It’s been more than six months since University of Virginia student Martese Johnson received 10 stitches from an altercation with Virginia State Alcohol Beverage Control officer J. Miller. The crime that resulted in the smashing of his head against the pavement was one most of us have been guilty of — the use of a fake ID and underage drinking. How is it that a high-achieving student with no prior record is treated so brutally for a petty crime? Johnson’s case crystallizes the fact that racial bias and fear trumps class and education. It also instills fear and mistrust. But like everything in this world, whatever is taught can be untaught.
In news editor Tom Marble’s story “UP officers participate in diversity class,” we learn the diversity course offered by Director J.W. Wiley, his team of TAs and other faculty members is now taught to University Police officers. Wiley and UP have realized that police training starts in the academy and usually ends there, which is where our system has failed us.
In an article for the Atlantic, former police officer Seth Stoughton wrote about how police training contributes to avoidable deaths. The people we want to trust in keeping us safe are taught that the first rule of law enforcement is to go home by the end of the shift. That’s their first rule. And since law enforcement is a hostile environment, this rule makes every community member a potential threat. But that’s only if we lived in a world free from our social construction, free from our history.
Unfortunately, we’re not free. We’re all subjected to conscious and unconscious racism through different mediums every day. They’re present in the movies we watch where black men rarely are grammatically accurate. They’re in the books we read where members of a minority group are never heroes. They’re in the jokes we tell and in the music we listen to that accentuate the portrayals of minority groups. Add to that the teachings of the Police Academy and we have the great divide that is between police officers and the citizens. We have a racially biased bomb, which can only be dismantled if we’re actively anti-racist and if we’re united. Racism can’t survive for long unless people are divided among themselves.
It is for this reason that we welcome the concept PSUC has created. It encourages communication between the campus community and UP, it creates awareness and it encourages UP to be actively anti-racist. But most importantly, this concept gives education power over racial bias and fear.