Police brutality against people of color continues to pose a huge problem in United States of America. Just last week, two more African-American males were shot and killed by law enforcement officers in Tulsa, Oklahoma and Charlotte, North Carolina. These latest incidents were especially troublesome on a number of levels.
On Tuesday, September, 16, 2016, Terence Crutcher was fatally shot by a Tulsa, Oklahoma police officer. The incident involved an African American Motorist whose car had broken down on the side of the highway. Subsequently, police arrived on the scene, and then things went horribly wrong. A Video recording of the incident shows the victim with both hands raised up before being fatally cop. The complete lack of basic humanity that was denied to Mr. Terence Crutcher is very disturbing. How can an American citizen needing assistance immediately turn into a suspect and murder victim in less than two minutes? One of the officers can be heard on the video saying that Mr. Crutcher looks like a “bad” person. What exactly does a “bad” person look like? Does the police academy diversity training program include curricular content on the profile of what a “bad” person looks like? Apparently, they do and the profile includes individuals who look just like me. How can society, particularly police officers be so uniformed as it pertains to dealing with individuals from traditionally underrepresented backgrounds. This level of racial ignorance is not just limited to police officers, it is representative of a large segment of the US population.
The second incident over the weekend involved another African American male being fatally shot by another police officer. On Tuesday, September 20, 2016, Keith Lamont Scott was sitting in his car waiting for his son to come home from school. However, several officers were attempting to serve a warrant. However, they were attempting to serve the wrong person. Nevertheless, several officers surrounded his car with weapons drawn. Despite pleas from the victim’s wife informing the officers that her husband has a Traumatic Brain Injury and does not have a weapon, the police officer opened fired and killed Mr. Scott right in front of his wife. This time the police officer is alleged to have been an African American male. This underscores the fact that racial incompetence is not specific to one race. Even though the problem appears to be largely race based, the real problem is systemic racism and institutionally racist policies that exist in law enforcement. Additionally, the officers appear to have been ill prepared to properly handle a situation dealing with issues pertaining to race and disability.
These cases were very similar in nature to a number of high profile incidents that have involved people of color and law enforcement over the past few years. The counseling profession is one that has shown great compassion and humanity to the world since its inception. The counseling profession embraces advocacy for the equal rights of all citizens. Thus, it is problematic that our profession has been completely silent as it pertains to the injustices and the treatment of people of color by police officers.
The message that is being received, whether intentional or unintentional is that the lives of people of color is not truly valued by the profession. Given ACA’s resources and capacity to impact change via advocacy, research and diversity training, it is quite disheartening watch the profession actively ignore what is going on around the country. Thus, I encourage ACA and the membership to become more active and involved as it pertains to identifying solutions to the issue of police brutality.
David Staten a Professor of Rehabilitation Counselor Education at South Carolina State University. He also co-owns a counseling practice, MERGE Counseling and Coaching, L.L.C The website is www.merge378.com