(SAVANNAH) Depending on where you live, many people are familiar with DUI or DWI, driving under the influence and driving while intoxicated respectively. But in the wake of the most recent police-involved shootings where black men died after being shot by police, there’s a growing chorus of voices calling for an end to DWB, a situation some in the African American community call driving while black.
Inside an emergency community meeting in Savannah on Sunday, Georgia State Senator, Lester Jackson shared his fear that his 17 year old son could become a victim of the kind of profiling that’s referred to as DWB. Jackson told the crowd of more than 300 that his concern even shapes his decision about his son’s hairstyle. “My son wants to have dreads in his hair. I’m afraid to because he might be profiled… I said “Naw boy! You got to get your hair cut….for my sake. So this issue is real, not only in Savannah, not only in Georgia, but in America, we’re noticing now that it’s a real issue,” Jackson told the crowd of more than 300 inside the First African Baptist Church.
As details emerge about deadly encounters with police in Louisiana and Minnesota last week, concern mounts for some in Savannah, like life-long resident Allen Scott. “How they stereotype us. You have a big nose, you’re in trouble. You know, they just killed this guy because his nose is big? I mean, if that ain’t stereotyping what is? So, if it can happen to him, it can happen to me,” Scott said.
16-year-old Navia McKinney, a high school student in Savannah, says recent events make him afraid to begin driving, especially if he’s pulled over and asked for a driver’s license. “If you don’t see the weapon that they’re pulling out, I mean, like, I could dig in my pocket, pull something out. If it’s not a weapon, why are you shooting? Ain’t they supposed to taze people first?” McKinney asked.
It seems to be a question of training, according to a former President of the Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police, Garden City Police Chief David Lyons. “Everybody has biases, everybody, no matter what race, sex, creed, or anything, We’ve got to get our officers to a mental place where they leave that stuff at home…and you can’t bring that to work with you…you know, we have a gun and a badge. We have the power to arrest, take somebody’s freedom away, we have the power to take somebody’s life away…and you can’t let bias get in the way of that,” said Lyons.
The problem seems to be rooted deeper than law enforcement training in the mind of Benjamin James of Savannah. James says effective bias-based training must start long before a person enters any police academy. “It’s too big a problem to kinda just narrow it down to say, hey, police bias training is gonna affect us, because that training doesn’t really go back to that person’s upbringing. It starts at the home. It starts with the individual responsibility with everybody. Yes, police bias training will help, but it’s not gonna be the solution,” James said.
Chief Lyons says his department is currently going through bias training. Adding another key is to get more officers to deescalate situations, rather than relying on the use of force, but at the same time, if force is needed, Lyons says officers should not hesitate, because that hesitation could get them killed. Lyons says his hope is that everyone gets to go home at the end of an officer’s shift, even the bad guys- if they are not headed to jail.