Growing up, I wanted to save the world. I truly believed that if each person showed a little love, a little kindness, a little understanding, a little patience and a lot of empathy, this world would be a better place. I grew up humming the Coke commercial “I’d like to teach the world to sing, in perfect harmony…” and Bob Marley’s “One Love”, so I guess it wasn’t a huge surprise when I decided to take the oath of office to become a police officer.
My first week on the job was an eye opening experience, to say the least. I was involved in a foot chase where the perpetrator had several rocks of crack cocaine hidden between his penis and testicles. Another guy decided to fire off rounds from a gun as children were walking home from school. Another woman got a hold of some bad drugs, stripped naked and ran down the middle of the street, ranting, raving and sweating profusely. I began to recognize that the world and many of the people in it did not want to be saved. In that first week, I began to come down off of my save the world high and to the stark realization that my little carbon footprint probably would not be enough to make a dent in the mess of humanity. But then, I got a call for service–an opportunity to make a difference! An elderly citizen had fallen in his home. His life alert tag had gone off, and we were notified that we had to get there quickly due to his being connected to an oxygen tank. Another officer and I quickly responded to the scene. The apartment landlord granted us access to the apartment and we entered. The old man had not only fallen, but he had become detached from his oxygen tank and was turning blue. I ran over to him, tried to help him sit up, but the old man found strength from somewhere and snatched his arm away from me as if my touch burned. I was startled and confused. Nevertheless, I reached out to the old man once again…all the while explaining that I am trying to help him sit up so that we can get his mask on him so that he could breathe. This old man, turning blue in the face, barely breathing–damned near death’s door–gave me the most evil, penetrating look. I could feel the hatred burning through his blue eyes. My police partner stepped beside me, picked up the old man’s mask and placed it on the old man’s face. The old man sat and breathed for several minutes, all the while taking sharp glances in my direction. Once he felt well enough to speak, he stated “I don’t want niggers in my house!”
That last experience has stayed with me throughout my entire career. It was a hurtful experience and an eyeopening experience as well. It reminded me that no matter how successful I am in life, to some folks, my Blackness will always be a stigma–a reason for loathing. And that hurts. On that day, when that old man uttered those words, I was at a loss for words. What can you say to preconceived notions about your Blackness and your class/ranking in life due simply to the color of your skin?
But here is the clincher: I came to realize that this experience did not just prepare me for encounters with the public, but encounters with fellow officers as well.
In my career as a police officer, I have had to walk the line of being a Black, female police officer working in a profession that has been dominated by White males. There have been assumptions made about me along the way, questions about my intelligence, how I acquired my rank, how I worked in specialty units… There have been bets made against me, I have had my work plagiarized and stolen from me, I have had rumors started about me…and I know that I am not the only Black female that has gone through this. Nevertheless, I kept my focus and remembered WHY I joined the ranks of police officers across the nation in fighting crime. I never thought that I would ever question WHY some other officers joined the ranks…or WHY some officers are still allowed to be officers…or WHY so many Black men are being killed like its open season.
Through the years, I made many friends and extended my family both through marriage/childbirth and adopting fellow officers as my brothers and sisters–regardless of color. And we policed equally, regardless of color. I can truly say that when it came to the officers with whom I policed, it was not about Black & White…it was about right and wrong. We made equal opportunity arrests across the color spectrum. But, somewhere along the line, things began to change. I saw the change coming about even in my own agency before I retired. We began to hire a new breed of officer. Not only were these new officers selfish, privileged in their thinking, not willing to pay their dues and disrespectful, many were joining the police agency with preconceived notions about certain demographics of the communities with which they were tasked to police. There was an attitude that all Black boys would grow up to be drug dealers and deadbeat dads. That all Black teenage males would either be dead or in jail before their 21st birthday. That any Black male seen out in a predominantly White neighborhood does not belong there or is up to no good. And this mindset appeared to be reinforced by the media…and now by our current presidential election circus. I began to see the separation between us older officers who were trained and desired to police fairly and as one unit–and these newer officers who appear to enjoy policing according to race. Somewhere, there was a disconnection…and there appears to be no hope for re-connection.
The notion that the police are the good guys is a long lost dream for me. My own experiences have long expelled those dreams from my head. Yet, I never thought that we would get to a day when police officers would not just openly kill Blacks arbitrarily, but then justify why they did the killing and then be covered by their respective agencies!!! Its a very hard pill to swallow being the wife of a Black man and the mother of Black sons. In this day and age, to know that my family is judged negatively just by virtue of being Black men is too much to handle and it frightens me. Why? Because cowards have taken over policing…racists have taken over policing…bigots have taken over policing and they are using policing as a means to commit justified homicide. And then Black officers like me– we are stuck in the middle. We walk a very fine line of protesting the random killing of Blacks yet staying true to a Thin Blue Line that appears to have a goal of exterminating people that look like us.
I am tired of turning on the television to see yet another police shooting of an unarmed Black man. Tired of hearing police agencies try to justify the bullshyt. Tired of the media then trying to pull up every negative thing they can find about the dead Black men. Tired of ‘Living While Black’ being a crime punishable by death. Tired of police officers using the phrase “I was afraid for my life”. Tired of police agencies hiring cowards. Tired of police agencies not taking a more strict stand against unlawful practices of their officers. Tired of police agencies giving disparity in corrective action/termination of their officers with a known record of brutality and shootings. But overall, I am tired of walking the line of being Black and Blue.