The impact of race relations on policing

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — Recent unrest in a St. Louis suburb has demonstrated how race relations affect a local police department’s ability to keep the peace.

In Ferguson, Mo., a white police officer shot and killed an unarmed black man on Saturday. Accounts of the incident from police and witnesses differ. Police have said the officer was defending himself, but at least one witness said the officer killed Michael Brown after the 18-year-old raised his arms to show he didn’t have a gun.

In the wake of the shooting, outrage and racial tensions erupted into clashes between residents and police. Wednesday, civilians threw Molotov cocktails at officers in riot gear, who responded with the use of tear gas and smoke bombs.

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A line of police wait for demonstrators at Canfield Avenue after they had walked down W. Florissant in Ferguson, Mo. on Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2014.
(A line of police wait for demonstrators at Canfield Avenue after they had walked down W. Florissant in Ferguson, Mo. on Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2014.)

Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety Chief Jeff Hadley says what happened in Ferguson could happen anywhere.

“I think that is representative of how much race is an issue specifically in law enforcement community relations,” he told 24 Hour News 8 Thursday.

Kalamazoo has some well-documented racial struggles between the police and the community. In April 2010, a traffic stop there turned violent. A crowd circled an officer as he struggled with a suspect in his car. The group then threw rocks, shattering the cruiser’s windows.

And a study the chief commissioned last year found that black drivers were more likely to be pulled over, searched and handcuffed than white drivers in Kalamazoo.

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Hadley has been working to improve race relations between the community and law enforcement.

“I would like to think they (race relations) are pretty good,” Hadley said. “Certainly not perfect.”

After the results of the racial profiling study were released, Hadley instituted new training and policies that can be measured.

The chief said the conflict in Ferguson has only increased his efforts.

At a Thursday evening Empower Michigan event in Kalamazoo, residents weighed in on how race factors into interactions with police.

“Growing up … you don’t trust the police, you don’t like the police,” one community member said.

“I’m so proud of Chief Hadley and Assistant Chief (Donald) Webster, but at the end of the day, if we don’t have the economic depth, if black people don’t have jobs then we don’t have power, we don’t have influence,” another resident said.

Hadley acknowledged the divide stems from a long history of mistrust and mistreatment.

“It’s about relationships,” Hadley said. “In my estimation, that’s what it’s all about.”

He said the situation in Ferguson has not caused any problems in Kalamazoo.

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