Enforcing the Law Ethically Means Developing Empathy

On December 5, National Public Radio’s Morning Edition aired a fascinating story on Constance Rice, a civil rights attorney who has made a career of going after the Los Angeles Police Department for violating the rights of minority members in underprivileged areas of the city.  The most remarkable aspect of Rice’s story is her metamorphosis over the course of her career, and the progress that has been made in part because of her willingness to listen to the enemy (my word, not hers). Rice started as an outsider who launched attacks, in the form of lawsuits, on the L.A. Police Department.  Today, although she continues to work for justice, she has also become a sounding board for officers who are “scared to death” and “act out of panic.”

Rice notes that for the white police officer . . .

[h]e doesn’t feel like it’s racism. The black community experiences it as racism, that’s very clear. So what I’m saying is that for people who have to be in the business of solving this dilemma you have to be able to step into the frightened tennis shoes of black kids; black male kids in particular. You have to be able to step into the combat boots and [sic] scared cops, and racist cops, and cruel cops, and good cops. You have to be able to distinguish between all of those human experiences and bring them together. On a single platform of we’re going to solve this by empathizing. We’re going to solve it with compassion and we’re going to solve it with common sense.

It takes a remarkable individual to make the herculean effort she has made to reach across that divide.  Her words should be a lesson to us all.

More on this story can be found on the NPR website at:



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