How Our Bias Got Us Here #BlackLivesMatter


Cameron Sterling, Alton Sterling’s 15-year-old son, said at his father’s funeral

I want everyone to protest the right way. Protest in peace, not guns, not drugs, not alcohol, not violence.

The Conversation
Credit: Jonathan Bachman, Reuters
Credit: Houston Chronicle
Credit: Twitter

These powerful pictures from around the country say it all – we’re heartbroken, we’re angry and we hope the tragedy of the past month, is never repeated in the United States! United States was meant to be the land of opportunity and equality for all – but lately the dream seems so distant. We stand in the aftermath of police shootings that killed two African American men – Alton Sterling in Botan Rouge, and Philando Castile in Louisiana, and the tragic killings of three officers in Baton Rouge, and five police officers in Dallas, Texas.

From President Obama to community leaders to law enforcement officials across the country, the message has been consistent – to make any progress on difficult issues facing the US today – empathy and compassion are key. We all need to walk a mile in the other person’s shoe.

As President Obama eloquently stated, “It’s not us versus them.” A majority of police officers of all races and backgrounds, actively put their lives on the line to protect the communities across the US. Today, there’s confusion and disarray in the minds of many about how we got here – with so much anger, with so much mistrust, and with so much pain.

Added to that is the political rhetoric in the country. Leading political figures openly talk about minority communities as rapists, thugs and opportunists – and there’s widespread support for such remarks.

Credit: Star Tribune

How did we get here, how did we become so divided in our ideology that we find it hard to tolerate the pain of those suffering at the hands of a biased system, those who are isolated from the riches concentrated in the hands of few, those who are constantly turned away when they talk about their alienating experiences?

Statistics Indicate Widespread Disparity

We’re almost the most wealth-unequal country in the entire world (Source: Inequality for All)

From 2005 to 2009, inflation adjusted median wealth fell by 66% among Hispanic households and 53% among black households, compared with just 16% among white households. (Source: Pew Research Center)

The poorest 47% of Americans have NO Wealth! (Source: Economic Policy Institute)

Though, stock market has increased over 10 times, and the richest quintile owns 93% of it (Source: Levy Economics Institute of Bard College)

(Download the Inequality for All App for iOS here to influence policy discussions)

Added to these troubling economic disparities are the equally distressing statistics about disparity in the use of various levels of force against minorities in the United States. Here are some shocking statistics that we must face:

African Americans are 3 times more likely to be killed by police than white people

Number of African American people killed by the police in 2016 is 186

30% of the black victims were unarmed in 2015, compared to 19% of the white victims

37% of unarmed people killed by police were black in 2015 despite black people being only 13% of the U.S. population

The number of African American people killed by the police has been steadily increasing:

Source: Mapping Police Violence

Given these alarming statistics, it’s worth asking what data says about use of force across racial groups?

What Does Equitable Use of Force Look Like?

In a July 2016, Goff et al (Center for Policing Equity) evaluated 14,731 incidents from the National Justice Database, using a weighted measure of force severity to assess the racial disparities in use of force.

The authors point out that there are conceptual problems “measuring excessive force versus all force, measuring force dichotomously, and measuring force incidents as static rather than dynamic.” We often place a greater focus on cases with rare and excessive use of force – which skews reporting of data. In addition, there’s inconsistent recording of data making it hard to discern the difference in the level of force used, and the context of the entire incident resulting in use of force is often missing. The data in this study, represented a small number of departments and should not be generalized. Given these limitations, the results indicate:

  1. Despite controlling for arrest demographics, there are racial disparities across various levels of force
  2. Despite controlling for very rare occurrences, racial disparities disadvantaged Blacks in at least 25%-55% of the departments
  3. These disparities were robust across multiple categories of force. Taser use was high, which warrants more research.

Results from U.S. Police-Shooting Database indicates “evidence of a significant bias in the killing of unarmed black Americans relative to unarmed white Americans, in that the probability of being {black, unarmed, and shot by police} is about 3.49 times the probability of being {white, unarmed, and shot by police} on average.”

An interactive article from NY Time suggests, out of the 11 high-profile cases caught on video, 5 cases resulted in the inditement of officers. In 4 cases grand juries declined to bring charges. In many cases victims settled out of court and investigations have been pending in several other cases.

NYTimes -
Credit: NY Times (Link –

President Obama suggested 3 simple steps to improve relations between the police and the communities. Though these seem simple steps, implementation of these steps requires immense trust and empathy between the police and the communities:

  1. Police officers should get to know their communities
  2. Police training needs to go beyond the technical aspects of police work.
  3. Police departments need more resources to implement best practices.

In addition, after the According to President Obama’s 21st Century Policing Task Force Report, there needs to be more trust between the law enforcement agencies and the people they seek to protect by:

  1. Building Trust and Legitimacy 
  2. Improving Policy and Oversight
  3. Use of Technology and Social Media
  4. Increasing Community Policing and Crime Reduction
  5. Training and Education of Law Enforcement Departments 
  6. Improving Officer Wellness and Safety

Evaluating Ourselves – Talking about Racism is Difficult

As we continue to evaluate ourselves at the policy and enforcement level, there’s also a critical need to evaluate ourselves at a personal level. Over the last month, I interacted with several friends and family, about the subject of police violence against the African American community, and been dismayed at the polarizing views.

Vincent Chapters
Credit – VincentChapters, London, Black Lives Matter

What’s most heartening is that with each incident of violence against the police and the deaths of African American citizens – women and men of the US protested. We’ve protested against violence, racial inequality, bigotry, racism, policy inertia, personal bias that affect us all. We’ve joined hands, and we are White, Black, Brown, Asian, African America, Hispanic, Native Americans and all other races and faces – this is the picture of true America.

What’s disheartening is that most people find it difficult to talk about “sensitive” racial matters, others feel minorities need to step-up and improve their condition, yet others feel “yelling about racism” doesn’t help because no one listens, and yet others feel America will never change it’s obsession with violence and guns!

How do we ever expect to make progress on these difficult issues, if we don’t step out of our comfort zone and talk about the experience we’ve all been through?

How do we get past the issue of police violence if we do not discuss the issues with race? How do we get past the issue of violence against the police if we do not discuss the issues around gun laws?

At minimum aren’t we all responsible evaluating our own biases and confronting our own demons – what did we all do to contribute to this problem of intolerance?

In my humble opinion, we’re all responsible for the state of our world today, and we all need to step up and make an attempt at ending the hate around us!

When we paint an entire religious group as terrorists, we contribute to religious extremism!

When we paint an entire community of people as lazy, we contribute to ignorance!

When we call an entire race of people as opportunists, we contribute to intolerance!

When we call women a bitch, slut, “maal”, “item”, we contribute to sexism!

(translation: maal and item are Indian slurs for objectifying and degrading women)

And every time we keep quiet when others make bigoted, racists and intolerant remarks – we become part of the problems that face us today.

The onus to protect and stand up for your rights, cannot always be upon the oppressed. The rest of us need to step up and do our part too! Is this the time to whisper about racism, sexism, intolerance and bigotry, or is it the time for speaking loudly and stand with the rest of the citizens demanding justice – be it the minorities who want to be heard and accepted in a society they’ve helped build, and be it the police officials who want to be trusted and appreciated for their contribution to the society.

Credit: AFP

Two important quotes come to my mind in these times of controversy:

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy – Dr. Martin Luther King

If you’re neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor” Desmond Tutu, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Civil Rights Activist

There’s So Much to Look Forward To

As a nation, we’ve come a long way. Our first Black President led the country through times of great upheaval. His administration is likely to give way to the first Woman President. Despite these strides, there are many injustices to be corrected and accounted for.

As a civilized society – the richest country on the earth – we have some hard questions to ask our selves! We need to confront our own bigotry and the urge to write off the suffering of an entire communities of people. We need to ask our selves, what are we doing wrong that got us here? The duty is upon each of us – today and always.

Life’s most persistent and urgent question is

What are you doing for others? – Dr. Martin Luther King


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