The deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown have stirred a heated national dialogue about racial disparities in law enforcement, the criminal justice system, and our society as a whole. I don’t claim any special wisdom or originality on these difficult subjects, but as the mayor of a city that prides itself on diversity — and as someone accountable for the conduct of a Police force — I feel a duty to speak out.
Let me acknowledge up front that it is hard for me to grasp how these incidents do not warrant an indictment, especially in the case of Eric Garner . . . yet I am reluctant to pass harsh judgment on the grand juries. By their very nature, grand juries are required to focus narrowly on the specifics of a case as presented to them, and to set aside broad social context. Moreover, every detail, from the physical position of hands, to an officer’s state of mind, to the distinction between surrendering and charging, is filtered through human memory and perception, which are always fallible and subjective. While each of us may be convinced of our opinions from afar, when you get deep into the weeds like a grand jury, things may look murky and ambiguous.
It is only when you zoom out that the murkiness disappears, revealing a picture that is crystal clear and deeply disturbing:
• Black males are six times more likely to be incarcerated than white males; black drivers are three times as likely as white drivers to be searched during a stop; black offenders receive longer sentences than white offenders convicted of the same crime.
Then zoom out even further:
• White households have a median income 72% higher than black households; the typical white family hassix times the wealth of the typical black family.
It starts almost immediately:
• Black students are three times more likely than white students to be suspended or expelled from school; black students are four times more likely than white students to attend schools with under-qualified teachers.
And it shapes almost all of us:
• A mountain of psychological research shows that subconscious racial bias is widespread, even among those who do not knowingly harbor any racist views.
These are stark and brutal facts. And they pose a fundamental challenge to our nation’s core principles. Continue reading