I’m a very white woman who looks, on the surface, like I should sit down and shut up on the matter of police brutality in black communities. But, I grew up in a minority community and then later got an up close and personal view of a police department in a city known, at the time, for having one of the highest crime rates in the United States.
As a kid into early adulthood, I was no fan of the po-po. My earliest memory was in a friend’s living room where she and I and another friend of ours was sitting quiet and scared on a couch while two cops questioned her cousins about a theft that had taken place in the neighborhood. The officers then turned to question us. I began laughing uncontrollably out of fear and one cop got right in my face and yelled at me, “Do you think this is funny? Stop laughing.” I think I was 10.
From there, my encounters with the cops were minuscule, but frequent. I received more speeding tickets than I can count. Had several warrants out for my arrest for parking tickets. And, I have experienced being “profiled.” I was driving through a friend’s neighborhood and they assumed I was there to buy drugs. I realize that is not the same kind of profiling that a black person experiences, but I got a small taste of it. It felt dirty and deceitful because they don’t tell you why they really stopped you.
I didn’t like the police.
Then I started dating one.
He was an asshole in the boyfriend department. I would be the first to want to broadly paint all police officers as racist all because of this dick weed.
But, the one good quality that he had is that he was a really good cop.
While dating him, I was able to be part of an inner-cop circle, going on ride-alongs and hearing them talk without restriction. My perspective changed greatly.
Here are the things I didn’t expect to learn based on my experience with one department located in a predominantly minority community :
1.) It is damn scary just sitting watching someone go into a situation where no one knows what’s going to happen – and that is EVERY situation. What struck me the most was that when an officer goes out on a call or even stops a speeder they, most times, have NO IDEA who they are approaching or the mentality of the individuals involved. I was particularly surprised at how scary the domestic violence calls were in this regard.
2.) Black Police are Harder on Black Suspects than White Police Are When sitting around in a group, just BS-ing, the officers mentioned how no black man wants a black cop to arrest him. In talking to one of the black cops (one of two in a primarily black community) he admitted that he probably was harder on a black suspect. He said that almost every call was someone who looked like him and it was hard not to want to change that. He went on to say that this was the community that he grew up in and that he worked hard to go to school and become a police officer so that he could make a difference. It was frustrating to him that others in his community would say that they had to commit crime because the system was against them. By their definition, the system was against this cop, too and he made a different life for himself.
This is hard for me to mention because it was one experience, but it stuck with me because it seemed to be common knowledge among these veteran cops. My impression was that this particular black police officer had a sense of guilt mixed with a sense of responsibility that made him harder on black suspects and criminals. I think you could describe it as sort of a survivor’s guilt mixed with feeling like he wanted to reach back and help his brothers and sisters avoid the pitfalls of crime.
4.) Certain Drugs Make Criminals Stronger I believe it’s crack that gives criminals mega strength. Meth may do something similar, but it wasn’t as big at the time (this was pre-Breaking Bad). PCP, I believe, is another facilitator of super-strength. This little factoid totally changed my perception of seeing police officers wrestle people to the ground. I now always think, “oh, that guy’s on something.” It shifted my paradigm when it comes to judging “brutality” by cops just from a video.
5.) There are certain stereotypes that these cops kept in mind in an effort to anticipate reactions and protect themselves and the community. Political correctness is cute in day-to-day situations, but if you are in a career where you put your life on the line every day in an effort to protect the lives and well-being of others, political correctness is suicide.
Through dealing with the same situations and crimes over and over, trends in certain communities take shape. At the time, in this city, crack was more common among the black community and pot was more common with the Hispanic community. People on crack react differently than people on pot and therefore methods in approaching each are different (this was the 1990’s pot – I would guess pot today is a totally different animal). Additionally, in this community, they experienced that a black perpetrator was more likely to wield a gun and a Hispanic criminal was more likely to carry a knife or other object as a weapon.
If you’re thinking right now, “this chick’s a f’cking racist.” Wait, two seconds and you’ll be going, “Ooohhh. yep. That’s true.”
The scariest, according to my old police friends, was the white suspect because they tend to be the most crazy and ya never know what you’re going to get. They’re the equivalent to criminal roulette. It’s also the reason I’m much more scared of running into a white man in a hoodie on summer day than I am a black man in a hoodie on the same day. Well, that, and all the serial killer/lock ya in the basement of torture infamous white men. As usual, I digress.
By far, this was the most fascinating thing that I learned. I would love to have it confirmed or denied from other police officers because I don’t know if it was an unspoken instinct that was learned in this community or if it was taught. I’m sure things have changed greatly in 20 years.
6.) Police Officers Are Part of the Community Where They Serve. Whether they live there or not, the police are embedded in the community like no one else. I always got the impression that the majority of the community loved them and, more than anything appreciated them. This was a very diverse community and the citizens treated the majority white police department as friends.
I was surprised at how many stops each cop made every day to check on certain community members, often elderly and/or incapacitated in some manner, or just to say, “hi.” I was surprised about how much they knew about the members of the community and how deeply they cared – like they were their own family. I was surprised at all the free crap they get. These particular officers rarely paid for their lunch, coffee or snacks. They were given things out of appreciation, with a smile and a thank you. I was also surprised at how close-knit the police officers and this particular community were. I got the impression this is unique to communities where the residents and business owners need police officers more often. I don’t think it’s a race thing. I think it’s an economic thing. I know there were “regular cops” in the trailer park community in my home-town.
7.) Police officers have to have an aptitude for psychology. The majority of encounters that they have in a day are contentious in some way. A police officer has to be able to equalize these situations in order to keep or bring peace. Even a traffic cop (maybe especially a traffic cop) is most likely always walking up to a pissed off driver when they pull a car over. I never realized how quickly they have to adapt their demeanor and approach from call to call.
8.) It never struck me that the police in this department were racist. The most striking thing to me in today’s racist cop rhetoric is that no one ever talks about the main job of police officers in minority communities – protecting and serving the minority communities. When a cop goes out on a call involving a black person, it’s often a black person who called the cops in the first place.
The majority of calls that I went on with these officers (well, I sat in the car but, still) were to help a black or Hispanic citizen. It’s hard to think of someone as racist when their entire day is spent helping people who don’t look like them.
What’s also hard to fathom is that a police officer working in a predominantly black community would ever want to intentionally hurt and/or kill a black person. That is not an action that will help them in their career and especially among the community that they are there to serve.
I realize this is just my point of view from the perspective that I’ve obtained. And, I realize that I am white and that white people are told not to talk about racism. But my experiences really helped me form an empathy for police officers and what, no one can deny, they face daily. There is little doubt in my mind that I would be on the police brutality bandwagon if I had never gotten the glimpse inside a police department. I’m glad that I got that glimpse. I think it spared my heart a lot of hate.