Police and the People of Color in America


The relationship between the American police and the people of color in the country has been questionable throughout history. Cases of mistreatment and even killing of the minority groups by the police have always been reported. The paper presents a summary of the history of the police and their treatment of people of color with an emphasis on the disproportionate traffic stops, arrests, and use of force.

History of Police Treatment of People of Color

Findings show that racial and ethnic disparities do exist concerning the use of physical force, shootings, stops, arrests, and other police actions. There is a long history in America of conflict between the police and communities of color. Lots of riots and protests by African Americans occurred during World War I, World War II, and the 1960s due to police ill-treatment (Taylor, 2021). As well, recent reports have revealed cases of disproportionate treatment by the traffic police. Some people from the minority groups have complained on being stopped or watched closely by the police with no cause. Stereotyping African Americans as disrespectful people makes some police officers apply force against them. Some traits regarded as disrespect include not answering the officer’s questions and not maintaining eye contact. Findings show that African American drivers have been a target in most investigatory stops.

The seemingly deteriorated relationship between the police and the minority groups in America has called for the need for improvements to overcome the racial and ethnic disparity. The appointment of the Task Force by President Obama in 2015 to investigate and advise on the police crisis was a historical move (Walker, Spohn & DeLone, 2018). The Task Force presented various recommendations for improving policing, especially with communities of color. However, due to the vast number of police departments in the United States, most of the recommendations have not been adopted. Frustrations in the adoption of the endorsements were also expressed by some members of the task force and by the president himself.

Issues with Capturing and Reporting Accurate Data on Police Shootings

Issues related to capturing and reporting accurate information on all police shootings to undermine the Justice of the affected individuals. The underlying issues have led to police-community relation issues, which have left a noxious legacy of wariness on both sides of police-citizen encounters (Taylor, 2021). Findings show that there is no reliable data on the number of persons killed or shot by the armed forces every year. According to FBI reports, the data collection system on people shot and killed by the police is voluntary. Additionally, local police departments are barred from submitting data on police shootings, and this makes retrieval of some evidence difficult.

Consequently, many cases are unreported due to the imprecise reporting procedures. For instance, the FBI reported that 444 individuals were wounded and killed by the police between the year 2014 and 2016 (Walker, Spohn & DeLone, 2018). The report was contrary to research done by Washington Post, where they found the number was 986 people. The total figure was twice what had been reported by the FBI in the preceding years. Guardian also did similar research utilizing all possible information sources, and their count was 1,134 (Walker, Spohn & DeLone, 2018). The two findings show that the FBI report is unreliable and undetailed.

Moreover, the data captured on police shootings of minorities lack justification as they are sometimes recorded on a civilian cellphone. Even though the data is aired on national television, the witness may fear to go to testify against the police officers. For example, in 2014, Eric Garner, an African American, was arrested for selling illegal cigarettes. The incident was recorded on a cell phone video as the officers mistreated and mishandled him. The same incident also happened to Freddie Gray, an African American 25-year-old man (Walker, Spohn & DeLone, 2018). Despite mass protests, it is hard for the victims to receive Justice due to the ambiguous process of data collection and analysis.

Therefore, inadequate capturing and reporting accurate data on police shootings of minorities or others contribute to the public controversy. These controversies of injustice have existed and continue to exist even today due to inadequate stringent policy and procedures of protecting people of all racial or ethnic groups (Schwartz, 2020). The affected races feel ignored, and this has led to a lethal legacy of wariness on police-citizen encounters. Besides, some citizens feel that the government is not willing to help stop the killings and shootings. There is no excuse for the lack of reliable national data on individuals shot and killed by the police, as there is detailed data on other areas such as death rates for all people killed by cancer or motor vehicle accidents. Such information is readily available and widely used in investigations (Schwartz, 2020). There is a need for a reliable national data system on police shootings and killings to allow an analysis of local variations and root causes.

Historical Issues Related to the Employment of Minorities and Women in Policing

Research shows that discrimination based on ethnicity and race in the employment of police officials of color has a long history. For example, between the 1890s and 1960s, no hiring of African American officers was being done in the southern cities (Taylor, 2021). Issues of disrespect were common in the northern cities where they were employed. Approximately 23 percent of the population in Oakland and California were African-Americans, but only 2.3 percent were in the police force (Walker, Spohn & DeLone, 2018).

Discrimination in employment is believed to take place during initial hiring, promotion to different ranks, and assignment to shifts and specialized units. It is believed that initial hiring is easy to control as it is the most visible (Ehrenfeld & Harris, 2020). Transfer to specific is much less visible, but it has a great impact on a police officer’s promotion potential. Therefore, there has been significant progress in the trend of African-American and Hispanic officers employed in the United States. In 1960, African American officers were about 3.6 percent of all sworn police officers, and this had increased to 12 percent in by 2013 (Walker, Spohn & DeLone, 2018).

However, despite the increment, there has been an issue on whether the community served is well represented in the department. The law requires the agency to have a female and minority group employee in the sworn low enforcement ranks to match work available in the service community (Schwartz, 2020). Only a few departments have a workforce that matches the served population. For instance, in San Jose, Hispanics, African-Americans, and Non-Hispanic whites have a population of 32, 3, and 29 percent but have 23, 4, and 54 percent respectively in the police force (Walker, Spohn & DeLone, 2018). The number of police officers employed in a specific region should match the community being served. For example, employing a high number of Spanish-speaking officers can boost positive relations with the Hispanic community. Officers need to communicate effectively on a 911 call with the individuals involved (Ehrenfeld & Harris, 2020). The goal will only be accomplished if officers who speak the local community language are employed in such a region.

Discrimination of the people of color also exists in the assignment of police officers. The African-American officers could not arrest whites during the segregation era and were therefore not assigned in white neighborhoods (Taylor, 2021). The minority officers were confined in minority neighborhoods in most of the northern cities. Besides, research done by New York Times found that there was a serious underrepresentation of African-American male officers in the elite units of the New York City Police Department (NYPD). There were only three African-Americans in a 124-officer mounted patrol unit and only two in the 159-officer harbor patrol unit (Walker, Spohn & DeLone, 2018). In NYPD, most African-American officers find their career paths blocked due to lack of sponsorship to high command and elite units.

Contribution to the Public’s Perception of the Disparities in the Criminal Justice System

Such issues have led to a big ethnic and racial gap in the perception of police among Americans. In 2016, when Americans were asked whether blacks are treated less fairly than whites, 50 percent of the whites answered yes compared to 84 percent of African Americans (Walker, Spohn & DeLone, 2018). There has been a persistence gap between white and African-American opinions about police for 50 years. Moreover, 23 percent of African Americans in a 2012 survey expressed little confidence in the police as opposed to 14 percent of whites(Walker, Spohn & DeLone, 2018). Additionally, African Americans complain about disproportionate policing in detentions, frisk, stops, and use of force. For instance, the blacks feel that there is inadequate policing in their communities, which makes it hard to respond quickly in case of emergency or patrol the neighborhood (Ehrenfeld & Harris, 2020). Thus, the criminal justice system needs to have an efficient system that cares about and treats all Americans equally.

The Link between Disparity in the Employment of Minorities and Disparate Treatment

The disparity in the employment of minorities is casually linked to the areas of disparate treatment of minority citizens. Even though there have been incredible improvements in the labor force status of racial minorities, there is still a significant disparity that is connected to disparate treatment of the minorities (Schwartz, 2020). Findings show that African-Americans are twice unlikely to be employed as whites and their wages also continue to lag behind those of whites (Ehrenfeld & Harris, 2020). Moreover, it is hard for the minority to receive fair treatment or Justice from arrest, capturing of data, sentencing, and confinement as they are underrepresented.

Therefore, a lot needs to be done in the judicial system to ensure all people receive Justice. All races or ethnic groups need to be well represented in all departments and in accordance with the community being served. For example, in a Hispanic community, giving a chance to officers who can speak Spanish can facilitate positive relations with the locals. Since the Spanish-speaking officers have a good cultural and social background in the community, they can help people susceptible of committing crime to change for the better. Bringing police officers of other regions sometimes bring negative attitudes or stereotypes, which can detrimentally affect their judgments and fairness in enforcement actions.


Ehrenfeld, J. M., & Harris, P. A. (2020). Police brutality must stop. American Medical Association. Web.

Schwartz, S. A. (2020). Police brutality and racism in America. Explore (New York, NY). Web.

Taylor, C. (2021). Fight the power: African Americans and the long history of police brutality in New York City. NYU Press. Web.

Walker, S., Spohn, C., & DeLone, M. (2018). The color of justice: Race, ethnicity, and crime in America (6th ed.). Cengage Learning.

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