I think the Professor’s point here is that the common narrative utilized by Police of the “Drug crazed” perpetrator is just so much bullshit. In fact, many of the people the Police have violent interactions with suffer from Mental Illness, not crack overdose.
In the recent Keith Scott Murder by Cop, the Police tried to justify their actions with the victim smoking a blunt. Well…I went to college in the late sixties, and remember walking into more than one concert at an indoor pavilion where you could just about get a contact high from the thousands of folks lighting up. I certainly don’t recall white folks going crazy at the Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young Concert, or the more diverse crowd at a WAR concert whipping out their guns and shooting at each other. Indeed, about the only thing that happened in those days smoking a joint was to get paranoid, get the munchies, and giggle a lot.
Smoking a joint ain’t Armed Bank Robbery.
Police are trained in this country to take absolute control of a situation (except when dealing with white folks). Unfortunately the folks who train these Cops don’t do much to train them to de-escalate a situation…Or where use of force is appropriate. If your Police force is slamming people to the ground and locking them up for Jaywalking, or any of the thousands of minor Civil Violations typically handled by a ticket…
You have a PROBLEM. And that is exactly the problem we have in this country between Police and minorities. For every one of these Murders by Cop, there are tens of thousands of interactions by minorities with Police which go off the rails in substantive ways.
So the breakdown in trust between the Police and the community comes to this – fear of calling the Police to handle an issue. You as a citizen don’t know whether you are going to get that “Good Cop”, who is helpful, deescalates the situation, and handles things appropriate to the severity of the situation – or the “Bad Cop” who rushes in with guns drawn because you have a dispute with your neighbor over his dog coming into your yard.
Carl L. Hart was surprised when a student in one of his classes at Columbia University wrote an essay for The Washington Post about the effect of having him speak frankly about his past and the importance of having non-white faculty members.
Hart took the opportunity to respond with his thoughts on race and higher education, in the midst of the national debate over police violence.
For the past few years, like academic semesters, the killing of black people by the police has been on a regular schedule.
The explanation script, always controlled by the police, is familiar and tired. The deceased person’s reputation is dragged through the mud. He had a gun or she was under the influence of some drug; therefore, deadly force was necessary.
Video footage almost always contradicts this official account. But it doesn’t seem to matter because the police are rarely held accountable in such cases.
As a result, there is community outrage that sometimes reaches the level of unrest. Authorities call for calm and peace — rather than justice — and then we are forced to have the same national conversation about race and diversity that we have had for more than 50 years. The only thing that changes is the names of the pundits paraded before the public.
As a professor, a black professor, I often think about the impact that this has on my students, especially the black students. What messages does it send to them? I suspect, with horror, it sends the same ones that I received when in their seats some 30 years ago: “Your life is worthless compared with a white person’s. They are superior to you by the mere fact that they are white in a white-controlled world.”
Faced with this wretched reality, every Monday and Wednesday morning, I stand before my Columbia University students honored to have the opportunity to present information that challenges society’s views about black people as well as the perceptions held about drugs, their effects and their role in crime.
I speak candidly about my past and who I am. In fact, “High Price,” my science memoir, is one of the required readings for the course. In it, I detail my imperfections and past drug use and sales. I also lay out a blueprint for how one can succeed as a scientist and academic in a world that despises one’s people.
I explain how for more than 25 years, I have studied the interactions between the brain, drugs and behavior, trying to understand how drugs influence the function of brain cells, how this and other social factors influence human behavior, and how the reverberations of morality regarding drug use are expressed in social policy.
And, as a part of my research, I have given thousands of doses of drugs, including crack cocaine, marijuana and methamphetamine, to people. By the way, I have never seen a research participant become violent or aggressive while under the influence of any drug (at doses typically used recreationally), as police narratives frequently claim.
My research has taught me many important lessons, but perhaps none more important than this — drug effects, like semesters, are predictable; police interactions with black people are not. In encounters with police, too often the black person ends up dead. That is why I would much rather my own children interact with drugs than with the police.
I am certain that my white colleagues, when faced with an emergency situation, wouldn’t think twice about calling the police. This, however, may not be the case for their black and Latino students. These students may be faced with the dilemma of not calling for police assistance even when they are in need of help for fear that the police will make the situation worse, and may even kill them or their loved one.
We need our universities to comprise historically excluded faculty to represent these and other perspectives. For this reason, I served on Columbia’s Task Force on Diversity in Science and Engineering, working to increase the number of diverse faculty in the sciences.
Initially, I was excited to participate because I thought the goal was to increase the number of faculty from those groups historically excluded from the academy as a result of discrimination.
It turns out that the term “diversity” can be anything from black faculty to military veterans. Well, I am both, but have yet to be subjected to discrimination because I’m a veteran.
I now cringe whenever subjected to meetings or speeches about the importance of having a diverse campus community. I’m even more appalled when I hear some vacuous university administrator touting their school’s diversity accomplishments. Of the nearly 4,000 faculty members at Columbia, only about 4 percent are black. Yet, we have been honored for our diversity achievements.
When compared with similar institutions, our low number of black faculty looks impressive. But when you consider that black people make up 25 percent of the population of New York City, where Columbia is located, 4 percent seems meager. I recognize that New York City might not be the most appropriate comparison, but neither are other exclusive universities whose numbers of black faculty are abysmally low.
Teaching university students affords me the opportunity to demonstrate to young adults that they don’t have to be perfect to make contributions to their country.
This responsibility also requires me to impress upon my students that they must obtain the necessary critical-thinking skills to be informed and that they should be courageous, especially in the face of injustice.
If only more of our university and national leaders did the same, I might not have to look out into the sea of predominantly white faces and hold back tears as I think about the fact that Ramarley Graham and Michael Brown would have begun their junior and senior years, respectively, this semester.