Something is amiss.

The Riley County Police Department used force against Black people more times than against white people last year, even though Black people make up only six percent of the population here.

The cops disclosed that data last week at a meeting of the board that oversees the department. The report also included a finding by the police themselves that they used force that was judged to be “higher than necessary” last year against Black people 14 times, compared to four times against white people.

Despite those numbers, police officials claimed in their presentation that there are nonetheless “no concerning patterns of racial bias.”

Well, I hate to be difficult, but that’s just far, far too narrow of a statement.

Let me back up here. I can (and do) believe that local police are not a bunch of racists. I can also believe that last year’s numbers were marginally different from the previous two years, when there were slightly more use-of-force incidents involving white people.

But if racism by police officers in the field is not the problem, then the next logical conclusion would be that Black people are dramatically more likely to be involved in situations that require police to use force. That requires me to believe one of two things: That Black people themselves are more predisposed to commit crimes that require police force in response, or that there’s some sort of disconnect between the police and the Black population.

To say that Black people are predisposed to be in those situations borders on racism, although it’s not necessarily the same thing. The more nuanced version of that argument is that there are forces operating in society that conspire to put police and Black people into those situations. That is to blame neither police for being racists nor Black people for being somehow more inclined to commit crime.

In fact, the point is not to assign blame. The point is to find some light, some understanding.

That starts with acknowledging that there’s a problem. So let’s be serious. There is a concerning pattern.

There is a disconnect.

The only path forward is to assume that reality is nuanced and difficult. But let’s be clear: When the police use force, somebody’s eventually going to get killed. So it would be dumb, irresponsible and potentially disastrous to just let this matter drop. At least right now we can have the discussion without bullhorns and pepper spray.

So, let’s get to work. What’s the root of the problem? What’s the root of the disconnect?

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