Amid intense civil unrest, many narratives of Black officers are untold. They are tasked with containing the protests but can relate all too well to the anger and hurt that Black protestors are feeling at this time. Black officers are straddling the fence between answering to their communities and being loyal to their profession. Because many Black officers have not been as forthcoming, many believe that they are complicit in a culture where white law enforcement officers are killing black men and women for minor offenses. One officer wants us to know that he is also frustrated with the policing of Black bodies, and recognizes the need for significant change. To avoid retribution, one Black officer spoke to Chicago Defender, contributing writer Kelly Washington (identity is known to her) with the condition of anonymity.
On managing the dual consciousness of being Black and being a police officer in a time of civil unrest: When I take off this uniform, I am George Floyd, Philando Castile, Laquan McDonald, and numerous other victims. When I put the uniform on, I am stuck between a rock and a hard place. I took an oath to serve and protect. Being a police officer is a profession that I love, and I have to provide for my family. However, I feel like I am in a sort of purgatory. I am Black, and I am an officer. When situations unfold like the death of George Floyd, it can become difficult to differentiate which hat to put on because I have been on the other side before I became an officer. I, too, have been a target. I was harassed by law enforcement and pulled over because they wondered how a young Black man like me could afford the car I was driving at the time. It’s an ongoing inner conflict. On the other hand, this duality is my driving factor for staying on the force. I want to educate my community to be aware of what to do when they have an encounter with an officer. I want to strengthen, educate, and build relationships with communities of color and change their negative perspective on police officers.
On the death of George Floyd: I was disgusted. It broke my heart. My heart goes out to his family. I would have stopped him (Derek Chauvin). I don’t care how much time a veteran cop has; I would not just sit there. He looked down at Floyd, watched him struggle to breathe, and looked back up casually like it was just another day like it was normal like he was not human. It was done with intent. The other officers kneeled on his back when he was cuffed, and his chest was pressed into the ground. I would have pushed him off Floyd’s neck, and we could go back to the locker room and handle our business there. When I was a rookie, I was put in situations where I had to calm officers down when it came to my community and people who look like me. Way too many white officers and officers who are not Black, don’t understand how urban neighborhoods work, talk, and move. They could care less.
On putting a knee on a suspect: I’m going to try to explain the best way I can. We use the top of our shin and place it on top of a suspect’s shoulder blade. We don’t use our full weight. We only do this when cuffing. You kneel slightly but with a little wiggle room, about an inch, just in case a suspect tries to get up. If he/she tries to get up, we can place the shin back on top of the shoulder blade to take him/her back down. We only do this with cuffing. That’s it! After a suspect is cuffed, he/she should no longer be on the ground. Only if the suspect is kicking his feet in resistance once we have him/her up, is when you see an officer taking a suspect back to the ground in handcuffs. There is never an instance to have a knee on a suspect’s neck and to lean into it as long as Chauvin did.
On the “Blue code of silence,”: There are a few things that keep an officer from speaking out. The main thing is the fear of retaliation by other officers. Another reason is the fear that you will be isolated, and other officers will not back you up.
If you’re a new officer, you feel like you don’t have a voice. However, none of these reasons justify turning a blind eye to the horrific actions of a rogue officer. There is no such thing as a blue code of silence. The officers that do not speak up are choosing to be silent.
On the protests: I stand with people who peacefully protest, and I understand a little civil disobedience. I cannot march and speak with the protestors because I still have to do my job, which is to serve and protect. I do not want to see demonstrators get hurt, and as an officer, I do not want to see my colleagues get hurt. As a Black cop during this time, you continuously think about the loyalty to your community and the loyalty to your profession. I understand the call to action by my community.
On diversity training in law enforcement agencies: Diversity training is taught in the academy as one is becoming a police officer. I can barely remember what was taught. Diversity training should be more than a Powerpoint presentation. That is the training we received. Additionally, it should be someone besides a white person whose experiences are vastly different from people of color, teaching rookie officers about diversity. There are many nuances in a culture that officers need to be aware of to make connections with communities of color, instead of fearing the communities that we are supposed to protect. Fear is what causes some officers to overreact. It is what causes people of color to be profiled and mistreated. Diversity training needs to be more interactive, more meaningful, and it needs to be ongoing.
On changing the profession‘s culture, I want to see more officers hold each other accountable and a lot more officers speaking up against injustice. I want to see law enforcement agencies make more of an effort to create an inclusive and safe environment for officers to air any grievances. That alone will make officers think twice about their actions. It would make new officers feel ok to check other officers in the field or to report something wrong when they see it. Supervisors should hold veteran officers to the same standards as a rookie officer. There needs to also be more mental health and wellness services for officers of color, with clinicians of color, that understand the trauma that can come with being Black and being in law enforcement. Agencies need to recruit from underserved neighborhoods that can relate to the community. Lastly, more Black officers should be included in the discussions on reform and police-community relations.
Kelly Washington is a freelance writer living on the southside of Chicago. You can follow her on social media @ Sunrise and Sugar (Facebook)