Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen attended a recent forum — “Know Your Rights: It Could Save Your Life” — about community interactions between black people and the police. By Griffen’s account, new Police Chief Kenton Buckner made inaccurate and “offensive” remarks, including in response to a question about whether there should be an independent review panel for allegations of police misuse of force.
According to Griffen, Buckner said the Civil Service Commission serves the role of a review body. But it doesn’t, as Griffen explains in an essay I’ve reprinted below. Griffen also faulted Buckner for criticizing people in Little Rock who’d been critical of the Ferguson, Mo., police handling of the shooting of Michael Brown.
Griffen is well-known for outspokenness. I’ll add my boilerplate about the urge: He has an absolute 1st Amendment right of protection from government retaliation — including judicial discipline — for speaking his mind. Does that always mean it’s sound judgment for him to speak so volubly given his position? No. He’s not many weeks, for example, past presiding over a trial involving a Little Rock police shooting of a black youth. If history is a guide, the subject will arise again.
But if leading voices in the black community can’t push back against a black police chief in a city with police transgressions against black people a matter of multiple court actions, I don’t know who can.
And speaking of race. Please read this powerful Washington Post piece by Lawrence Otis Graham,an upper class black person prompted to reflect on race on the occasion of his privileged, polite and properly raised child being called a “nigger.” It’s headlined: “I taught my black kids that their elite upbringing would protect them from discrimination. I was wrong.”
Race has been much on my mind this week on account of the continued polarization of voting — Tom Cotton, for example, was defeated 344-0 in College Station. That divide is a fact, whatever your favorite reason for its existence. Tuesday’s winners — who benefitted from the polarization on the white side (they outnumber blacks in Arkansas about 7-1) — want to declare race a dead issue, judging by a lively discussion on our Facebook page. Wendell Griffen, Kenton Bucker and writers like Lawrence Graham are proof that it is far from a dead issue. I think we need to keep talking.
Following are Wendell Griffen’s comments on Chief Buckner (in which he concludes the chief doesn’t know the difference between being pompous and being trusted based on remarks about diversity training and other issues):
By Wendell Griffen
On Thursday evening, November 6, my wife and I attended a town hall meeting titled “Know Your Rights- Because It Could Save Your Life” at Allison Memorial Presbyterian Church in downtown Little Rock. The meeting was presented by the National Bar Association (the nation’s largest and oldest association of black lawyers, judges, legal educators, and law students), the W. Harold Flowers Law Society (the Arkansas affiliate of the NBA, and the Black Law Students Association of the UALR Bowen School of Law. The main feature of the town hall meeting involved presentations by National Bar Association President Pamela Meanes of St. Louis, Missouri, Chief Kenton Buckner of the Little Rock Police Department, and Benjamin Crump, the attorney for the families of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and Monroe Isadore.
Chief Buckner’s remarks were inaccurate and, in at least one respect, offensive.
· During the question and answer period, I asked Chief Buckner: “Will you support independent review panels for all police shootings? If not, why?” Chief Buckner replied that Little Rock already has an independent review forum for police shootings and identified the Civil Service Commission as that entity.
· During the question and answer period, Professor Adjoa Aiyetoro of the UALR Bowen Law School asked Chief Buckner whether Little Rock police officers undergo training in implicit bias. Chief Buckner replied that police officers receive “diversity training” and that some officers are defensive about it.
· Chief Buckner criticized Little Rock residents for supporting protest efforts in Ferguson, Missouri about the slaying of eighteen year-old (and unarmed) Michael Brown by Officer Darren Wilson of the Ferguson, Missouri Police Department. Chief Buckner questioned why Little Rock residents would be upset about the Michael Brown shooting when black residents are victims of homicide from persons who aren’t police officers in Little Rock.
The Little Rock Civil Service Commission reviews complaints and grievances involving Little Rock police officers (and personnel in the Fire Department) to decide whether to impose discipline different from any discipline imposed by the police (or fire) department. The Commission does not permit persons who complain about use of force by police officers to present evidence. A complainant may not call witnesses. The Civil Service Commission is, plainly, not an independent review forum. It is telling that Chief Buckner claims that it is.
There is a fundamental and recognized difference between diversity training (what Chief Buckner also described as “sensitivity training”) and training on implicit bias. Decades of social science research shows that people unconsciously engage in biased thinking that affects their behavior.
Of special importance for people in law enforcement in cross-cultural encounters is the research surrounding hostile attribution bias, meaning a tendency to attribute the ambiguous activity of others as hostile rather than harmless. A number of experiments have been conducted with both undergraduate volunteers and police officers playing a computer game. The volunteers must choose whether to shoot or not to shoot a target who may be white or black, on the basis of whether or not they are armed. Consistently, participants made slower and less accurate decisions on whether to shoot an unarmed black target than an unarmed white target. They were quicker and more likely to correctly decide to shoot an armed black target than an armed white target.
If Chief Buckner doesn’t know about implicit bias he could and should have said so. Instead, his remarks exposed a pompous ignorance.
My wife and I know the parents of one of the homicide victims Chief Buckner named when he criticized local efforts to protest the killing of Michael Brown. We still grieve the murder of their only child. Chief Buckner had no right or reason to suggest that any person present Thursday night prevented Little Rock police from identifying and arresting anyone responsible for killing our friends’ son or any of the other homicide victims he named.
Michael Brown’s killer, Darren Wilson, is a police officer. Wilson was concealed by the police for more than a week. The St. Louis County prosecutor refused to charge Wilson with committing homicide. Chief Buckner’s criticism about local support for protests about the killing of Michael Brown is outrageous because Little Rock police have also been criticized for killing people without just cause.
The big difference between being pompous and being professional is the difference between holding a title and being trusted. Sadly, Chief Buckner doesn’t appear to understand that difference.