We are protesting. All States have been put on notice. Now, what can States change in response?
My main focus as an attorney is discrimination. I have the opportunity to look under the hood of private businesses, local governments, state governments and the federal government when issues of discrimination arise.
So that should qualify me to give advice on how to stop discrimination in the workplace and among the public. That should qualify me to train and inform police officers on how to stop treating African Americans differently when they are confronted with law enforcement. So if I was selected to conduct such a training, what would I do? What would I say?
I thought about it and I don’t think I could say or do anything to change the situation. All it would do is give further protection to the entity and individuals I trained so they can check a box to say that they trained their officers related to discrimination and police brutality in case a claim of liability was made against the entity down the road. They would use it to prove they did their best and whatever happened, they trained their officers and it is not the agencies fault as a whole. However, nothing I would say could make the change that everyone around the world is asking for right now.
Some companies show that awkward sexual harassment video at the start of your job or in response to a complaint made by an employee. The awkward sexual harassment video does not address or resolve the systemic work-place atmosphere and dynamic between employees and with law enforcement, with their interactions with the public. Each law enforcement agency is made of people with different backgrounds that interact differently and each response has to be tailored to each specific situation. In sum, the videos do nothing.
How entities generally handle discrimination in the workplace
Every government and private business generally has an employee handbook. In the employee handbook is says something to the nature of, “we do not tolerate discrimination based on race, religion, disability, ethnic origin, sexual orientation.” Everyone new employee signs the employee handbook when they are first hired. Sometimes employees sign the employee handbook online where they can just check a box which says they received it.
Most employees don’t actually read the employee handbook. Also, the language in every employee handbook is so cliche that the words really don’t mean anything that can effectively deter discrimination in the workplace or address the current atmosphere and dynamic. As an attorney, and what I do, I have learned that the employee handbook can say one thing but the actions of an organization can tell or show that discrimination in the workplace is in fact tolerated.
One big problem with organizations self-policing discrimination in the workplace is they always have their legal counsel at the fore-front of discrimination investigations. In law enforcement's case, it would be the City Attorney or County Attorney. The main purpose of legal counsel is to help avoid legal liabilities. If an organization comes out with an investigation report and finds that there was discrimination in the workplace then they are handing the victim the smoking gun to prove his or her case in a civil action.
Instead, organizations generally come out with reports finding the actions inconclusive. In many cases, discrimination is a “he said, she said” situation and sometimes they claim that because the victim has no witnesses, they cannot corroborate their claim, inferring that in order for the victim to be credible, they need a second set of eyes at all times. Sometimes the person accused may "plead the 5th" as it may involve possible criminal misconduct and they could claim they couldn't conduct an investigation because they could and will never be able to talk to the accused. Organizations are good at finding excuses and its not by chance.
Sometimes, employees don’t know where to make a complaint and when they do make a complaint to a supervisor, the supervisor may never report the complaint to Human Resources for an investigation, they may just downplay the situation and never actually investigate it, or the company may not have Human Resources. Also, most times, racism is based on circumstantial evidence where no one says they are demoted, their pay isn’t raised, they are terminated, not hired based on race, but the circumstances show that there is a causal link between the actions and race.
A company would almost never make such a finding of racism in the workplace based on circumstantial evidence. Generally speaking, Human Resources is also not trained in the law of discrimination in the workplace and knows what to look for or how to properly investigate a claim. Human Resources can also get internal pressure from legal counsel or other executives as to the investigation. Companies seldomly hire a third-party investigator to look into a claim of discrimination to show fairness in the process and lack of bias.
With that, it would could also be almost impossible to have a police agency on its own at this time internally investigate itself and make a determination whether or not its officers have a bias toward individuals of race. How could a police agency know if one of its officers will ultimately, illegally and unjustifiably kill or cause serious bodily injury to someone of race? How could a police agency know if that incident was racially charged?
This is a hard situation. However, it is apparent that some kind of change is needed and the situation cannot continue as is. Just affirmation from officers that they won't commit this kind of conduct will not change the atmosphere and mindset of the officers. The Civil Rights movement was somewhat easier. Lawmakers knew what they needed to do. They needed to cross out the words “separate but equal.” Here, the only thing a lawmaker could do is write words that say, “don’t treat African Americans differently than you do Caucasians when making arrests.” Those words though cannot change a human mind. I have found that individuals that are born in areas with less diversity makes it easier to talk freely about another race.
Can diversity and tolerance be taught?
I spent my high school years in the Seattle area where there was a high amount of Asian-Americans, Russian or Baltic State-Americans, Latin Americans and African Americans. We all spoke English fluently. We all were born in the United States. We played sports and other did other extracurricular activities together. There was no need to talk about race in such a diverse setting or claim that some particular person and their traits was inherent in their entire ethnic background.
As I moved to other areas and interacted with people that were born in America but with a different ethnic background and with people that were raised in a less-diverse setting, I witnessed individuals that would say a joke based on race that they thought was funny and proper. I on the other hand and the individual would be shocked that such a joke was freely made. In his setting where he was raised, there was no push-back to condemn his joke otherwise.
It was an acceptable joke. Everyone would snigger or think it was socially acceptable. Perhaps there was one person in his school with that ethnicity and got the joke so much that he learned to just embrace the jokes and let them slide off his back. The jokester thought from his background, there was no harm to say such a joke directly to someone from that ethnicity. His mind was inherently set to think differently.
I served a two-year religious mission in Chile. When I was there, there was a shooting at Virginia Tech University caused by a U.S. resident of South Korean origin. I had a fellow friend and companion who was born in South Korea and adopted and raised in the United States. After the shooting, my companion would have people yell in the streets at him to stay away from him because he might shoot them. At that time, Chile was not a diverse country. A few times I would see an African American in a larger city and everyone on the street would turn around to take a look.
The civil rights movement really wasn’t that long ago. Those that were directly involved are now in their 70s or 80s. The generation below them still has many individuals in the workplace. That generation grew-up with parents that knew separate but equal laws. Their parents were raised in a situation where they thought it was socially acceptable to treat and exclude people of a different race. The comments from many of those parents were more harsh, less comical and more vindictive toward people of other races. This includes parents that never interacted or hardly interacted with people of other races. Many of their kids are now police officers.
My Dad grew up in the South. Luckily, he had two parents that were well-educated and learned to accept diversity which was a very unpopular mindset at that time. However, my grandparents divorced and my grandfather re-married. I didn’t visit my Southern grandparents that often. I had the chance to see my grandfather for the last time though in 2009. While we watched the Thanksgiving parade my great-grandmother said some racial comments toward one of the singers that was on TV which shocked me.
Later, we went to a home to have dinner with some individuals I had never met. One individual told me that he played basketball with or went to school with Pistol Pete Marivich at Louisiana State University. I was fascinated obviously and asked a lot of questions. During the conversation he made a racist remark about African Americans and basketball. That has been the only time I have personally heard a vindictive remark toward a race in my life.
If I go back in my geneology on my father’s side which I have worked on over the past decade, I have come across census records that show my ancestors were slave owners in many of the Southern States. Prior to doing my genealogy, despite knowing my father’s Southern, roots it never crossed my mind that some of my ancestors would be slave owners. That was a rude awakening and made the situation of this country’s past more real to me. It also made me have many questions on the circumstances and setting of each ancestor that did. Some of my family moved to Texas which I can only imagine was to move to an area where slavery was not tolerated.
So again, despite my qualifications as an attorney that deals with discrimination all the time, could I train a group of law enforcement officers and help deter police brutality? Again, I don’t think I could. I know the law on discrimination. I know how to put a client on the stand and help them reiterate the facts to their experience. I can sit with