Affirmative action

The concept of Affirmative Action is one that has been developed in order to address the inequalities that exist within society, so that  all races and classes of people living within the United States can enjoy similar privileges at the workplace and in public places. Affirmative Action was a follow up to the Civil Rights Act that was formulated in response to the discrimination that was meted out to blacks, both in the workplace, at schools and in public places. The basic premise of Affirmative Action  is that everyone is equal and that all races and classes have equal access to the resources of the country. Therefore, Affirmative Action is a move by Government to affirm and confirm the principles set out in the Constitution of the United States, that every person is equal and has equal rights to choice and opportunity as enshrined in the First Amendment to the Constitution.

Affirmative Action is expressed through the formulation of agencies such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which ensures that all forms of discrimination at the workplace are avoided as far as possible. For example, one of the forms of discrimination that exists as the workplace, especially among police officers, is sexual discrimination and harrassment towards members of both sexes. The term harassment is a wide ranging one and is not restricted merely to the coercion into the sexual act. It includes any and all forms of unwanted sexual attention, or sexual coercion, gender sneer or suggestive subtext.  Discriminatory behavior could result in verbal and physical abuse of a criminal in an inferior position with a law enforcement officer. Harrassment includes a wide plethora of behavior and action that is degrading and distressing to the victim – either verbal or non verbal, suggestive, insulting, hostile or degrading. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission defines sexual harassment to include ‘verbal or physical conduct that denigrates or shows hostility or aversion’ [EEOC Guidelines, 1998]. Included in the gamut of such behavior are non verbal signs, obscene gestures, epithets, threatening or intimidating acts. At the workplace, sexual harassment of women police officers becomes particularly distressing for the victim because of the enforced nature of the contact and the necessity to endure the unpleasantness for the sake of retaining one’s job and the source of one’s daily income. In the United States, harassment is defined simply as a hostile work environment where unwanted are demands are made to directly or indirectly interfere with a person’s employment and interfere with the individual’s performance – affirmative action helps to address these concerns.

Affirmative action is even more necessary in the employment of police officers. There is little doubt that a major portion of criminal activity is generated among the African American sections of the population of the United States, closely followed by the Hispanic population. Based upon the information that is available with the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the racial tint in criminal activity is clear since the rate  of imprisonment of black people in 1994 was 1489 as against 176 white people and 686 Hispanics. Comparatively, Blacks are 8.5 times more likely to go to prison than white people are (www.unix.oit.umass.edu, n.d.). Unless and until the interests of all racial minorities are represented through affirmative action at the workplace in hiring a diverse group of police officers belonging to different ethnic groups, the cause of justice may not be served. When law enforcement officials are predominantly those who belong to the majority community, then there is a danger of bias and prejudice in the performance of their duties.

Landau and Nathan(1983) had reported that the police officers in the U.K. who are predominantly white  were less likely to caution blacks as compared to whites and were quicker to arrest them. In fact, the existence of a definite racial bias by police officers had been discovered in a study by Goreman and Coleman (1982) wherein police officer attitudes were the subject of study. The police officers were asked to write an essay to test their personalities and attitudes and the researchers discovered that many of the officers were violently racist in their comments, especially in regard to the Afro-Caribbean population. Some of the comments that were made are: “Certain members of the colored population that I have met are OK, but the majority of youths of the West Indian community are savage, ignorant, vicious, thieving bastards…”, “….most of them are just dirty….”, “….over 50% of the trouble is caused by niggers….” “…smelly backward people who will never change….” (www.murderuk.com).

But Parker (1998) found that poverty was more likely to be the cause of violent behavior rather than race and a  uniform standard applied to an entire group of people assumes a homogeneity that does not exist in reality. Shihadeh and  Steffensmeier (1994), in their study of violent crimes in cities were also able to corroborate Parker’s findings; since the rate of crime was higher among blacks not simply by virtue of their race but because they were subjected to greater economic hardships than any other race, therefore they attributed black violence directly to economic inequality (p 735). When there are more minority police officers among law enforcement officials, they are not only able to understand the motivation behind the crimes better, but they are also likely to make the best determination on how to reach out to the criminals to set them on the right track. Unless a connection is made and criminal activity deflected early on, the perception of unjust treatment from law enforcement officials may in fact, contribute to higher levels of crime among the minorities. Prejudices among police officers can only be avoided if their colleagues are also members from minority races so that people of different races get a chance to get to know and understand each other, which in itself can go a long away towards the elimination of discrimination that rises through lack of knowledge and wrong perceptions about certain racial groups.

Van Der Zee et al (2004) have studied  “The Influence of Social Identity and Personality on Outcomes of Cultural Diversity in Teams”.  In this study they examined the influence of social identity and personality on work outcomes among business students who worked together in culturally diverse teams. They found there was a negative effect of identification with one’s cultural background and a positive effect of identification with the team on well-being under conditions of high diversity. The impact of identification with the team was found regardless of the level of diversity.  There were no positive outcomes when individuals identify with the team and with their cultural background. With respect to personality, the intercultural traits of Emotional Stability and Flexibility were found to have a positive effect on work outcomes under conditions of high diversity. This proves that affirmative action can have very positive results.

Thus, the best way to make policing truly effective and address the problems of crime generated by the problems of economic inequality is to include affirmative action in the hiring of police officers, so that the police force is racially diverse.  Law enforcement officials are in a position of power over the ordinary population and  therefore subject to the temptation to harbor prejudices and hand out injustice to minorities rather than equal treatment for all people. They also have the power to carry out certain abusive actions under the cover of criminal provisions against accused persons. Therefore, if the true goals of the Constitution are to be achieved for all American citizens, irrespective of their racial group, this can only happen by addressing the problems of economic inequality through affirmative action at the workplace, especially for police officers.

 References:

  • 1998 EEOC Guidelines for evaluating charges of sexual harassment.
  • Coleman, A. and Gorman, L. (1982) “Conservatism, Dogmatism. and

Authoritarianism in British Police Officers”. Sociology. 16, 1–11.

  • Landau S F, and Nathan G (1983) Selecting delinquents for cautioning in the

London Metropolitan Area. British Journal of Criminology. 23:128-149.

  • Murder in the U.K.” [Online] Available at:

http://www.murderuk.com/criminology/black.htm; accessed 10/31/2005.

  • Parker, Robert N. 1989. “Poverty, Subculture of Violence, and Type of Homicide.”

Social Forces 67: 983-1007.

  • Shihadeh, E.S., & Steffensmeier, D. J. (1994). Economic inequality, family

disruption, and urban black violence: Cities as units of stratification and social

control. Social Forces, 73(1), 729-751

  • The continuing crime of black imprisonment” [Online] Available at: http://www-

unix.oit.umass.edu/~kastor/ceml_articles/continuing.html; accessed 10/31/2005;

Internet.

  • Van Der Zee Karen, Atsma, Nelleke and Brodbeck Felix (2004)  The Influence of

Social Identity and Personality on Outcomes of Cultural Diversity in Teams,

Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, Vol. 35, No. 3, 283-303 (2004), DOI:

10.1177/0022022104264123

http://jcc.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/35/3/283

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