The co-authors of Pulled Over: How Police Stops Define Race and Citizenship, have some thoughts on the shooting of Michael Brown, and why blacks and whites see the situation so differently:
After interviewing hundreds of drivers about their experiences in police stops, we can see why [there is a vast gulf between how blacks and whites view the recent events in Ferguson, Mo.]. African Americans experience not only more police stops than whites but also a completely different kind of stop....(my emphasis)
A thought experiment for white readers, drawn from actual examples from our interviews:
Suppose you are pulled over by a police officer while driving home from work. The officer doesn’t say you were speeding or ran a red light. Instead, he asks where you’re coming from and where you’re going. While you answer, he looks around your car with a flashlight. Then he lets you go, with no ticket or further explanation. Five minutes later, another officer stops you and asks the same questions, only to let you go again.
Or suppose you are standing in a yard, in an ordinary working-class neighborhood, talking to your friends. An officer drives down the street, stops and approaches with a hand on his gun. “Nobody move!” he barks. “Keep your hands where I can see them and show me your IDs.”
Or suppose you are driving home from school with friends and an officer pulls you over. He tells you that you look like the suspects in a recent burglary, then handcuffs you all and makes you sit on the sidewalk to wait for a witness to arrive to look at you. After an hour, he lets you go with no explanation....
The incidents described above are called investigatory stops.... Our interviews revealed that while whites are quite familiar with traffic-safety stops, they have little experience with investigatory stops. But half of all stops reported by blacks were investigatory.
Police justify this blatantly discriminatory tactic by saying it's a proactive way to fight crime in high-crime neighborhoods, a "numbers game" that sometimes nets them drugs or weapons. What about the large numbers of those who aren't involved in any illegality that these tactics humiliate, enrage, and endanger? Not to mention the imposition on their civil rights of those who are being stopped without proper cause, no matter what they're doing.
This is the sort of information that whites need to hear more of. I'd like to think that the gap between white and black attitudes on the Brown shooting, among so many others, is a result of a lack of information not of the potential for empathy.
The authors have a suggestion on what has to be done to reverse the poisonous atmosphere these police tactics have created:
There is a way forward: Rein in investigatory stops. African Americans resent not so much the police but a particular type of police activity. They, like whites, accept police stops made for a clear violation and not as a pretext to question and search....And speaking of rebuilding trust between the police and the people, how about, while they're at it, taking away the MRAPs, the grenade launchers, the M-16 rifles, the black masks, the military-grade Storm Trooper body armor....
Ending investigatory stops would make it possible to begin rebuilding trust, stop by stop. Hiring more black police officers is essential but in itself will not address the problem. Even racially diverse departments such as New York’s have carried out far too many of these stops when this was the policy of police leadership.
The problem is not police stops — it is investigatory stops. These stops poison blacks’ attitudes toward the police — and toward the law itself.