By SECC Correspondent Mitchel Benson
By the end of Thanksgiving Day 2016, law enforcement officers this year had shot and killed an estimated 864 individuals in this country, while 61 officers had died from firearms-related incidents. These are only some of the statistics that add up to why today’s police officers and law enforcement agencies are facing such intense scrutiny.
What makes for a moral or ethical law enforcement officer or agency? Who should set the parameters? What should be the consequences for those who lapse, and what about the appropriate reparations for families and communities that suffer losses?
These are some of the issues that are addressed in “The Ethics of Policing,” a dynamic and provocative series of TV programs that covers a recent, two-day symposium that was co-sponsored by Cosumnes River College (CRC) and Sacramento State’s Center for Practical and Professional Ethics. The 2016 symposium marked the 11th annual Fall Ethics Symposium co-sponsored by the two colleges. Collaborations in previous years addressed such subjects as immigration, lobbying, war, health care, food and education.
Economists, philosophers and criminal justice experts from across the country joined CRC and Sacramento State faculty and other local experts for this year’s two-day symposium – November 21 at Cosumnes River College and November 22 at Sacramento State. The speakers and panelists covered a wide range of topics, including: the militarization of police and its impact on minorities; police violence; police accountability; policing and punishment; police training and socialization; and how to handle encounters with police.
Abigail Hall Blanco, an assistant professor of economics at the University of Tampa, offers an insightful presentation on how U.S. law enforcement agencies – prompted by the nation’s “War on Drugs” in the 1970s, followed by the War on Terror – have made a dramatic shift toward more militaristic weapons, tactics and armored vehicles. She points to an explosion in the growth and deployment of SWAT teams in cities large and small, more often targeting African Americans and Latinos, as well as increased use of military aircraft domestically for aerial surveillance.
“This topic tends to get really uncomfortable for people really, really quickly,” Blanco said, adding later, “But these are the kinds of potentially very uncomfortable conversations that are absolutely necessary to have if we are going to start fixing these issues.”
Indeed, Russell DiSilvestro, associate professor and chair of the Department of Philosophy at Sacramento State, asked, “Is it possible to see a silver lining in all of this militarization… Is there a way of harnessing it and turning it in the direction for the good of minority communities rather than for the bad?”
On the topic of police violence, Claudio Vera Sanchez, assistant professor of Criminal Justice at Roosevelt University in Chicago, discussed research and statistics that bolster three disturbing trends: Men of color appear to be killed by police disproportionately; these men of color are frequently unarmed; and grand juries are unwilling to indict officers even when there is clear evidence of wrongdoing.
“What we have here, ladies and gentlemen, is obviously a national crisis, correct?” Sanchez said. “What we have are things that appear to be happening over and over again.”
“The police are not going to stop doing what they do,” Keith J. Staten, a Sacramento criminal defense attorney, said later. “The change is going to come from us and society as to how we want to be policed.”
For showtimes on SECC 1, search the schedule and tune in to Comcast 15 or CCI 21