In a blink-and-you-missed-it article in the New York Times, it was reported that a twenty year veteran of the Muskegon, Michigan police force was terminated this week. Photos of a confederate flag and framed application to the KKK were posted on social media by an African American couple who looked at his house which is currently for sale. This spurred an internal departmental investigation of Charles Anderson and later led to his termination.
Beyond what is obviously disturbing about this is a seemingly offhand comment by the Chief of Police that “Nothing was revealed to us that shocked us.” This suggests, at minimum, that Anderson’s proclivities as a white supremacist were known to some on the police force. This raises questions about Anderson’s treatment of minority suspects including false arrests and potentially inflated charges when dealing with this population.
Another disturbing aspect of this story is that there is nothing in the Police Department’s policy manual that specifically bans private displays of prejudice, but says officers should “perform all duties impartially, without favor or affection or ill will and without regard to status, sex, religion, political belief or aspiration.”
Values inform actions. That is part of what values are for. They form the true north of our moral compass. To state that it is possible to perform duties impartially while harboring secret prejudices is ridiculous.
We see evidence of this in many aspects of law enforcement and the justice system. Felicity Huffman received just two weeks sentence for a college admission bribery scam worth thousands of dollars. This stands in stark contrast to the Bridgeport, CT, woman who was sentenced to five years in prison and five years of probation for sending her six year old son to a Norwalk, CT, school. Tanya McDowell was convicted of first degree larceny for stealing an education.
Kelly Williams-Bolar was sentenced to nine days in jail for using her father’s address instead of her own in an attempt to have her daughter attend a better school.
In the world of collegiate sports there is tremendous disparity between black and white athletes when it comes to atrocious behavior. Cory Baty was a 19 year old Vanderbilt football star who, while intoxicated, raped an unconscious woman who was also intoxicated. He was sentenced to 15-25 years in prison. Contrast this with Brock Turner an up and coming swimmer at Stanford who raped an unconscious intoxicated woman. He was sentenced to six months with the probability that he would be out in three. It doesn’t take a genius to guess which one is black and which one is white.
African American men serve an average of twenty percent longer prison terms for the same crimes committed by their white counterparts. Our correctional institutions are disproportionately filled with people of color.
Violence in the transgender community is on the rise as well. Dana Martin, a 31 year old black transgender woman was fatally shot in Montgomery, AL, on January 6th. Jazzaline Ware, a black transgender woman was found dead in her apartment in Memphis, TN, in March. Ashanti Carmon, a black transgender woman was fatally shot in Prince George’s County, MD, on March 30th. Bee Love Slater, 23, was brutally murdered in Clewiston, FL, on September 4th. Johan Medina, 25, died at a hospital in El Paso, TX, hours after being released from ICE custody. She suffered severe health complications that went untreated while she was in detention. Layleen Polanca was found dead in a cell at Riker’s Island on June 7.
The collision of racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia are played out in the increasing violence toward the trans community. It is routine for transgender persons to be misgendered in police and hospital records. Violence against gays and lesbians is on the rise around the country. These murders and instances of violence are far more likely to remain unsolved than other types of violence, especially when that violence is in the Anglo cisgender community.
The time is here when being a white supremacist, racist, homophobe, transphobe prejudiced individual makes one unfit for public service on police departments, government and justice officials as well as first responders where such values impact the type of services one provides. While it is impossible to be the “thought police” there are clear ways to track the record of service providers and look at whether equal services are provided to all, to track the rate of arrest in cases involving violence against minorities and to see how justice is meted out to minorities when they are convicted of crimes.
To think for one moment that one’s values do not impact how one does their job is patently foolish. Yes, private belief does matter. Yes, private belief does influence action. Values influence behavior.