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Professor Donald Tibbs Discusses Policing, Race and the Constitution on WHYY’s Radio Times

Professor Donald Tibbs

July 11, 2016

The spasm of violence that claimed that lives of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile and five Dallas police officers could prompt either a deeper divide between police and communities or conversations that could produce favorable change, Professor Donald Tibbs said as a guest on WHYY’s Radio Times on July 11.

“If we don’t get on the same page and stop racial vitriol in conversations and partisan politics and begin to understand the anger that is deeply buried and repressed,” Tibbs said, “we won’t be able to move forward as a nation.”

Too often, Tibbs said, the spotlight that shines on policing incidents involving communities of color drives the two sides to retreat to their own, “safe” places, allowing a “massive gap” to take the place of humanity and patience.

It’s hard to imagine how Castile, shot by police on July 6 during a traffic stop outside of St. Paul, Minn. after disclosing that he had a lawfully purchased, licensed gun in his possession, should have done differently, Tibbs said.

“If that’s not what you’re supposed to do to prevent yourself from having an escalating moment where you are getting getting shot and killed by a police officer, then I don't really know what is,” Tibbs said, voicing surprise that the National Rifle Association has not been vocal in supporting Castile’s right to carry a licensed gun.

“Their silence is saying we have Second Amendment right, unless you’re black,” Tibbs said.

Although Dallas Police Chief David Brown in a recent CNN interview questioned why protesters had not thanked police for protecting them during their march on July 7 before a sniper opened fire on the officers, Tibbs said he needs to recognize the perspective of those in attendance.

“Those same young men who are in the street protesting have also been victims and (the police) should see their protest as their victim impact statement,” Tibbs said. “They are speaking out not against the police themselves. No one dislikes individual police officers, unless they are wreaking havoc in the black community. I think that what people dislike is the policing culture and the lack of accountability the police face when an average citizen would not be given the same sort of pass.”

University of Pittsburgh Law Professor David Harris, also a guest on the program, said that by demanding that police communicate more effectively with civilians and permitting greater public oversight, some departments have reformed for the better.  

Tibbs said, however, that police departments often resist scrutiny, observing that police in New York City pushed back hard after a judge ruled that the stop-and-frisk procedures they had used for years violated the constitutional rights of those in the community. 

And, Tibbs noted, between 2008 and 2012, police conducted 4.4 million stops and 2.3 million frisks that turned up only 38,000 weapons.

“That is a failure for stop-and-frisk,” Tibbs said.