Mike Pence, Institutional Racism, and the Worst Family Feud Players Ever

photo-5My daughter has two favorite shows. At least, she watches two shows religiously. One of these is Family Feud. The team that choses to play gets a chance, each one individually, to guess what the survey says. That means five from the other team listen as the first team fails with three strikes to guess what the survey says. They collaborate, brainstorm, and select the best of their brainstorms as their answer. Five of them. Able to talk together. Collaborate, Brainstorm. Then, select. And they fail. As I watch with my daughter, I am always amazed when the family gets to steal, and they fail. I felt that way this morning as I opened the news to read what Vice Presidential candidate Mike Pence had to say in response to a question during a panel discussion. The question asked what he “would personally do” to heal the divides in our country. Governor Pence continued to reassert versions of his response throughout the event as if it were a talking point his team had come up with in brainstorm.

Is This The Family Feud?
The sensational phrase that we move beyond “institutional racism and institutional bias” is getting a lot of airplay, punditry, and analysis. But, Social Work Next is about getting the full story and placing the comments in their complete context. I searched for the actual video, but did not find it. The most complete source I found was Politico that provided a partial transcript of Pence’s statements. I was so surprised that a Vice Presidential candidate would say that phrase, I wondered aloud, “Is this Family Feud?” Sure enough, it turns out that the lead up to this statement by Governor Pence is exactly reminiscent of the game show.

As the events unfold that witnessed yet another two shootings of unarmed Black men Terence Crutcher and Keith Lamont Scott, Hillary Clinton continues to speak of the problem of institutional racism. The Democratic platform addresses the issue by name. Clearly, if 100 United States human beings are surveyed, most popular answers on the board, Clinton considers institutional racism to be one of the challenges facing American citizens. She expects that answer to be on the board.

326campaign-2016-penceMike Pence and Donald Trump Chance to Steal
Mike Pence and the Trump team see the opportunity. Three strikes. It is their turn to steal. Governor Pence begins with an introduction, as some contestants do before they give their answer: “But in the wake of these tragic events in Tulsa and Charlotte, sadly our opponent once again refers to what she calls the institutional racism in law enforcement,” Pence said. “We heard this week again of the ‘systemic racism’ in law enforcement in this country.” [Read more on Politico]

The story is not that the Trump campaign wants to get away from the discussion of institutional racism. That obscures the comment to some extent. He wants law enforcement to be considered free of systematic racism, and evaluated without that lens. Fine. But, the story is that his response to tragedy, in his own words, “…in the wake of these tragic events…,” his response to a question about what he will “personally do” to heal divisions in this country, is to decry what the other team offers as a solution. Governor Pence sets the institution up to be the victim in this scenario. If we would just stop blanketing the institution of law enforcement with negative press and conjecture, we could watch as swift, transparent, and reasonable justice is done.

Bigger than Surveys
The problem, Governor Pence, is that we, as a nation, have already done the surveys. More systematically, the Justice Department has conducted reviews of policing in cities where shootings by police have been investigated. The Justice Department, outlined in the Washington Post, has cited systematic racial profiling, race-dividing emails, targeting of the poor through policy, and stereotyping of African-Americans in particular. We have seen a parade of police officers walking free and without charge after participating in the murder of unarmed United States citizens. We have witnessed White Americans carry guns openly, shoot at police officers, and live to tell the tale. We have also witnessed the murder of Tamir Rice, a 12-year old on a playground, killed by those who were supposed to protect him. Those uniformed police officers you want him to readily recognize and respect.

That’s the best answer you can come up with, Governor Pence? Even after all that has occurred. Even after the data has been reported. To the question at hand, “What would you personally do to heal the divisions in our country?” I would suggest that dismissing what one party of the argument holds as a position is not the best way to begin the process of compromise. Denying that a wound exists is not a great treatment toward its healing. It’s not bad press that creates the shooting death of an unarmed Black man. It is not anathema to hold an institution to account for how individuals donning the uniform of that institution conduct themselves. In fact, evaluation and analysis of the institution allows us to maintain respect for the individual officer as human being even while dismantling and correcting the errant, phobic, and oppressive policies governing the group. Even if you score points against your opponent, realize that for many of us, this is not a game.