Race Issues Essay, Research Paper
In the novel, No Hiding Place, by Valerie Wilson Wesley, the main character private investigator Tamara Hayle faces many difficulties in her career in law enforcement. Wesley explores the struggles of a black woman in a white-male dominated police force and at the same time she also comments upon the constant struggle between inner-city blacks and the oppression they face from the police force. The novel is set in the modern-day and takes an introspective look at today’s problems. Wesley also uses a few flashbacks from the past in order to give insight into today’s problems.
As the novel opens Tamara is held up at gunpoint by a black youth. From the boy’s fear Tamara can tell that this is the boy’s first time robbing somebody. Because he is inexperienced, Tamara is able to escape by bluffing. She tells the boy that she is a cop and that her partner is on his way. This statement in itself makes the youth very nervous. She places the final blow by reminding the youth of the penalty for killing a police officer-life in prison. She also adds that more than likely he will be tried as an adult. This statement sends the boy running away. This situation which opens the novel illustrates the extreme mistrust between inner-city youth and the law-enforcement. The situation also illustrates the severe penalty the indigenous population must pay for striking out against the “law.” This penalty is massively increased if the law officer happens to be a member of the white race. The opposite, however, does not hold true. White police officers can brutalize black youths and still walk away unreprimanded and unaccountable. Through a situation of “blaming the victim” the officers can clear their reputations in the name of “self-defense.” The hand of justice, which falls swiftly and heavily upon the black youth who lashes out on white law enforcement, seems to take a leave of absent when white officials are clearly guilty against minorities. This situation is also comparable to the lynching of blacks which greatly increased in the era after the Civil War. According to the book Racial and Ethnic Relations, “White lynchers were seldom punished for their crimes, and many lynchings took place with the acquiescence of police officials?[After World War II] public lynchings had largely been replaced by ‘legal’ and secret lynchings. Legal lynchings included numerous killings of innocent blacks by white police officers” (Feagin & Feagin 248).
Tamara is very wary of going to the police and she finally decides not to report the youth because she knows first hand the dangers that the boy will face in the hands of the police. Tamara had once been a police officer herself, but she quit the force in part because of the harassment she faced as a black woman, but mostly because of one particular incident. Her own son, Jamal, and one of his friends had been walking through a white neighborhood. The boys were stopped by Tamara’s own partner. Then suddenly the officer opened fire and killed Jamal’s friend. Tamara had not even been informed of the situation and only came to know about it later on. Another occasion in which the issue of police brutality arises is when Tamara is reminiscing with one of her friends. They remember Newark in its days of glory. It had once been a rich bustling town. White people had lived in Newark, and businesses flourished. As more and more blacks came, the whites left, and with them left the tax base. After the whites left, public funds dwindled. Money was no longer allotted for the town’s upkeep. The town was allowed to slowly waste away. Besides the loss of tax money, greedy politicians also took advantage of the city. The final heavy blow upon the city was due to the riots. The police had murdered a youth and the riot erupted. The National Guard was sent in and innocent people were killed in the streets and within their own houses as well. Finally the introduction of crack toppled the town downward to rock bottom. Authors Joe and Clairece Feagin point out that white officials have often created riots through their violence against minorities (251). Police brutality against minorities is serious and quite wide spread within U.S. cities. Of 130 cases of reported police brutality against citizens, ninety-seven percent were directed against blacks or Latinos. Thus, Tamara Hayle’s mistrust of the police force can be directly attributed to the actions of those in power. A nations wide poll shows that many other blacks share Tamara’s view of police; “three-fourths of black respondents said that the police in most cities treat black citizens less fairly than white citizens” (251).
Later on in the novel Tamara is hired to find out who murdered a young black man named Shawn Raymond-the father of the boy who held Tamara up at gunpoint. The police quickly abandoned the case claiming that it must have been “drug-related.” In the course of her investigation Tamara finds the police force very unwilling to cooperate. They berate her and refuse to share what information they have found in their investigation. This situation of the police force refusing to investigate the murder of a minority can be in part explained by theories of the caste school-which falls under the heading of power-conflict theories. In the social and racial stratification system of the U.S., basically a caste system based on skin color and class, blacks are considered to be second-class citizens. Due to “economic and social inequality” blacks are barred from certain rights-one being the right to be protected. The presence of this “institutionalized discrimination” supports the existence of such a caste system within the U.S. (46)
Another one of the power-conflict theories which can be used to explain the aforementioned situation is that of internal colonialism. Historically, European colonists greatly benefited from the exploitation of non-Europeans. Even today there are many benefits in keeping minorities oppressed. One benefit is that wealth can remain concentrated in the hands of the upper-class, rather than being dispersed. Therefore, one way to continue oppression and maintain the hierarchy would be to allow those at the bottom of the social ladder to become victims of crime. Statistics show that the poor are more likely to be victims of crime. Furthermore, these crimes against the poor can be easily ignored. This serves two benefits: the short-term benefit is that costly investigations do not have to be carried out so time and money are both saved; the long-term benefit is that this is an effective way to keep the oppressed in their state of oppression. The final result is that the dominant group is able to secure it own position (47).
In the course of her investigation Tamara Hayle comes across many barriers and we see just how racism stands in the way of minorities. From outright violence, such as police brutality, to denial of resources, such as lack of protection, oppressed people are kept in their subordinate positions by those in power. Wesley’s novel illustrates that such incidents can be easily ignored, but ignoring them will eventually lead to serious consequences for everyone.