Missing person bias

From Feministing (ps I can’t believe I’m linking to F’isting, Melly’s gonna have a field day):

Moore was held in a basement a few blocks away where she was raped and tortured for four days before her captors beat her to death. The police, who Moore’s mother begged for help, did nothing to find her.

Sean Gardiner at The Village Voice has a huge piece not only on the police’s mishandling of Moore’s disappearance – but also how it has sparked a historic racial bias case against the city.

Moore’s mother Elle Carmichael is bringing forward a a civil-rights lawsuit claiming that the NYPD has a “practice of not making a prompt investigation of missing-persons claims of African-Americans, while making a prompt investigation for white individuals.”

I don’t think you need to be a conspiracy theorist to see that there is a definite bias. I also believe that this is not only a concrete example of the effects of Missing White Girl Syndrome, but a display of the ineptitude of the NYPD. More than anywhere else I have been (and I’m from L.A.!) the police force here has such a disconnect with the citizens, whether it is the harassment of subway riders breaking minor rules, the blatant ignoring of traffic laws, the disrespect to citizens, or the general air of superiority. All of these are heightened by degrees depending on the race and neighborhoods in which they take place.

Now I will fully admit that I have my own personal bias against police. I don’t believe that any human should have inherent power over another, so a separate class of people that are above the law will receive nothing but spite from me. But I feel that my bias has a lot of justification.

Last week I was in a doctor’s office and a massive brawl broke out in the waiting room. I was in SOHO (!) and an argument between a large middle aged man and a young woman quickly escalated into the man beating the girl viciously, which enveloped the crowd around them. It was pretty horrific. The chaos reigned for a couple minutes during which several other friends and family members from both sides were involved. The raging man was forced out of the building but kept making his way back in, to wail on anyone in his vicinity. It is always difficult to tell during a fight, but I believe the whole thing lasted somewhere between 5-10 minutes, during which, after numerous calls to 911, the police were nowhere to be found. Eventually the man left and the people inside slowly returned to normal, while the involved cleaned up and nursed their wounds.
I didn’t see any cops but assumed they had eventually come since the “security” at the building called the young woman and her friends outside. About 30 minutes after the incident I went outside to get some air and saw the cops interrogating the woman and her friends, who I felt were clearly the victims in the situation. I mentioned to one of the security guards that I had witnessed the entire thing, who then offered me as a witness to the police officer:

P.O.: Oh, you saw the whole thing, did you? Well where were you 30 minutes ago when we could have used you??

Me: Wh-what? No cops even entered the scene of the fight. In fact police didn’t even make any contact with the people who saw the whole thing. This is the first time I’ve seen you guys.

P.O.: Whatever man, it’s too late.

Sigh. Against my anarchist ideals I offered to help the authority figures and they dismissed my help. Why do I think they didn’t care? Well all of the people involved were black or latino. I don’t really have any faith that the man will be caught. In fact, they cared about as much about this case as they do about giving people tickets. And they know that if it was some young pretty white socialite getting wailed on they could end up in hot water for not giving a fuck.

There is however an objective reason for this bias. Most of the crime happens in lower income areas, which tend to be black and latino. So they are called into more crime scenes involving minorities than whites, thus it becomes more routine. But I don’t think that is an excuse. I think that the massive reduction in the NYC crime-rate has resulted in a flabby and lazy police force, both motivationally and physically. Thus, where they once focused on violent crime, they now focus on petty drug crimes and minor infractions such as putting your feet on subway seats, and in these areas you can clearly see the bias. Most marijuana users are white, but the vast majority of marijuana arrestees are black. And I was once on a train where a cop pulled a young black guy off the train for having his feet up, while a white guy and I did as well (it was late at night!); we all pretty much pulled our feet off the seats at the same time but he was the only one picked off the train.

Bringing it back the the title case of this blog, the media bias is just as bad if not worse than the police bias. It was interesting a few years ago when every month or two a new missing pretty white girl was plastered all over the news, in spite of the abduction rate going down. This of course led citizens to believe that there was an epidemic in kidnapping, particularly of the photogenic and white. The reality of course that the vast majority of kidnappings happened in the family and that there were just as many less photogenic girls, and boys, being kidnapped. Studies have shown though that the general public as a whole has been conditioned to associate sympathy with attractive and white, which of course leads to better ratings for the news organizations who exploit such sentiments.

Now, I’m pretty libertarian when it comes to the media – I despise much of the bias, but I still feel they are free to report as they wish – but when the bias is shared by the people who we are paying to “protect” us, it matters much more to me.

I don’t really have the answer, but I do have a suggestion. We need a serious overhaul of the NYPD. They’ve enjoyed some goodwill by tacking themselves onto the 9/11, even though the NYFD really bore the brunt of that tragedy. But now it is waning, and shit like the Sean Bell incident only makes it more apparent that the overhaul is needed. We need less enforcement of petty drug laws, eradication of the quota-based ticket and/or arrest system, intense review of response times, subject them to the same laws we do (read: no running red lights with a momentary flash of the siren), more non-lethal force (and no I don’t mean tasers), and better physical fitness.

Whuh? Yeah, I’m sorry but the NYPD are some out-of-shape fucks. If physical fitness is such a demand of the military, then why isn’t it of the police force, who actually have a more physically demanding job in a lot of ways? I think that if you are obese and in the police force, you should have a desk job. Sorry. And I don’t mean this out of spite. An officer who has the physical capabilities to chase and take down a perp is much less likely to use his taser or his gun, or even his nightstick. There is an obese cop who walks his beat on my street, waddling back and forth on the block waiting for someone to ride a bike on a sidewalk or carry an open container. Citizens don’t respect or even fear him. What is he going to do, chase you? No way. He is more of an annoyance than an object of comfort.

And this is my point. If we are going to have a force of people that preside over us, shouldn’t they predominantly be giving us comfort rather than annoyance?

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