NYPD Trained To Stereotype Muslims? Is the NYPD Racist?
The police have a bad reputation for being racist. In a hysterical seven minute video, Michael Moore demonstrates this adeptly.
There is even a book about it.
Since the terrorists attacks of September 11th, criticism of the police for racism against Muslims, in addition to the longstanding stereotype of cops as racist against blacks, has been visible as well. For example, on August 30th an incident at Rye Playland began when a Muslim woman and cops argued over her right to wear a headscarf or hijab on a specific ride and ended with several people being arrested and several people were injured including two park rangers.
Notwithstanding that in any population of people a portion will be racist, the incident begs the question whether these cops were racist? According to the New York Daily News, “Peter Tartaglia, deputy commissioner of Westchester County Parks, said the Muslim American Society of New York [which sponsored the event of which those arrested were a part] was warned in advance of the rule barring head scarves on rides for safety reasons.” Tartaglia is quoted as saying:
“Part of our rules and regulations, which we painstakingly told them over and over again, is that certain rides you cannot wear any sort of headgear,” Tartaglia said. “It’s a safety issue for us on rides, it could become a projectile.”
Perhaps just as much as the stereotypes of Muslims as racist might have prompted racism in this case, it is likely that the stereotype that cops are racist worked against the situation as well. This is in part because people use meta-stereotypes. Meta-stereotypes are a person’s belief about the stereotypes that others hold about that person’s group. So, if the woman in the park held a meta-stereotype that the cops would stereotype her as a dangerous Muslim, then she might have behaved in an antagonistic way that might have prompted the cops to act negatively towards her.
In addition to meta-stereotypes, the recent news about the New York City Police Department training doesn’t help dispel the stereotypes that cops are racist.
Although not sanctioned by the higher ups in the NYPD and city administration, media outlets like The Wall Street Journal reported that new trainees were being shown a film that provokes and promotes anti-Islamic stereotypes. According to The Wall Street Journal, “The police department said it was played in a continuous loop in the sign-in area of counterterrorism training sessions between October and December 2010. As many as 1,489 trainees may have seen the movie, according to documents released under New York’s public records law.” The trailer for the movie called The Third Jihad is available here. The full film is available here. So the NYPD is not helping to discredit the stereotype that police are racist.
One problem with communicating stereotypes is that often for every group stereotyped there is a counterpart group stereotype that can be used against the original stereotyper. this creates an infinite loop in which one group stereotypes another because that group stereotypes me. It is reminiscent of a chicken and egg type argument or, more like, a child on a playground saying “but they started it.”
At the root of this circular stereotyping is the concept of framing. Framing suggests that our interpretation of an event is in part determined by how and when we think it began and ended.
For example, if I tell you imagine a beautiful sunset on a beach. You can imagine it. You might even momentarily feel like you are there. You might wonder when you can make a trip to a place where you can see a sunset like that. If you have the resources, you might even call a travel agent to start planning the trip.
But if I tell you “imagine a beautiful sunset on a beach” and add “hanging in a picture frame on the wall of a room” the image this invokes is rather different. The emotions and thoughts probably are too. Instead of thinking about taking the trip you might think of something you wanted to frame in your own home or you might think of a friend or family member who has a similar image hanging in their home.
From this example, you can imagine that the way we frame the messages that we communicate matters. This framing determines where we place blame and try to answer that question of who started it. As long as we think the other person started it, then we scapegoat them and we can alleviate any ownership we should have over the messages we communicate.
My favorite example of this in media is in Beauty and The Beast when Belle is cleaning the Beast’s wounds after he saves her from attacking wolves.
Beast: [roaring] Aaargh! That hurts!
Belle: If you’d hold still, it wouldn’t hurt as much!
Beast: Well if you hadn’t have run away, this wouldn’t have happened.
Belle: If you hadn’t *frightened* me, I wouldn’t have run away!
Beast: Well *you* shouldn’t have been in the west *wing*!
Belle: Well, *you* should learn to control your temper. Now, hold still. This might sting a little.
[presses cloth to wound; the beast growls in pain]
Belle: By the way, thank you for saving my life.
Beast: [stops growling] You’re welcome.
Some will argue that the police wouldn’t have to be shown videos like this in training (link to video or trailer) if there weren’t Islamic jihadists out there trying to kill Americans. Others will argue that it is this is further evidence that cops are racist.
Some will argue that the police were just doing their job in Rye Playland when they made the arrests. Others will argue that if the police weren’t racist the incident never would have escalated.
Ultimately, it is a matter of framing. The problem is that with chicken and egg arguments, no one ever wins because there is no right answer. Intead, everyone loses.