In Charlotte, North Carolina, a black man named Keith Lamont Scott was shot and killed by a police officer on Tuesday night. The officer, Brently Vinson, is also a black man. As in any police shooting where this is the case, many conservative publications have seemingly insisted that this on its face destroys any narratives of racism.
This narrative is one pervasive throughout many controversial shootings when it is revealed that the officer was any race other than white. For this reason, the details of the Scott shooting in particular are besides the point. Merely addressing the “black cop disproves racism” fallacy is what is important.
The race of an offending officer is simply irrelevant when discussing the implications of systemic racism in police work and criminal justice. As noted by Jamelle Bouie:
For as much as police diversity has value for image and community relations, it’s not clear that it does anything to cure the problem of police abuse and brutality in black and Latino communities. Just because an officer is black, in other words, doesn’t mean he’s less likely to use violence against black citizens.
Further, the perception in the black community could even be that they are more at risk of violence at the hands of a black officer. One need only listen to perhaps the most infamous police protest song in American history to see the perspective of some in the inner cities:
And on the other hand, without a gun they can’t get none;
But don’t let it be a black and a white one.
Cause they’ll slam ya down to the street top;
Black police showing out for the white cop.
In fact, the numbers support the assertion that black officers may be even more dangerous to black Americans than their white counterparts in uniform. A 2015 study of the Philadelphia Police Department by the Justice Department found that black and Hispanic officers more likely to shoot unarmed black people under the mistaken belief that those individuals were armed.
While difficult to speculate whether this is minority officers trying to “prove themselves” as one of the “good ones,” or some other factor, it helps to dispel the notion that black officers cannot advance the inherent biases of the law enforcement system.
Particularly with the perverse incentive structure (often easily identified by libertarians) which includes quotas for arrests, would this be so surprising? Just as most officers in general mean well, so do minority officers. However, when faced them with the ability to make more money and rise in ranks by patrolling disadvantaged neighborhoods and scoring drug arrests, the system pushes them to take advantage. Given that increased interaction, there also are rising tensions which can only lead to more violent situations between officers and civilians. As a result, more unnecessary deaths within both groups occur.
In short, the skin color of an officer certainly does little to eliminate how black Americans feel about their interactions with police. Simply pointing to such information to suggest that the officer in a particular situation was not influenced by institutional racism is both fallacious and incorrect.