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Police Forfeit Benefit of Doubt Argument

Commitment to accountability is what’s needed

By Lakayana Drury | 2/27/2019, 10:27 a.m.
Our city made national news with the explosive release of text messages between a police lieutenant and leader from Patriot ...

Our city made national news with the explosive release of text messages between a police lieutenant and leader from Patriot Prayer, an alt-right group with white supremacist sympathies. Was this an egregious breach of protocol or just a misinterpretation of standard conduct? It depends on who you ask.

I spoke with a police officer who said there weren't enough facts to determine the situation. I spoke with community members who sent me articles showing that this was just standard police procedure. I spoke with others who were alarmed but not at all shocked. What concerns me most was how quickly and confidently people were willing to extend the benefit of the doubt to police.

Who is afforded the benefit of the doubt in our country? At face value it would seem that everyone should be afforded the benefit of the doubt. But when we take a closer look we see that the benefit of the doubt is closely tied to privilege and dominant culture.

In light of the text incident, I was alarmed by the number of people who were willing to give the Portland Police Bureau the benefit of the doubt. Considering the history of Portland as a safe-haven for white supremacists, the fact that the police bureau is under a Department of Justice settlement for excessive use of force, and its troubled history of race relations, why are Portland police given the benefit of the doubt that this was just another gross misunderstanding?

The fact is that black people and young black men in particular are never given the benefit of the doubt in our country. Trayvon Martin was not given the benefit of the doubt when he was walking home with a bag of skittles and ice tea, minding his own business. Tamir Rice was never given the benefit of the doubt when he was shot and killed by the police in a park in Cleveland, Ohio before it was later discovered that the suspicious object he was holding was a toy gun.

Quanice Hayes was not given the benefit of the doubt as he crouched down on all fours here in Portland. Jermaine Massey was not given the benefit of the doubt when he was speaking on the phone with his mom in a Portland hotel lobby. Black people are never afforded the benefit of the doubt; not at Starbucks, not when we are holding our personal belongings, not when we are in school. So why are we so willing to be lenient with the police and willing to consider the situation and facts when that same right is not afforded to black people and people of color? From jokes about shooting black people, to use of force when other options are available, the Portland Police Bureau is continually given the benefit of the doubt. In the larger scale of society, white people and white men in particular and white culture as a whole are also always given the benefit of the doubt. Whether it be clothing that masquerades with racist imagery or politicians that make racially charged comments or white people who commit crimes, the benefit of the doubt is always extended to them immediately and insulates them from criticism.