With the spat of White officers killing Black males, both young and old, you have to ask yourself, “What do Black officers on the force think about the rash of shootings?” After all, these same officers were youths at one time, and were probably themselves harassed by the uncles and fathers of these second- or third-generation career White cops. Black cops have to remember how it was. How do they feel when news reaches them that a young Black man who looks like their son, nephew, little cousin–or even young versions of themselves–has been gunned down by White colleagues? Well, for those who still have a conscience, the answer, in a word, has to be: conflicted. Unresolved feelings at variance with each other surely must swirl around the inner sanctum of his soul. And, regrettably for him, it’s not a passing feeling. It lingers in his gut; festering; rotting; slowly but surely consuming his hypersensitive psyche.
This psyche, sawn asunder, argues with itself. “Another young brother shot down by a White cop!” one half says to the other. The other half justifies: “Yea, but that brother was caught in the act of stealing when my brother officer felt threatened and shot him dead. Although the Black kid didn’t have a weapon on him after all, he did have a long white T-shirt on, and anything couldn’t be under it!” And so goes the internal contradiction. And what’s at the root of such soulful incongruence? Again, in a word: acceptance. Black cops, as well as officers of other races, what to be accepted by their peers and command staff. And in order to be completely accepted, you have to adopt the mores of a discriminatory Department. This fact is well documented.
In the very enlightening and well researched book entitled, Black in Blue: African-American Police Officers and Racism (2004), authors Kenneth Bolton Jr. and Joe R. Feagin note that White-oriented police culture across the United States is such that People of Color, especially Blacks, are generally viewed antagonistically. This skewed perception is perpetuated when new recruits are squeezed into the Department’s mold. “New officers,” say the authors, “are thus greatly pressured by other officers to conform to the preexisting occupational roles, including commonplace stereotyping of and hostility toward people of color.”
Although we as Black males don’t need the reality of police brutality sponsored by White cops verified, a scientific study conducted by Kim Michelle Lersch and Joe Feagin that appeared in the publication Critical Sociology (1996) under an article entitled, “Violent Police-Citizen Encounters: An Analysis of Major Newspaper Accounts,” gives the realness of the practice an academic flavor. “Another study examined more than one hundred published accounts of police brutality,” note the authors, “and found that 97 percent of the victims were people of color, and 93 percent of the offending officers were white.”
At the University of Hard Knocks, located on the streets of every ‘hood across America, yes, Black males are especially receiving hard knocks from White cops. Is this because they pose a danger to these civil servants? “More citizens of color were assaulted for not complying than for posing a serious threat to the officer or another citizen,” the authors reveal. Their study “clearly suggests that whites make up a very small percentage of the victims of police brutality,” and more sobering, “black citizens are more likely to be killed by the police than are whites.”
To further demonstrate how pervasive racism and discrimination are within the law-enforcement community, African American agents in the most prestigious federal law-enforcement bodies have filed lawsuits against the very governmental agencies they represent. Not surprisingly, racism and discrimination transcend city, county, and state agencies.
African American agents in the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), and the Secret Service have been compelled to file suit against these federal law-enforcement organizations. Regarding racism and discrimination in the FBI, for instance, all one need do is to consult articles like the one that appeared in the Los Angeles Times, May 1, 2001, entitled, “FBI Settles Black Agents’ Discrimination Suit.” (Incidentally, the same article reported that in 1988, “hundreds of Latino FBI agents won a discrimination suit against the bureau after alleging that they were routinely given demeaning assignments on the ‘Taco Circuit.’”)
The ATF agreed to a $4.6 million settlement in a suit brought against it by Black agents in 1996. And an Associated Press article appearing in the Los Angeles Times (May 25, 2001) entitled, “More Blacks Join Secret Service Suit,” reported that “More black agents joined a racial discrimination lawsuit against the Secret Service…adding new claims that they frequently endure racial slurs.” According to the article the suit also claimed that “blacks are subjected to discrimination in promotions, performance evaluations, assignments, training and transfers.”
And let us not leave out the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Even this celebrated organization is not above criticism when it comes to racism and discrimination against Blacks. A careful consideration of the book (and movie), The Spook Who Sat By the Door (1969), strongly illustrates the point. More recently, former CIA case officer Jeffrey Sterling sued the agency in 2002 because he says “his supervisors discriminated against him.” Sterling is a Black man. He contended that “white agency officials blocked key assignments that would have allowed him to advance in the CIA,” according to the Times article, “Black Ex-Agent Sues Over Alleged CIA Bias” (from Times Wire Reports, March 3 2002. See also, “Black ExCIA Officer Files Lawsuit,” Associated Press March 2 2002).
Given the fight from without and fears from within, what happens when a Black cop confronts the People of Color in the community? This will be discussed in my next article on the subject scheduled to appear in the October 16, 2008, issue of the Sentinel. The final thematic article is scheduled to appear in the November 16, 2008, issue. In the meantime, ready yourselves for an announcement! For the first time in recent memory, Black officers and command staff from around the country will converge on Los Angeles during the end of the first week in November to discuss, among other things, the recent White-on-Black officer-involved shootings and the alienation of Black cops from the Black community! You’re invited to attend a special session to speak your mind! You don’t want to miss it! More details to follow. Stay tuned. Amen.
Word for the Week (or it is “Weak”?): incongruent: “Made up of parts or qualities that are disparate or otherwise markedly lacking in consistency: discordant.”
Correction: In my article “Race and Gender Now in the Blender” (September 11, 2008) was this misprint: “Sarah Palin made history by becoming the first female to be nominated as a vice presidential candidate in a major party.” This sentence should have read: “Sarah Palin made history by becoming the first female to be nominated as a vice presidential candidate in the Republican Party, and only the second female to be nominated as such in a major party.” In 1984, presidential candidate Walter Mondale selected Geraldine Anne Ferraro as his vice presidential running mate.