Discrimination within Police Departments: Law, Incidents & Impact

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  • 0:05 Laws Against Discrimination
  • 1:28 Discriminatory…
  • 2:13 Discriminatory Exams &…
  • 3:05 Blatant Racism
  • 4:05 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Whittemore

Jessica has taught junior high history and college seminar courses. She has a master's degree in education.

On paper, America's police force is supposed to be one of diversity and equality. However, as this lesson shows, there are many reports of the exact opposite as discrimination lawsuits are being brought against law enforcement agencies.

Laws Against Discrimination

When it comes to discrimination against minorities, it seems like America's police force has taken center stage. As news outlets flood us with stories of police brutality and prejudice, many are stepping back to take a look at law enforcement practices. In doing this, the public eye has not only turned to how minority citizens are being treated, but also how minority officers are being treated. The heart of today's lesson will explore this vein as we discuss discrimination within police departments.

For starters, discrimination in any profession is a big no-no and this isn't just an opinion, it's the law. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of race, sex, color and national origin. Recent years have seen the law's perimeters widen to outlaw discrimination based on sexual identity or transgender status.

Putting teeth behind these laws, America formed the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, known to most as the EEOC. This body enforces the nation's discrimination laws. Ironically, the EEOC has had its hands full dealing with discrimination case brought against our nation's police, the very group tasked with enforcing the laws of the land.

Discriminatory Promotional Practices

One area where police departments are accused of discrimination is in their hiring and promotional practices. Many believe departments across the country employ racially biased promotion exams that favor white men. In fact, in 2006, minority officers in Memphis, Tennessee sued the city's police department for this very thing, believing the tests given to determine promotions were skewed against them and violated their civil rights. They took their complain to court.

A similar scenario played out in Boston, Massachusetts. In 2015, a federal judge ruled that the Boston police department's lieutenant exam was skewed against African American sergeants seeking promotion.

Discriminatory Exams & Procedures

Adding to cases claiming discriminatory hiring practices, in 2014 the Department of Justice filed suit against the Pennsylvania state police. This suit argues that the strenuous police department physical fitness tests disproportionately excluded women from its ranks. Like the other instances mentioned, those bringing these discrimination lawsuits feel that the impact of such hiring practices are the main cause of under-representation of minorities within our nation's police force.

Along with discriminatory promotional and testing practices, our nation's police departments have also been sued for unfair and biased procedures. For instance, in 1999, several minority officers brought suit against the New York police department for what they believed were unfair disciplinary procedures enacted against minorities.

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