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Patterns of Discrimination

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Patterns of Discrimination
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Deep in the veins of American history, discrimination is an issue that the country is still working to overcome. Throughout history, there are reports of police abusing discretion to satisfy their prejudiced beliefs. Some examples of this are the beating of Rodney King in 1991, the deaths of African American citizens during the Hurricane Katrina tragedy in 2005, detainment of Professor Gates, and, of course, the abuse of African Americans during slavery in the early days of America (Walker, Spohn, & DeLone, 2012). It seems eliminating all discrimination in law enforcement is close to impossible. Today, institutionalized, contextual, and individual acts of discrimination keep the attainment of pure justice just out of society’s reach.
Types of Discrimination Institutionalized discrimination is not always intended, but occurs when a policy or procedure inadvertently leaves or singles out a specific group of people. In modern law enforcement practices, this form of discrimination is reflected through the war on drugs. Through research and years of enforcing drug laws, it has come to be expected that the common drug player will be an African American male. Hispanics are also commonly singled out through the war on drugs. While this discrimination is unintentional, African Americans and Hispanics are more likely to be arrested for drug related offenses than their white non-Hispanic counterparts. Because this stereotype has proven useful in the past, officers are more likely to search for drugs or signs of drug use when encountering a person that fits into the stereotype. When striving for pure justice, institutionalized discrimination hinders process. It becomes difficult to attain a system that treats all individuals as equals when policies and procedures lead to stereotypes that single a group of people out. If pure justice is to be obtained, policies and procedures need to be scrutinized and stereotypes diminished. A less global form of discrimination, contextual discrimination can hinder pure justice in certain situations. Take, for instance, cases of domestic violence. More times than not, when law enforcement becomes involved in conflicts at home, the woman is the party that is protected. Another example may be when there is a dispute involving family members or friends of officers. If an officer is called out to his sibling’s home for a dispute between their family member and a neighbor, the officer will more than likely discriminate against the neighbor to protect their family. In extreme cases of this discrimination, crimes against a particular race, such as whites, are enforced or punished with harsher guidelines. Even when discrimination is situational, how can a system of pure justice be obtained? One method of limiting contextual discrimination would be to pair officers in a way that forces them to work with a person of a different cultural background. This partnership will cause officers to take another perspective into account before taking action. Finally, perhaps the most common form of discrimination occurs when one individual discriminates against another. Most people experience at least one encounter of individual acts of discrimination in their lifetime. When one individual commits a crime that discriminates against another based on their race, ethnicity or gender, it is considered a hate crime. In most states, hate crimes are considered especially harsh and punished under more strict guidelines than crimes involving offenders and victims of the same race. One could say that these harsher sentences are a form of institutionalized discrimination as well. In a system of pure justice, the sentences for hate crimes would be inflicted using the same guidelines as any other crime. The idea of pure justice is to treat all offenders as equals and work toward the benefit of everyone. When fighting discrimination with more discrimination, the benefit is not enjoyed by everyone, and thus pure justice cannot be obtained.
Overcoming Discrimination If a system of pure justice is to be obtained at any point in the future, society must first address all obstacles standing in the way. The first obstacle that comes to mind is the policing of diverse communities. Law enforcement officers have to communicate with people of many different ethnicities and cultural backgrounds. Prosser (2007) observes “Police officers encounter a language barrier of some sort during 33 percent of street encounters and 24 percent in the station house.” This obstacle can make the job of law enforcement very difficult as they try to serve and protect the community. When there is a language barrier, it can be difficult for an officer to determine the needs of the victim or the goals of the offender. This miscommunication can lead to frustration from the officer and the citizen they are communicating with. The frustration does not aid in advancing officer relationships with the community. Another difficulty in policing people of varying races and ethnicities are the vast majority of cultural backgrounds that officers may encounter. Different cultures respond best to varying methods of communicating. Latino’s, for instance, relate better when the focus is on the relationship instead of the initial problem as they are very family oriented. These people also, may not respond well to a woman officer because the male is typically the head of household (“Encyclopedia.com”, 2015). The values of the community can play a heavy role in their interaction with the police. If the officer’s serving a certain community do not share similar values with the citizens, the individuals in the community may see them as different and believe that the officers do not understand their way of life or priorities. Inside the police force, discrimination creates barriers between co-workers. As mentioned earlier, language plays a role on the law enforcement team as well as policing in the community. Overcoming the obstacles in the organization may be the first step toward achieving pure justice in the community. To start, recruiting more diverse officers can help to level the playing field between officers and the community. If there were enough Hispanic officers, those individuals could be assigned to Hispanic communities as a means to narrow the language barriers and cultural differences. Race and ethnicity is not the only area of discrimination, however. Recruiting more female officers can help law enforcement in varying ways. Women comprise about 13% of all law enforcement officers sworn into service (Crooke, 2013). These low numbers are disappointing because society is suffering from not enjoying the benefits that women officers have to offer. Women are thought to be calmer in high stress situations and more reluctant to use force than their male counterparts. The reluctance to use force leaves room for a more open-minded problem solving approach. In most cases, women can solve issues at a more civil approach than men (“Women in Law Enforcment”, n.d.). Recruiting officers of different races, cultural backgrounds, and genders can help to bridge the gap between the community and law enforcement organizations. Diversity exists because there is a misunderstanding of the lifestyles of individuals in the in community. Introducing new officers of varying minorities can help the relationship between the community and law enforcement by assigning officers from a like culture to parts of the community they will relate most too. Increasing the diversity among officers may also help relationships between officers in the same organization because they will have the opportunity to work with a diverse amount of people. Getting to know people of a different culture, background or perspective is the first step in understanding their needs, values, and issues. Further understanding of different cultures will help minimize the frustration with language barriers and cultural differences. If a system of pure justice is to be attained, discrimination must be eliminated in every aspect of society. To minimize institutionalized discrimination, organizations should carefully review each policy and procedure used and determine if there are members of society that are being stereotyped or singled out. In instances where a stereotype does exist, particular attention should be paid and efforts made to nullify the historical perspective. Accountability programs should be put in place to diminish contextual discrimination. As most officers work in teams, each individual should be partnered with an officer of a different culture, ethnicity, race or gender. This type of partnership will help officers to see more than one perspective when approaching any situation. Finally, individual acts of discrimination are most difficult to exterminate. At the most, officers should be held accountable for their own efforts to remain fair to all individuals in the communities they are serving. Furthermore, sentencing guidelines for hate crimes should be reviewed as two wrongs do not make a right. If society is to extinguish discrimination, offenders must still be treated the same, regardless of the cultural background of the offender.

References
Crooke, C. (July 2013). "Women in Law Enforcement." Community Policing Dispatch 6(7).
COPS, Retrieved on 18 Sept. 2015 from http://cops.usdoj.gov/html/dispatch/07- 2013/women_in_law_enforcement.asp
Encyclopedia.com. (2015). Retrieved from http://www.encyclopedia.com/topic/Latinos.aspx
Prosser, M. A. (2007, January). Policing a Diverse Community. The Police Chief, 74(1), .
Retrieved from http://www.policechiefmagazine.org/magazine/index.cfm?fuseaction=display_arch&article_id=1088&issue_id=12007
Walker, S., Spohn, C., & DeLone, M. (2012). The color of justice: race, ethnicity, and crime in america (5th ed.). Bellmont, CA: Wadsworth.
Women in Law Enforcement. (n.d.). Retrieved from
http://socwomeninlawenforcement.weebly.com/benefits.html

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