The town of Homer, Louisiana is embroiled in a racially-charged controversy after a white police officer shot and killed an elderly African-American man in front of his family and friends. Witnesses say police planted a gun on the victim after shooting him and federal investigators are now working overtime to sort the whole thing out.
Of course, questionable police shootings and allegations of severe misconduct are tragically common and it will be interesting to see what the investigation uncovers. What really shook me up about the story was a quote from Homer Police Chief Russell Mills, who was asked about his department’s treatment of minorities:
“People here are afraid of the police,” said Terry Willis, vice president of the Homer branch of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People. “They harass black people, they stop people for no reason and rough them up without charging them with anything.”
That is how it should be, responded Homer Police Chief Russell Mills, who noted the high rates of gun and drug arrests in the neighborhood.
“If I see three or four young black men walking down the street, I have to stop them and check their names,” said Mills, who is white. “I want them to be afraid every time they see the police that they might get arrested.” [Los Angeles Times]
Arrested for what? Being black? A professional police department should not be a source of intimidation for citizens who’ve done nothing wrong. It’s just an appallingly racist and inappropriate remark coming from the chief of police in a town plagued by racial tension. Chief Mills’s mentality pretty much tells you everything you need to know about how things got this bad.
Skeptics in the debate over racial profiling will often begin by telling you that police never use racial profiling, then conclude by implying that black people are all criminals who must be stopped and searched at every opportunity. It’s an absurd contradiction. As long as I can still find police chiefs publicly boasting of racial bias in the newspaper, I fail to understand how anyone could claim racial profiling isn’t a serious problem.