present some of the most salient criminal justice policy phenomena in the United States (Kochel, Wilson, and Mastrofski, 2011; Lytle, 2014). Because many proactive policing strategies by design increase the volume of interactions between police and the public, such strategies may increase the overall opportunity for problematic interactions that have disparate impacts.
To name a few:
- Racial Disparity — If in a certain community, black people experience greater levels of poverty (as Kingston Times/Hudsonvalleyone.com denoted in their article) than white people; per capita, black people are arrested more frequently for violent crime than white people.
- Racially Biased Behavior — A difference in a person’s behavior that is attributable to the race or ethnicity of another person.
- Racial Animus — Negative attitudes toward a racial or ethnic group or toward members of such a group.
- Statistical Discrimination — This occurs in the case where there is racial bias in the choice of individuals to stop on the street because of an assessment that blacks and Latinos have different likelihoods of carrying weapons.
It is no wonder that Midtown, largely made up of black and brown people, have an ongoing mistrust of law enforcement. Can something be done? I pray that corrective measures will take place. Nevertheless, the ambivalence and mistrust that many blacks feel toward the justice system is a social reality that District Attorney Carnright must not ignore.
Until then, I say to law enforcement, do your job.
Rita Worthington is the alderwoman for Kingston Ward 4 and a former member of the city police commission.