Black Watch: Fellow officers also face discrimination

The first African American police commander of Cicero recently experienced what has become commonplace for many Blacks while driving in Chicago. He was stopped initially for an alleged traffic infraction, but it resulted in his arrest for drug possession.

According to the attorney, he (the officer) cannot determine whether or not the marijuana was in the vehicle when he entered it or if it was placed there by the Chicago police officer who stopped him. Allegedly, the vehicle doesn’t belong to the commander and he says he was not under the influence of marijuana. Media reports of what resulted were given by Chicago Police spokesman David Banks. “Wesley Scott, of Cicero, was charged with misdemeanor possession of cannabis and issued a traffic citation for running a stop sign.”

Since Cicero police officers are not required to reside in that township, it is not certain whether or not Scott resides there or the Beverly neighborhood of which he is a native. Scott, 47, is a 21-year veteran of the Cicero Police Department. He is a well respected, highly regarded member of that police department since becoming its first African American police officer.

Dan Proft, spokesman for Cicero is quoted as saying, “Scott is a very good police officer. He’s a straight arrow. Any type of incident like this is beyond out of character. It really surprises me.” Scott is quoted as saying that when he first came to work as a Cicero police officer, he faced hostility and racial slurs from some town residents and even from some fellow officers in the police department to the point that at times, he feared for his family’s lives.

He says now when he faces hostility on-duty, he has a different reaction. “I never immediately assume it’s because of race. I just try to be accountable for my actions, and I treat people how I would like my brother, sister, mom or dad to be treated,” Scott said.

An important question in this ordeal is how did a minor traffic infraction conclude with an off-duty, high ranking police officer’s vehicle being searched and him ending up being arrested and charged? This is not to imply that police officers who are guilty of breaking the law be excused from the consequences. However, before a search of a vehicle is legal, the officer conducting the traffic stop must have “probable cause,” not “suspicion.”

Pertinent examples of probable cause in this case are: strong aroma emanating from the vehicle, suspected to be cannabis (marijuana) or the arresting officer actually observed something in “plain view” that closely resembled what is known to be cannabis or marijuana. “Suspicion” would be just because the officer observed an African American male looking a certain way, driving in a certain type of vehicle in a particular neighborhood, (in this case, Englewood) and comes to the conclusion that the person must be in violation of the law in some way.

It was later reported in a newspaper that the arresting officer has stated that he smelled something that he suspected to be marijuana coming from Scott’s vehicle. Scott knows the state statutes.

He knows them to the point that it is now being reported that as a result of previous encounters with Chicago police, he has filed a lawsuit against the city on the basis of discrimination. Time will only tell if this latest encounter with the Chicago Police Department is retaliation or coincidence. (AP)

______ Copyright 2008 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.  

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