The Systems Thinker - Center for Family Consultation's blog

Comments on “The Use of Force: Law Enforcement as a Reflection of Society”

Authored by Reverend Sandra Castillo

Editor’s Note: Sandra Castillo’s blog post is a commentary on several quotes from the blog post on The Systems Thinker, of June 23, 2020, “The Use of Force: Law Enforcement as a Reflection of Society” by Stephanie Ferrera, MSW.

Hello Stephanie,

Thanks for sharing your article. It is very well done. Some thoughts on a few passages from it:

Stephanie’s passage: “The police are a reflection of the larger society, of the level of chronic anxiety and the level of maturity in the society.  The functioning of the police can be objectively understood only in this larger context.  The harsher treatment of the poor, minorities, and people of color, and the more lenient treatment of affluent and white people in the justice system reflect the projection process and extreme social stratification in our nation.”

Sandra’s comment: Very true. The standard used in a federal civil rights section 1983 actions for wrongful death, i.e., a police officer’s fatal shooting of another is the reasonable person standard. Was the officer’s fear of death reasonable? If the jury believes by a preponderance of the evidence that the officer’s fear for his life was reasonable, the shooting was reasonable. The jury cannot discard the individual member’s bias and prejudice towards people of color. The way this is controlled in the trial is by caselaw that prevents the defense from striking prospective jury members of color due to their minority status. This does not prevent future shootings.

Stephanie’s passage: “The murder of George Floyd by a white police officer in Minneapolis on May 25th, 2020, witnessed via video across the nation, and coming on the heels of a number of egregious killings of black citizens by white police officers in recent months, has shaken the conscience of many Americans. Some are looking at the police as the problem; others are looking more deeply at the historical roots of racism in which law enforcement and the law itself have been instruments of systemic injustice.”

Sandra: In Chicago, the police force was established when the sudden increase in the immigrant population was thought to jeopardize the upper class and its property. The police were used to attack labor organizing and protests, e.g. the so-called Haymarket Riot of 1886 that was triggered by agent provocateurs. The police force was always provided with weapons. The police are part of a problematic law enforcement system. The failure to invest in low income communities of color described in Lightfoot’s letter of July 20, 2020 is the fundamental problem. Mayor Lightfoot sends letter to President Trump after plan to send federal agents to Chicago (click on link to see the letter posted on the WGN 9 website).

The police force’s contribution to the problem includes insufficient recruitment systems to hire from minority communities (the largest number is currently coming from Chicago’s Latino community) and to filter out individuals who might be prone to use excessive and/or lethal force; prompt disciplinary action when such force is used inappropriately; streamlining the process for investigation of complaints; assuring that cover ups involving the CPD and State’s Attorney’s Office such as in the Laquan McDonald case do not happen again.

Stephanie’s passage: “Brought forcibly from Africa to the shores of the Americas, enslaved for two and a half centuries, freed by the 13th Amendment into a society that continued to forcibly extract their labor and prevent them from exercising the rights of citizenship, black Americans have endured remarkably.”

Sandra: The link below is about the Ava DuVernay documentary I mentioned. The premise is that the 13th Amendment has a loophole allowing for involuntary servitude to be perpetuated through the prison-industrial complex system.  You may view it on Netflix and for free on YouTube for the summer, 2020. This is the description: “”Combining archival footage with testimony from activists and scholars, director Ava DuVernay’s examination of the U.S. prison system looks at how the country’s history of racial inequality drives the high rate of incarceration in America. This piercing, Oscar-nominated film won Best Documentary at the Emmys, the BAFTAs and the NAACP Image Awards. US Rating: TV-MA For mature audiences. May not be suitable for ages 17 and under.” (Click on link below)

13TH | FULL FEATURE | Netflix

 

I absolutely agree that the intersection of the pandemic and movement for racial equity creates a pivot point for fundamental social change. There is a crucial need for leaders possessing the ability to differentiate.

 

Reverend Sandra Castillo is a retired attorney and Episcopal priest living in Chicago.  She served primarily in Latino ministry and remains an active advocate for immigrants, asylum seekers and refugees.

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