Who Will Join Me?
I awoke this morning, probably much like the rest of the Nation, with my eyes searching national news channels, in anticipation of the results of the presidential ballot count in Georgia and Pennsylvania. In my case, I was hoping to see a sure win for the Joe Biden/Kamala Harris ticket. While the final counts for those states were still outstanding, I was pleased to see that there had been overnight movement in a positive direction for that campaign.
I am excited about the potential for a change in administration, as I feel that with that change comes potential for substantial forward movement in police reform. While the murder of George Floyd became a rallying cry for social justice in 2020, the reality is that we have been down this road before, fighting for equality and justice in the eyes of the criminal system—not the criminal justice system—because justice has eluded Black people.
I am a 28-year veteran of law enforcement and having navigated many difficult obstacles to succeed in a “blue environment”, I understand the challenges that comes with a hope for change in policing. It is and likely always will be a slow and arduous process, as unrooting systemic and institutional racism in a culture that is as toxic as any gang or mafia, is at the heart of this monumental task. In addition, we must recognize that the difficulty also lies in the knowledge that the system of policing in this country is actually working as it was designed—to keep Black people subdued, minimized, and oppressed.
I imagine that anyone reading this opinion piece will understand what is at stake, but just in case, I will lay it out for you as I see it. The outgoing presidential administration not only rolled back time, but they did so right past the civil rights movement, to Jim Crow. Gains that were made during the Obama Administration’s introduction of the popular 21st Century Policing doctrines were all but completely destroyed. The federal 1033 program was given new life, so that police departments could continue to receive free military surplus equipment, thereby helping to outfit police to treat Black neighborhoods as their own military zones. Consent decrees from the Justice Department came to a screeching halt, as did accountability for police departments who engaged in unfair and discriminatory police practices. The top law enforcer in America, Attorney General William Barr, told police officers in a public statement, that if communities who criticized the police were not careful, their criticism would result in the police not responding to their calls, which is in direct opposition to police ethics. In addition, it has been “discovered” that police officers are members of white supremacy and nationalist groups, and have been increasingly and openly making known their disdain and racial hatred for the most vulnerable populations they are supposed to work for. But again, the police were never meant to treat the Black community with respect or human dignity, and we are seeing that play out time and again in the traumatic deaths of Black men and women at the hands and knees of the police. After all, the history of the relationship began with slave patrols in the South. Denials that systemic racism is some sort of aberration confined to just a few “bad apples” has never been and never will be acceptable to those of us whose experiences have taught us otherwise—we can’t believe what they say when we see what they do.
Here we are in 2020, more than 400 years after our ancestors reached the shores of this country, and we are still fighting for equal protection under the law. The window we have in which to make change may be very limited, as much of our work will involve local, state, and federal changes to the law. We should learn from our recent past that political change can come very quickly, so we must make the most of the opportunities that we have, and though none are mutually exclusive, we are in a race with other pressing national issues, such as jobs, the economy, immigration, and—most importantly for the Black community—COVID-19 and other crucial health issues.
I believe that this is a time for social justice advocates to come together with like-minded representatives from law enforcement, as well as other justice practitioners, to push for change forcefully, consistently, and urgently. Police reform measures should include the commonly discussed changes, such as national use of force laws, misconduct databases, and duty to intervene policy. But it should also include less talked about measures, such as “whistleblower” protection for officers who would dare to intervene, speak out, or report misconduct; intensive psychological assessments at hiring and periodically to weed out officers who are not fit to serve the public; and connecting funding to the performance of police chiefs and commissioners, whose job it is to carry through on transparency and accountability. This list is certainly not all-inclusive, and there is much work to be done.
To that point, I must speak on what I feel is the responsibility of Black law enforcement in this equation. I understand the duality of being Black and being a police officer—however, in my opinion, being “Blue” should never supersede a Black officer’s responsibility to protect his/her own community or to serve everyone with equity. Rationalization with various unsupportable reasons why Black officers do not take action or speak out is mired in psychology which most of us do not have the training or knowledge to help those Black officers overcome—after all, internal racism and learned acceptance of the Black plight is not just something common to Black officers, but to the Black community at large. I imagine Araminta Ross would nod her head in affirmation were we to tell her that we had to leave some Black officers on the shores of the river, and love them from afar in the land of freedom.
For those of us who are law enforcement who understand our purpose in this fight, we must stand strongly as a bulwark, pushing forward for not only us, but for those of us who cannot or will not engage. If we are willing to take this on, we must unify in our commonalities as Black police organizations, as there is strength in numbers and in having many voices—silence is complicity, and rationalization is no longer a reason why not. We have to reach further than Barbershop Talk or Coffee with a Cop to force the reckoning that we want, and we must look further than Zoom meetings to enforce our own no-knock warrant to bust through for change. The words we use should make those who are not in alignment with our mission uncomfortable, until that discomfort becomes the norm. This is not for the faint of heart. Lives are at stake. Tears will continue to be shed, hearts broken, and fists raised in protest. If the past four years have shown us nothing else, it is that this fight was never meant to actually end, and that we, Black peace officers, have been anointed as the vanguard for the sacred lives of the black men, women, and children, who we took an oath to protect.
Will you join me?