With the recent hysteria by the media elites, NFL players, politicians, and race hustlers about police abuse against black folks, I would like to offer a different perspective from someone with firsthand experience about the interactions between law enforcement and the black community.
In the early 1990s, I worked for 15 years with one of the largest law enforcement agencies in South Florida as a road patrol officer and later as a sergeant and lieutenant. Apart from my first year in which I was assigned to a district in an upper middle class and wealthy neighborhood, the remaining time was spend patrolling some of the toughest neighborhoods inundated with crack cocaine and violent crime. I witnessed and participated in police shootings, vehicle and foot pursuits, fights, and more than a few instances of what might be considered “police brutality” and “questionable” arrests with very “creative language.” For those who claim that all police officers always act with honesty and integrity, they are living in a fantasy world. Police officers are human with many character flaws as well as countless positive attributes. They are constantly asked to make split second life or death decision, witness horrific crimes, deal with the scum of the earth on a daily basis, and often act as a judge, jury, and executioner. When mistakes happen, their first reaction is to protect their job and the security it provides by lying, minimize involvement, cover their tracks, and offer the always reliable excuse “I was in fear for my life.” It’s the same with other professions except that in the case of law enforcement, they have the power to take our liberty away and destroy our lives. It is not uncommon for cops to jokingly say “Don’t ever let the truth get in the way of good PC (probable cause or arrest affidavit)” or “Don’t ever let sobriety get in the way of a good DUI,” or one of the most popular ones “You can beat the rap, but you can’t beat the ride.”
Blacks comprise approximately 13% of the U.S. population. In most major cities, high crime black neighborhoods (ghettos, “hood,” inner city) represent a small geographical area patrolled by a small group of tough street cops. Their assignment to these high crime neighborhoods falls into one of three categories: (1) “rookies” fresh out of the police academy who get their first assignment in the “hood,” (2) cops who are burn-out and are being punished with a less than desirable assignment to road patrol in the worst area of the city, or (3) a small percentage of “Robo Cops” or bully types who think they are above the law and everyone they come in contact with is a criminal and needs to go to jail. After a year or two, the “rookies” get enough experience and they request transfers to specialized units, detective jobs, or districts in “lily white” communities. They quickly learn that career ending situations don’t come from criminals but from their bosses who will throw them under the bus at the first sign of a public disturbance; particularly in the black community. The Robo Cop eventually gets in trouble because of too many sustainable Internal Affair complaints, or he meets the wrong guy who doesn’t respect the law and teaches him to be humble. For the lifers who remain working the ghettos, they learn to adapt to an environment that demands common sense, lots of discretion, treat people humanely, and often turn a blind eye to petty crimes to survive another 8-hour shift and make it home with the same number of holes he came to work with. They become part of the community and treat everyone (including the criminal element) with respect and fairness. I remember working a Friday night off-duty detail at a lounge that was described as “blood money” because of the large crowds of young black men who always engaged in fights, drug use, and an occasional shooting. In those nights, I could see some of them smoking marijuana in the parking lot, drinking alcohol outside a licensed establishment, and other petty violations of city and county ordinances. It would have been suicide for me to try to effect an arrest among several hundred of them for a misdemeanor charge of possession of marijuana. Other times, I would stop by and chat with a group of men outside a convenience store while they drank beer and talked about the latest high school football game. I learned to view everyone as a human being and never place race labels on any of them. The few of us who patrolled their neighborhood were the only protection that kept them from living in total anarchy.
The majority of police officers in the United States don’t work in these ghettos. They tend to view blacks with a lens of suspicion and criminality; particularly young men who dress and act like thugs. Most of these officers come from white middle class environments, college graduates, clean background with no “street smart” experience and stereotype young black males as part of a criminal element. During a traffic stop, it is not uncommon for these officers to immediately ask for back-up, draw weapons, and become overly aggressive in their commands. They are afraid to deal with an unknown element; a black person intruding in their sterile and relatively safe “white” environment. During a physical altercation or an arrest, fear increases their aggressive behavior reflected by extra punches, flashlight hits to the head, knee press hard against the back of the neck, super tight handcuffs that cuts blood circulation, and one or two extra punches just to make a point. Most blacks can sense the animosity and become belligerent; a losing proposition that offers no benefits.
What’s the solution? For the black community, understand that cops fear for their safety as much as you do. They want to go home to their family at the end of their shift. The possibility of an officer being shot by a black person is 18 times higher than a white person. Most of them want to avoid a confrontation and their aggressive behavior is more out of fear than racism. For law enforcement, train officers to view everyone as an individual and not part of a race or group. There are inherent dangers with this profession but not everyone in the street wants to do harm to police officers. Get out of the comfort of the police car, walk the streets, talk to people as if you were a regular person, and learn about their dreams and aspirations. After a few years, blacks will view officers as part of their community and not an occupying force. Officers will learn to respect and value their “customer base” because you never know if one day it is one of those customers who saves your life.