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Response to Recent Police and Civilian Killings, Part Four

July 29, 2016 by Herbert Daughtry

A special word should be said regarding Black police officers. It is true that Black officers are in a peculiar situation. They are often subjected to a “double whammy.” Inside the Police Department, they encounter racism and rejection. In the community, they experience disdain, insults, ridicule, and rejection.

On July 17, 2016, Mr. Montrell Jackson, a Black officer, was killed in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Days before he was shot and killed, he posted a heart-wrenching message on Facebook. He said that he was “physically and emotionally tired.”

He articulated how difficult it was to be both a police officer and a Black man. He said, “I swear to God that I love this city, but I wonder if this city loves me.” He was 33 years old, and had been on the force for 10 years. Still, he pleaded, “Please don’t let hate infect your heart.” He offered to pray for both cops and protestors.

I have heard and read other Black officers express the same sentiment: “We don’t get support from our community.” Again, I believe it’s an overgeneralization. There are three points I would like to make in regards to the rejection of Black officers in the Black community.

1. The Lost of Identity within the Police Department

For Black officers to say that the Black community doesn’t support them isn’t true. There are Black officers and organizations which are highly respected in the Black community. For example, there is the “100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care-NY,” that was once headed by Mr. Eric Adams, who is now Brooklyn Borough President. When Black officers are assimilated into the Police Department and lose their Blackness; then, they might be subjected to community rejection.

One of our clergy groups had a conversation with a high-ranking Black officer in the Police Benevolent Association (PBA). The officer voiced his opinion that he did not feel supported by the community. I said to him, “In the community, we believe that the larger community, or white community, supports the police however egregious the wrong.” It was obvious to all that while he was Black, he didn’t see himself as Black, but as a police officer, who was no different than his white counterpart.

CNN had a community forum approximately a week after the killings in Louisiana. It consisted of officers, scholars, community activists, and the loved ones of those who have been killed. A Black mother asked how to protect her young son when he is ever confronted by the police. She started sobbing. A Black officer immediately jumped up, went to her, and embraced her. He apologized for all policemen, although he himself was from a different city.

I could not help but think why he felt it was necessary to apologize for all policemen. Why didn’t he wait a minute to see if white officers would respond? The Black officers who lose their identity remind me of Malcolm’s X’s description of the plantation system. There were house slaves and field slaves. The house slaves were the recipients of the master’s old clothing, leftover food, and spent time cleaning and fixing, in and around the slave master’s big house. Whenever the slave master was sick, the house slave would say, “Master, we is sick.” And, when the house was burning, he would say, “Master, our house is burning.”

But, out in the field were the “field slaves,” who worked under the hot sun all day. They received none of the benefits bestowed on the house slaves. If the slave masters became sick, they would pray for him to die. If the master’s house was on fire, they would pray for a wind that would accelerate the flames.

Many years ago, Mayor Ed Koch sought to close the Sydenham Hospital in New York. We took over the hospital and called on the community for support. Daily, the community turned out in increasing numbers. They held vigils 24/7. There was an incident that triggered police violence. They chased the community people across Harlem wrecking violence upon many of them.

Then, the police returned to the hospital grounds. Along with Black officers, they began to laugh and have a jolly, good time. I was infuriated. I screamed out of the window, “How could you Black officers laugh and joke with these white officers who have beaten your mothers, sisters, fathers, and brothers? You ought to be ashamed of yourself.”

Let me be clear: I am not suggesting that Black officers shouldn’t be good police officers. In fact, they should model what a good police officer should be. Still, they should not forget their African origin, or lose their Blackness. They should always remember that they are Black first and they will always be Black whatever their profession or pursuits.

Chief Ronald L. Davis of East Palo Alto Police Department was quoted in the report on Police-on-Police Shootings Task Force, appointed by Governor David Paterson. From a statement he made at the Harvard Kennedy School on October 29-31, 2009, he said, “When I first joined the police, I wanted to think that my race didn’t matter on the job. I was a police officer who happened also to be a Black man. But, that’s not right, because I was a black man before I was a police officer, and I’m going to be a black man after I’m a police officer. Actually, I’m a Black man who happens to be a police officer. And, we have to recognize that more and more of our officers of color are going to be thinking that way.”

2. Blue Wall of Silence: See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil

The community understands that Black officers should step up and support them when the bad white officers attack, kill, and insult them. Too many Black officers are no different than white officers who see no evil, hear no evil, and speak no evil. Let me repeat. I’ve said many times, if Black police officers would take a stand on behalf of their people, or indeed take a stands on what is right, it would significantly reduce police misconduct as it relates to Black citizens, in fact, all citizens, but those that go along to get along deserve the same treatment that their white counterparts receive from the community.

3. The Misconduct of Black Officers

There are Black police officers who are just as mean, vicious, brutal, murderous, and disrespectful as white officers. There is a historical phenomenon on the plantations and concentration camps. Some victims become more vicious or as vicious as their captors when they are put in charge or are given some authority. Of course, one of the reasons is to win favors from their captives and to secure their self-interests.

To repeat, when Black officers are truly what officers are supposed to be, they will be respected by all except, maybe, their white counterpart. Where is the Black Frank Serpico? Officer Serpico testified before the Knapp Commission on police corruption. When his fellow officers tried to kill him, he left the country.

… to be continued.