Activist says Michael Brown death shows police need training

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COLUMBIA - One local human rights activist said Monday the shooting of an unarmed black teenager in a St. Louis suburb should be a "call to action" for more training in police forces everywhere.

Don Love, chair of the Human Rights Task Force of the Missouri Association for Social Welfare, said Missouri teenager Michael Brown's death might have been preventable if officers were trained to acknowledge and fight their own prejudices.

Love said it is hard to tell whether race played a part in the shooting as many have speculated, since details of the situation are still unknown.

Love cited the state's Vehicle Stop Report, a mandatory compendium of stops police departments make showing race and other factors, as one example of how race affects similar situations.

In the report, the Attorney General's office analyzes demographic information of stops made by police officers in different areas. Generally, it shows a higher percentage of African-Americans are stopped compared with how many are in the population. Officers are also more likely to ask an African-American motorist to consent to a search than a white motorist. 

"We think this shows that officers, like the rest of this society, suffer from the centuries of discrimination. It's difficult for all of us to overcome that," Love said. "In a situation where they (officers) are making a decision in a split second it's likely to influence that."

Love said these discriminatory decisions are often made subconsciously. 

"Officers generally do a good job. There aren't many situations where they result to unnecessary, excessive force. But it is troubling that there is an occasion where a person who is black is shot by an officer," Love said. "There seems to be a strong possibility that discrimination is in play. But it's something you can't hardly prove."

Love said it is important for police forces to acknowledge these inherent prejudices. He said training officers to deal with their own discriminatory tendencies is the best way to avoid a similar situation.

"The Columbia Police have an excellent record in not firing unless it's necessary," Love said. "They generally do a better job than most forces with cultural sensitivity, too."

The FBI is investigating the situation and has not released an official statement on what it thinks happened during the possible altercation between Brown and an unidentified police officer.

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