Ferguson: Why We Still Need Affirmative Action
By: Recruiting Specialist
A. Civil rights unrest flashback:
For many, the uproar over the Ferguson police response to protests in the days following Michael Brown's killing brought about flashbacks of the struggle for racial justice, which resulted in Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Prior to the Civil Rights Act decades of racial segregation mandated by the Jim Crow laws took place at the state and local level and in all public facilities. The separation eventually led to substandard conditions for African Americans. Discrimination was a natural byproduct of the segregation laws and was evident in housing, bank lending practices, employment, and union practices. African Americans were also denied the right to vote.
The inception of the Civil rights Act paid off for the nonviolent movement led by the Reverend Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. The nonviolent protests succeeded in major accomplishments, including: the judicial victory in Brown v. Board of Education, which abolished the legal doctrine of "separate but equal" and made segregation impermissible; the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that banned discrimination in employment practices and public accommodations; the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and other equally important achievements.
In theory, the Civil Rights Act was a significant evolution in our society. However, the effect of years of oppression and disenfranchisement of African Americans could not possibly dissipate immediately upon the enactment of the 1964 CRA. It will take time to heal and to fulfill the promise of this nation - life, liberty and the equality of opportunity for all.
The images of battle-ready law enforcement personnel confronting peaceful demonstrations in Ferguson were strangely reminiscent of those callous and racist tactics used against protestors during the Civil Rights movement in the 50's and 60's. It is a reminder that despite the tremendous progress this nation has made in many areas of race relations, counting the election of the first African American President, we are not quite there yet. Racial segregation in our society persists to this day, and so does the need to address it.
Since the start of the Civil Rights Act, we have witnessed riots that have typically been provoked by police brutality against a minority (mainly Africans Americans) where they feel they are marginalized.
In Fergusson, the police force is nearly all white, as are the elected officials controlling the city government; the population is almost two-thirds African Americans; and these disparities have created a great deal of tension between the police and the African Americans community.
That's not a natural institutional arrangement. Political bodies tend to at least roughly resemble the electorate. It's uncommon for majorities to be under-represented as they clearly are in Fergusson.
Demographic shift, coupled with a long institutional lag, is also responsible for the disconnect between the police and the community they serve. Sometimes, that disconnect becomes violent. Young African American men often have good reason to fear the police. They feel subjugated and are routinely targeted by law enforcement even within their own communities.
Conversely, so few of police officers have ever been young African Americans men, exacerbating the extremely high racial tensions.
Municipalities tend to reflect their electorates, but with a lag. The city of Ferguson experienced significant population shifts to mostly African Americans. It is almost impossible to replace current white police officers with African Americans, who are more demographically fitting. Why is that? Here are just a few reasons:
- You can't simply fire current employees to replace with others to fulfill a racial gap in the workforce.
- Such replacement would open lawsuits for racial discrimination.
- Police officers are protected by a union, as Ferguson's police officers seemingly are
C. Band aid solutions to defuse the unrest:
The temporary intervention by installing Capt. Ron Johnson (African American) of the Missouri State Highway Patrol to coordinate law enforcement agencies in Ferguson could help the community stakeholders tackle the racial mismatch between the city officials, including law enforcement, and the majority of population, namely African Americans.
More importantly, the Missouri Highway Patrol administers an Affirmative Action Plan, to monitor and remedy discrimination in employment. Conversely, the city of Ferguson does not seem to have affirmative action planning in place. Evidently, the Missouri Highway Patrol has a better representation of African Americans in its patrol officers.
D. A Proposed Long term Action plan:
Reform strategies to consider for future justice and stability:
- The City's elected officials must ensure social justice and remove barriers to the process.
- Participation in the political process: the population must be motivated to exercise their political power through their voting rights so that those in power truly represent and reflect the communities they were elected to serve. The lack of political participation by the African American community likely resulted in an unopposed white male candidates becoming the city current Mayor and the majority of city elected officials. Similarly, the absence of civil justice (affirmative action and diversity) appears to be due to a failure by controlling white representatives to connect with and consider the needs and interests of the City's African American majority.
- Consider using Integrative interventions such as:
- Initiate Community mentorship programs to Explore Career Options
- Provide volunteer opportunities (Police Explorers program, which helps instill confidence in preparing today's youth toward a successful tomorrow.) to City residents.
- Set up Community policing to promote Collaborative partnerships between the law enforcement agency and the individuals and organizations they serve to develop solutions to problems and increase trust in police. Community policing also proactively addresses the immediate conditions that give rise to public safety issues such as crime, social disorder, and fear of crime.
- Transforming hiring practices to improve race relations: The city should consider a robust outreach program to increase African Americans applicants (pipeline) to the county's police academy. As employment opportunities become available, the applicants' pool should bolster minority hiring in a police department that is currently a .06% African American officers.
- Consider Affirmative Action Planning: Police departments throughout many states used affirmative action planning to determine any problem areas with respect to minority representation among their workforce. Subsequently, those departments have increased their complement of officers from racial minority groups. A study of the fifty largest cities in the United States had shown that from 1983 to 1992, police departments, using AAP, "made progress in the employment of African-American and Hispanic officers." Currently, minority police officers make up about 20 percent of the officers in local police departments, and African-Americans head one-fourth of the nation's 50 largest police departments.
E. Conclusion: Affirmative action planning, the untold effect:
Affirmative action is a civil rights policy premised on remedying past discrimination and removing discrimination from the process of recruiting and hiring. While affirmative action justifies a race and gender-conscious inclusive approach to hiring in criminal justice. Affirmative Action is not about quotas and does not seek to exclude any candidate based on race or gender. It does seek to ensure that the applicant pool and workforce accurately represent the demographics within the locations in question
- Affirmative action proves a commitment to the principle of equality.
- Affirmative action improves police-community relations, as explained earlier.
- Affirmative action eradicates past societal discrimination without threatening the job security and careers of all other people unaffected by past discrimination. AAP should be inclusive without regard to race or gender.
- Affirmative action policies must conform to the requirements set down in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke(1978), as the Supreme Court held that quotas were unconstitutional but that race could continue to be used as a factor in admissions. In other words, race can be used to reach equilibrium proportionate to the demographics in the labor market.