This note is a contribution to a dialogue on the exchange between Satzewich and Shaffir's (2009) paper on racism and professionalism and Henry and Tator's (2011) rejoinder. The originating article and rejoinder take up an issue central to the practice of racial profiling--do cultural elements of police work facilitate (or potentially inhibit) racist tendencies on the part of individual officers; or relatedly, is police culture itself racist? One of the important questions posed by the exchange is whether the presence of an underlying racism--as in overt hostility to minorities - is a necessary criterion for calling a practice racial profiling, or whether profiling is a cultural characteristic of the organization. I will not attempt to answer this question, which is probably unanswerable in any case. I will focus instead on the broader policy implications of the exchange. First, I will briefly review the papers.
Brief review of papers
How does one define racial profiling? Satzewich and Shaffir (2009) define racial profiling as "heightened scrutiny based solely or in part on race, ethnicity, Aboriginality, place of origin ancestry, or religion, or on stereotypes associated with any of these factors" (200). However, they do not directly attribute it to underlying racism--rather, it is a behavioural consequence of police culture. Profiling emerges from "attentiveness to particular signals and 'unusual fits'" (200). Profiling is, consequently, situated within the broader context of police work. A vocabulary of actions enables police to perceive profiling as normal and routine to their everyday work.
Satzewich and Shaffir (2009) develop a notion of "deflection rhetoric" (201)--defined as "how the police attend to the charges against them of being racially motivated" (211)--that is used to justify racial profiling. The three elements of deflection rhetoric are the intolerance of intolerance ("denying the existence of racial profiling by referring to recent changes in organizational structures that reflect the police's commitment to diversity, tolerance, and fairness"; Satzewich and Shaffir 2009: 212), the discourse of multiculturalism ("the claim that the police could not possibly engage in racial profiling because their recruitment mechanisms are better than they were in the past"; 215) and the discourse of blaming the victim ("if there is a problem, the problem lies elsewhere, particularly in the individuals and organizations who claim that racial profiling is a problem"; 217). Police, however, do not view a selective focus on minorities as a racial issue. Rather, they "tend to view racism through the lens of personal responsibility and look at the legal architecture of motive and degree of culpability to determine criminal responsibility" (Satzewich and Shaffir 2009: 220).
Henry and Tator (2011), in a rejoinder to Satzewich and Shaffir (2009), argue that racism should be studied from the point of view of its consequences, not from the perspective of the motives of individuals. They note that human rights law looks at racism from the point of view of its consequences to the victim, not the intent of the perpetrator, which "need not be proved" (Henry and Tator 2011: 66). Citing R v. Brown, they note that "The police officer need not be an overt racist. His or her conduct may be based on subconscious racial stereotyping" (66).
In an effort to develop a concept of racism, the authors argue that one should look, not only at overt behaviour, but also at "the unintentional and sometimes traditional normative practices that result in serious inequalities" (Henry and Tator 2011: 67). In police organizations, "[w]hiteness is constructed as normative, informal social behaviour, the culture of the organization or department may render minority group members as second class citizens" (67). Hence, racism may result, not from one's conscious decision making, but as a cultural phenomenon that is pre-conscious. Racial profiling--the behavioural expression of police culture--flows from these cultural predilections.
The problematics of culture and racism
Both of the papers are really quite good. They both deal with a notion of racial profiling, a behaviour that is associated with police culture and is somewhat associated with individual racism.
Neither really provides a definition of police culture--or subculture, whatever one's terminological preference is. I am of the view that culture--however one conceptualizes it and whatever use is made of that concept--is perspective-dependent. That is, there is not some objective thing out there that can be called culture, and for that reason, any conception of culture necessarily has to be understood from the point of view of the observer. After all, it is the observer who uses the word culture to frame some general or specific thing or things about police organizations or actions and give them substantive meaning (Crank 2004). Culture is a container metaphor, and quite a number of items--mostly negative--have been put into it (see Lakoff and Johnson 1980). For the police, culture can be the positive expression of the transmission of local-department history, the cultivation of values necessary to police work, and the like. If one is focused on gender, culture can be about the way in which male norms intervene in the status conflicts involved in integrating the roles of "woman" and "police."
The term racism is similarly problematic. It is not so much descriptive as accusatory, begging denial in the accused. In social-scientific terms, it is difficult to find consensus on just what racism actually is. If I put together a roomful of social scientists, I am not going to find a lot of agreement as to definitions, as the two papers considered here illustrate. Lack of consensus creates particular problems for the social sciences, which rest on some notion of their being consensus as to definitions for measurement purposes. Justice is another such term; as is terrorism. Is racism defined by the consequences of ones actions, or by the intent of those actions? There is no consensus on this, and there is unlikely to be in the future--only an elaboration of existing points of view, with future observers even more entangled in a diversity of points of view than are present-day observers.
Unfortunately, the concepts of culture and racism are central to critiques of racial profiling, the topic of both papers considered here. Debates such as that between Satzewich and Shaffir (2009) and Henry and Tator's (2011) are only resolvable by appeal to normative consensus in the social-scientific or legal community--neither side of the debate can be proven with any sort of truth prescription. As MacIntyre (1988) notes, legal debates tend endlessly to reframe issues around contemporary circumstances without ever actually resolving them. The same might be said of the social-scientific community. This is not a particularly satisfying solution to the current debate. So I am going to take a different tack--I am going to shift this into the policy realm.
The policy question
The question--what is the role of culture in the production of racism?--can be reframed as a policy question with a sharp moral edge--should minority neighbourhoods and/or areas with high crime rates receive an exceptionally high level of police services, including enforcement activity? That is, what should police do about high levels of crime in areas, widely studied in our field, that are also characterized by high levels of poverty and high percentages of minority members? If the behaviour of the police is a problem, then somehow efforts to change that behaviour must be dealt with in a policy arena.
Let me describe a dilemma. I can crime-map a city--let's say, Omaha, Nebraska, where I live. When I look for concentrations of violent crime, I find them in areas that also have a large percentage of African-American minority members. These areas have very high levels of violent and property crime, with aggressive gang confrontations leading to shootings, and with African-American community members the most highly victimized in the city. Community members in these neighbourhoods don't want their kids routinely hassled by the police, but they definitely do want crime to go away. They also want steady employment, educational opportunities, respectable property values, adequate municipal transportation, air conditioning, and medical assistance. That is, what they want--and rarely have--is what most of us consider our middle-class goods.
Community members certainly did not choose this way of life. We should get past the choice argument--that those living in such desperate community circumstances do so as a matter of personal choice. All of the choice logics are wrong. African-Americans did not choose to live in deep poverty because they thought it would somehow facilitate criminal careers, or because they thought that a life of poverty would be a preferable way to live, or because they wanted their children to grow up to join gangs and get shot, or because they wanted to go begging for money for their children's funerals that they couldn't afford, or because they wanted to experience despair and hopelessness. Choice certainly plays a role in such neighbourhoods: Many, as soon as they can afford to, leave. Of course, the loss of skilled and educated community members further enhances disinvestment processes and a real decline. Being able to control one's own narrative--indeed, to lead anything other than an episodic life--is largely a function of income. Choices, in the ghetto, are sparse at best, and for some, they are non-existent. Choice--the idea that someone can independently control her or his own narrative--is extremely situation-dependent, and citizens' abilities to control their own narratives decline rapidly in the absence of the goods of income, health, education, and community well-being.
Will having more police in this area -which is arguably community-based racial profiling in that it targets a black area for extensive police attention--be the right thing to do? Inevitably, an enhanced police presence will result in higher numbers for arrests of minority citizens and greater frustration with and distrust of the police among neighbourhood youth.
Let's reframe the policy question into a social science question: What should the policy role of the social scientist be in deciding about policies such as these--with all their emotional and moral freight of race and ethnicity, racism, police culture, and racial profiling? The significant policy contribution does not lie in providing research, although that is certainly an important academic good useful for minority communities. I think the policy role is two-layered, with the first an organizational layer and the second a community layer.
The first layer, demonstrated admirably in the works of Chan (see, e.g., Chan 1997) is in bridging the field from research to agency practice. Taking the fairly difficult (though good) work of Sackmann (1992), Chan (1999) developed policy recommendations aimed at reform of the Australian police. Her work, founded in cultural analysis, represents an important dimension of what I think of as the policy responsibility of university researchers--to show how what one does can make a difference in the real world.
The second layer lies in participating directly in the communities at issue and has two parts: (1) through participation in local groups and committees, to contribute to decisions about what the community itself needs and to help identify the ways the community can move forward to address those needs, and (2) to help develop and oversee the kinds of research that will assess whether those community needs are being met by organizations who seek to contribute. Both papers that were the focus of this issue--at least by my take--reveal both a commitment to and broad knowledge about minority groups and the police practices pertinent to those groups. A significant policy contribution, and one that faculty should be much more engaged in than they typically are, is to participate in community groups, city commissions, and the like, to affect the direction and nature of policy itself.
This, I think, is the next step that academic engagement should take through community practice, to contribute to the way in which communities better themselves. This is the second layer--to decide what the whole point of the research is, not simply to carry out research on behalf of others.
Let me close by returning to the policy question I asked above: Should high-crime minority neighbourhoods receive exceptional police services? The answer to this question should be framed in the community, and the role of the social scientist in answering this question should be to participate in the community dialogue. This answer recognizes that different groups in the community are likely to differ sharply on what the different terms central to the framing of the policy question--race, racism, culture, and the like--mean. The problematics of culture and race do not go away but are transferred to the public arena, where discussion, at some point, ends with policy formulation and action. It also means that those of us who are specifically trained to contribute to the debate do so in a way where it counts for real, ordinary people who could use the help. The core meanings of race, racism, and culture may be irresolvable. But policy decision s enable a decision and action in spite of legitimate differences (see Warnke 1999). The academic role should be participation in this community milieu, with a voice in a broader policy contribution where it is most needed.
Chan, Janet 1997 Changing Police Culture: Police in a Multicultural Society. Melbourne: Cambridge University Press.
Crank John 2004 Police culture in a changing multicultural environment. In Thurman and A. Giacomazzi (eds.), Controversies in Policing. Cincinnati, OH: LexisNexis.
Henry, Frances and Carol Tator 2011 Rejoinder to Satzewich and Shaffir on "Racism versus professionalism: Claims and counter-claims about racial profiling." Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice 53: 65-74.
Lakoff, George and Mark Johnson 1980 Metaphors We Live By. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
MacIntyre, Alasdair 1988 Whose Justice? Which Rationality? Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press.
Sackmann, Sonja 1992 Culture and subcultures: An analysis of organizational knowledge. Administrative Science Quarterly 37: 140-161.
Satzewich, Vic and William Shaffir 2009 Racism versus professionalism: Claims and counter-claims about racial profiling. Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice 51: 199-226.
Warnke, Georgia 1999 Legitimate Differences: Interpretation in the Abortion Controversy and Other Public Debates. Berkeley: University of California Press.
John P. Crank
School of Criminology and Criminal Justice…