Between Hope and Cynicism

Between Hope and Cynicism

The state’s Racial and Identity Profiling Advisory Board released its third annual report on January 2, 2020. 

As I waited for the document to download, I was somewhat ambivalent regarding what it would reveal—nothing new, I was certain. 

As I flipped through the pages, I quickly learned I was right. The findings were predictable: Blacks are stopped more often; Blacks are searched more often; Blacks are sent to jail more often; and the list goes on. The statewide numbers were concerning and locally, here in Riverside and San Bernardino Counties, the findings weren’t much better. 

Yet, we are in the early days of a new year and my hope and optimism is at an apex, so I searched for something in the report to fuel my optimism.  

To begin with, although only the largest police agencies were required to provide data for this report, going forward all police agencies, regardless of size, will be responsible for providing detailed information regarding traffic stops by demographics. In addition, the State Attorney General’s Office has created a Dashboard where the data will be available and accessible to everyone down to police agency level, providing another tool for the community to help hold their local police agencies accountable. 

I see this as positive progress. However, I also believe that tracking data without any expectation of consequence and accountability for agencies that do not change behavior over time, has no value and is not conducive to real change. When will officers be held accountable for the disparate treatment of citizens? When will agencies lose funding when their departments fail to make progress in this regard? When will Sheriffs/Police Chiefs lose their jobs for failing to implement progressive discipline for officers who continue to violate expectations regarding the fair application of the law? Without some measure of accountability nothing will change. We have the historical record to prove it. 

In addition, it is also frustrating to recognize that it takes a commission several years, thousands of taxpayer dollars, and pressure on police agencies up and down the state to assure they comply with reporting requirements, only to tell us what we already know—that police have a history of racial profiling and no matter how many times such behavior is lifted up, no matter how many lights we shine on it, no matter how many miles we march, protest, raise our voices for change—not much changes. 

The State Attorney General reminded us that “Good data is a critical component of making good policies.” Well, we are accruing the data. Now what? 

It is hard to look at the history of Blacks in America and not be cynical, not to think that fairness and opportunity for all will never materialize in this nation. Yet, I remain hopeful in this new year and I am also hopeful the Racial and Identity Profiling Advisory Board will continue its efforts and find a meaningful way forward conducive to real change. 

I am reminded of the words of C. S. Lewis who wrote, “You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.” Each of us have a responsibility to change the future for our children so when they get their driver’s license we will not have to live with the added element of fear—not experienced by White parents—that  our child may be subjected to unwarranted stops by the police, subjected to humiliation, and/or a dangerous or deadly outcome.   

Of course, this is just my opinion. I’m keeping it real.

S.E. Williams

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