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WRF Member and Civil Rights Attorney Leah Farish Discusses "Racial Rage and Law Enforcement in the USA"

WRF Member and Civil Rights Attorney Leah Farish Discusses "Racial Rage and Law Enforcement in the USA"

As a civil rights attorney, member of the International Network Promoting the Rule of Law, and professor of police and criminal law, I have some thoughts on race relations and the violence against police. First, some facts.

Assassination-style murders of police officers and military personnel are primarily suicide rituals that should not unduly focus policy debates on the acts of a few psychotic individuals.  Other such suicide rituals have targeted small schoolchildren or moviegoers, and though the target is horrific, and relates to the delusions of the individual, these tragedies should not overwhelm deliberation.

According to Rasmussen polling, only 17% of Americans believe race relations are good to excellent, down from 30% in 2013. A 2013 survey found that 37% of Americans thought most black Americans are racist, and 15% thought most whites are racist.  31% of blacks felt most blacks are racist and 10% of whites said most whites are racist.  According to a Dec. 2014 poll, half of voters say blacks are not victimized by cops.  A 2015 Rasmussen poll of likely voters found that 70% believed that the level of crime in lower-income urban areas is a bigger problem than is police discrimination against minorities (though 56% of blacks believed the opposite).

Killings of officers are up 94% since last year. Settlements and court judgments for police misconduct are up 50% since 2010.  (These amounts are paid out either from insurance companies that then raise premiums on that and other clients just like happens after a car wreck, or from the city’s savings or bond issues, all paid by taxpayers.)  Yet analysis of officer-involved-shootings (OIS) continues to find no differences in how white vs. black officers engage with black or white suspects.  In one study, threat perception failure (overestimates as to the level of force needed against a suspect) in OIS by white officers in one study was 5.2 %, and yet was 11.4% where both officers and suspects were black.  Hispanic officers with black suspects had a rate of 16.7%. 

High-profile cases of excessive force, alleging racial bias, have not fared well in court but have garnered such multi-million dollar settlements as for Freddy Gray’s family in Baltimore. 

Settlements of such amounts set a precedent and create expectations for other grieving families that will be hard to manage. Violence against officers does not subside after large settlements from the same city.

Yet, as an attorney who has represented several clients against rogue cops, I know that liability for police and their employers is a necessity.  There is a balance to be found in Scripture.  When I teach Romans 13, where Paul urges submission to government, I always preface that with the end of Romans 12, which says, “19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord….21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

Sometimes overcoming evil with good can involve forgiveness and turning the other cheek; sometimes overcoming evil will be accomplished by exposing the evil and punishing it.

Jesus calls us to walk “the narrow” way” that leads to life, not the broad way that leads to destruction.  It helps to think of the narrow way as between two wide extremes— balancing interests.  In resolution of conflict, we count both parties and refuse the temptation of extreme rhetoric that widens out into evil on either side.  Thus we are vigilant against racism, protective of the weak and voiceless, but also attentive to the needs for order and for providing law enforcement what it needs to do its job.  This causes us to be fact-based, handling each case sensitively and yet consistently with policy.  Such an approach isn’t glamorous, but we resist the temptation to take the wide paths.

One black officer, E. J. Johnson, speaks on Facebook about his narrow way: “As a black police officer, I found myself stuck in a balancing act from the start, like walking a tight rope right between two perennially warring foes. I belonged to both sides but being in the middle put me at odds with each.”

Several trends have led some people, many black, to believe they must avenge evil themselves, falling into the temptation of extremism—of letting themselves forget competing interests.  

   --One trend is the increasing use of the misnomer “social justice” for what is usually governmental mercy.  The phrase “social justice” forces people to think of any positive policy development not as an advance, but just a righting of an injustice.  Thus we never succeed together, but only claw up toward a baseline that we fell below at some point.

The goals of society become receding targets.  Any expansion of civil rights or charity comes with the accusation that even more has been owed-- for a long, long time. 

   --Another trend is the fact that public education has told white children for decades that they and their families are bigots--, squatters on white privilege.  It tells minorities that they are hated and connived against.  The surprising thing is that educators would never imply that students are stupid, on the theory that children will perform according to expectations.  Yet educators feel free to convey expectations about racist tendencies that will program children just as predictably.  “Anti-bullying” crusades so heavily funded in public schools miss the mark by making a “bully” into an “other” rather than a character flaw we are all capable of—a streak of cruelty, arrogance, or indulgence in the wrath of man that doesn’t accomplish the righteousness of God.

And yet, I am convinced that in the next generation or two, the landscape of race relations will change.  Several things give me this hope.

The forming of more and more mixed-race families will blur racial divisions, as will the adoption and fostering of races together.  Up to 1 in 7 American families already are of mixed race.  Identity politics will fade as racial identity diffuses.

The use of dashcams, bodycams, robots, and tasers will lead to more accountability and less unnecessary injury and loss of life, and more expense.  However, the cost of these preventive measures will probably be recovered in fewer payouts to victims of excessive force.  (In one study, after implementation of body cameras, citizen complaints fell by 90%.) The increasing involvement of the federal Department of Justice has been cumbersome, expensive, and even unconstitutional, but its recommendations have been mostly reasonable, with departments grudgingly admitting at least the benefit of the community’s sense of vindication or reassurance.

A contemplated July 18 Black Lives Matter protest march set in Wichita, Kansas, was revamped into a cookout and forum with the local police chief.  The community’s fear of injustice and desire to understand were placed in the balance with the police chief’s concerns to keep order and create better rapport.  

The narrow way was walked.

The path to peace is narrow—but always wide enough for a walk with our opponents.

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