For decades, the topic of policing African Americans (AA) has been a delicate and polarizing subject at the forefront of political contention. Studies show that AAs are 2.5 times more likely to die at the hands of the police than Caucasians (Edwards) and four times more likely to receive force (Goff 25), even though they account for merely 13.4% of national crime. The 2020 democratic debates showed that this issue is as pervasive as ever: the candidates relationships with AAs have largely been defined by their reputations in policing this demographic group.
From the criticism received by Micheal Bloomberg stemming from the prevalence of “stop and frisk” during his tenure to Pete Buttigieg’s “Douglass Plan,” the candidates methods of policing AAs is central to their appeal to voters.
Since 2017, President Trump has lifted the limits placed on the 1033 Program in an effort to further militarize the PF. Militarization is the government supplying local PFs with military grade equipment such as automatic shotguns, rifles, personal carriers, and Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) teams (Leiblich 109).
Given the disproportionately large amount of force towards AAs from police compared to other minority groups and the fact that the community does not make up a significant percentage of national crime, it is of paramount importance to assess whether further militarizing the PF through the 1033 Program is justifiable.
Many academics agree that the lift on the 1033 Program by Trump has catalyzed a fundamental change in the policing approach. Jeremiah Mosteller, a criminal justice reformer at the revered Charles Koch Institute, affirms that the recent militarization propagates “counterproductive thought patterns” (f).
These counterproductive thought patterns are commonly referred to as the “warrior mindset,” which “emphasizes officer safety and prioritizes crime fighting as a law enforcement officer’s primary mission” (McLean 4). Consequently, this warrior mindset propagated by 1033 Program has instilled a more aggressive approach to policing.
The assertive nature of the warrior mindset disproportionately targets AAs because it trains cops to be hypersensitive to threat, which cops tend to associate to AAs. David A. Harris, the foremost academic in the realm of racial profiling, believes the warrior mindset targets AAs by encouraging officers to act on impulse. In his rationale, Dr. Harris cites a 2004 study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology which elucidates that seeing AAs impels a tunnel-vision effect on police officers, which promotes officers to be more aware of their weapons and on the lookout for crime (Eberhardt 885). Similarly, a 2017 study by the American Psychological Association states that the reason black men are more likely to be killed by the police is because they seemed more “threatening” (Wilson 59). The essence of Harris’ argument is that although the warrior mindset may be beneficial for the officer’s survival, it is not in the best interests of AA’s considering they are more likely to be presumed as threatening. As a result, this encourages officers to act on impulse in cases that would have otherwise not prompted action.
Conversely, proponents of the warrior ethos plead that 1033 Program is a necessary step in promoting officer safety. In his book Warrior Mindset: Mental Toughness Skills for a Nation’s Peacekeepers, Dave Grossman argues that the warrior mindset is necessary to combat the growing crime rate and police death (Featherstone). The former lieutenant believes violence should be nurtured in the PF with the aspiration to use it in a righteous battle. Similarly, Nick Selby, NYPD’s Director of Cyber Intelligence and Investigations, believes warrior training promotes use of appropriate force by helping officers control their fear and responds to deadly threats with precision (Featherstone). Selby, like Grossman, writes in his book that the primary objective of the warrior ethos is to equip POs with the physical and psychological tools necessary to combat the realities POs must face. Accordingly, these individuals firmly believe that the Program 1033 enhances officer safety in a way that other measures simply cannot compare.
While these advocates of the warrior mindset offer valuable insight on the justifications of the 1033 Program, the logic they employ is contradicted by recent trends and leading experts. The number of POs killed on the job in 2017 reached a high of 171. In the face of emphasis on the 1033 Program , the warrior mindset has been shown to cause more harm to the officer. In fact, criminal justice professor Kyle McLean found that officers who valued the warrior ethos were more likely to use force and increase the chances of them getting hurt (15). Furthermore, Grossman’s claim of officers using violence to fight righteously is also challenged by the idea of the warrior mindset actually cultivating fear. In a Harvard Law Review, former police officer Seth Stoughton insists that “officers don’t learn to be vigilant, attentive, cautious, alert, and observant because it is fun. They do so because they are afraid. Fear is ubiquitous in the law force” (227). Sloughten’s passionate plea is a testament to the irony implicit in the warrior mindset: instead of fostering confident officers, militarization engenders a feeling of impending terror. This fright leads officers to fear AA’s more readily, resulting in an increased use of lethal force towards AA’s.
Not only has the recent 1033 Program lead to a warrior mindset and increased fear in POs, these statutes have simultaneously reversed previous trends and advancements in community-oriented policing. The fundamental principles guiding community-oriented policing are that law enforcement officers build sustainable partnerships with those they protect, in turn increasing the perceived legitimacy of the police through positive contact between officers and the public (Diaz 1). According to a 2016 survey (n= 2,188) by the CATO Institute, 58% of AAs believe police using military equipment is “excessive”. Furthermore, AA’s are 56% more likely to believe police tactics are too harsh (Ekins). These opinions are major inhibitors of effective community policing, since they explicitly undermine the primary value that is fundamental to efficacious policing: trust. Without an underlying sense of trust between the police and their constituencies, the quality of law enforcement is perennially sub-par.
The effects of the 1033 Program has had a palpable effect in the community, specifically concerning the dynamics between POs and AAs. Neill Franklin, the executive director of the Law Enforcement Action Partnership, firmly believes the increased militarization has weakened public trust in the police (). In fact, Major Franklin argues that “After spending 34 years as a POs, I’m convinced that the 1033 Program has been one of the single greatest contributors to the public losing trust in law enforcement.” Given the pre-existing delicate relationship between AAs and POs, the diminished sense of trust due to the 1033 Program in AA-dense cities like Baltimore, Maryland and Fergueson, Missouri has the potential to be catastrophic.
A reason for this could be that POs in AA-predominant cities have a statistically significant decrease in perceived authority and legitimacy. According to Susan Howell, a political science professor at the University of New Orleans, due to the weak relationship between AAs and POs, AAs believe that police fail to provide their communities with “protection from criminal elements” and therefore the authority of the police as an agent of protection is illegitimate (). Because AA’s doesn’t think a PO has the power to tell them what to do, increased resistance is the result. If there is increased resistance from the AA’s, which cops are already sensitive to, POs are more likely to use lethal force. This, in turn, has a cyclical effect that leads to continued distrust, violence, and death in AAs by the hands of the PF.
In addition to the decreased sense of trust that 1033 Program provokes, increased militarization also systematically eliminates future opportunities for the PF to garner a more positive relationship with AAs. Jonathon Mummolo, a Princeton University professor who specializes in how police tactics impact public perceptions of institutions, believes that “curtailing militarized policing may be in the interest of both police and citizens” (9181). In Mummolo’s study, he ascertained that SWAT teams were more deployed in communities of color. In fact, his research showed that a 10% increase in the number of black residents in a neighborhood in Maryland resulted in a disproportionately large 10.53% increase in the amount of SWAT teams deployed per 100,000 residents (9183). As shown, the 1033 Program directly interferes with community-oriented policing because of the increased rate at which SWAT teams are deployed in communities of color. The use of SWAT teams does not allow for POs to enhance their reputation, as heavily mobilized artillery arsenals are used instead of the relatively compassionate local police force. Inherently, this augments the “us versus them” mentality in AAs that is the impetus for all the pitfalls of the 1033 Program.
The widespread trend of militarization of the police force, enacted and endorsed by the current presidential administration through Program 1033, seems to be a catalyst for negative encounters with AA community members. As a whole, research suggests that the warrior mindset implicit in 1033 Program has a clear negative effect on the efficacy of law enforcement officers, particularly in this demographic group. For the sake of the sanctity of our social institutions and the safety of AAs, an alternative strategy based on cultivating trust between police officers and their substituents must be quickly found by police in AA dense regions.