Commentary: What causes the pervasive racial bias of some police officers?

Commentary: What causes the pervasive racial bias of some police officers?
October 27
15:20 2021

By Dr. James B. Ewers Jr.

The workplace is full of people from different backgrounds. We all bring various experiences to our positions. Some of what we bring comes from our childhood, meaning where we grew up and how we grew up.

The where and the how are important questions.

While important, we must also acknowledge that bias and prejudice are everywhere. To say otherwise is wrong and a bit naïve.

First, I believe how we grew up is more important than where we grew up. Some would argue that point. There are several questions and issues around the how part.

Did we have respect for traditional institutions? Did we have self-respect and respect for others? Were we taught some HT (Home Training)? Did we have role models, people we perceived as successful and obviously knew more than we did?

One of the traditional institutions is the police. Their universal motto is “to protect and to serve.”

We can all agree they have difficult jobs and they put their lives on the line every day. Our safety and security are dependent upon police departments across the country.

Yet we know that like all professions, there are bad police. That is a sad but true reality of life. There are striking deeds of misconduct and violence that have been perpetrated against people of color over the course of history.

As a Black man, I have had first-hand uncomfortable experiences with the police in northern and southern parts of this country. Black men in my circle of friends have also had unpleasant encounters with law enforcement.

Black women have had their lives cut short by the fatal indiscretions of some police officers. We know the names of them, and we honor their memories. An incident involving an African American woman in Louisiana has garnered nation-wide attention and alarm. Recently, Shantel Arnold, an African American female, was shown on video being slammed to the pavement by a Jefferson Parish (LA) deputy sheriff. The incident happened on Sept. 20.

The deputy sheriff, a 16-year veteran of the force, is white. His name is Julio Alvarado.The video shows that he was grabbing her arm and hair and slinging her to the ground. I have seen the video and my words cannot capture the ugliness of this scene.

Ms. Arnold is 4 feet 8inches tall and approximately 100 pounds. In my opinion, this is police brutality gone unchecked and intentional. Officer Alvarado has been named in nine civil rights suits, all nvolving the use of excessive force. This consistent pattern of physical abuse is reprehensible. 

Are there no enforcers of right and justice in that parish? Has Jefferson Parish become a haven for racial intolerance?

Mr. Alvarado was demoted from sergeant to deputy in January 2020.

Alanah Odoms, executive director of the ACLU of Louisiana said, “It is no secret that the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office has a deep-rooted history of racial discrimination and cruelty toward residents of color.” She added, “The harsh political reality is the sheriff of Jefferson Parish is wholly unaccountable to the people.”

Reports by ProPublica and WRKF/WWNO say that more than 70% of the people shot at by deputies in an eight-year period were African American, yet only 27% of the parish’s population is African American.

This type of blatant and raw racism is beyond the pale.

Will anything change in Jefferson Parish? That is a good question and I don’t know the answer. Race has been a social justice issue in this part of the state for decades. Sheriff Joseph L. Lipinto III says the video was doctored and edited. I am using my words to paraphrase his words. 

How do you edit a beat down? What part of this nightmare that happened in broad daylight do you take out?

Mr. Lipinto said the Sheriff’s Department has ordered 500 body cameras. This is after years of protests and pressure by the residents of the parish, both Black and white.

We know what has transpired with no cameras. We will see what happens with them.

James B. Ewers Jr., Ed.D., is a former tennis champion at Atkins High School in Winston-Salem and played college tennis at Johnson C. Smith University, where he was all-conference for four years. He is a retired college administrator. He can be reached at

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