Although John Singleton’s hit movie Boyz in the Hood as a whole is art imitating life, one scene in particular has been replayed time and again in America’s Black Communities (The “ABCs”), and is very relevant to the subject matter. In the 1991 movie about Black gang life in Los Angeles, two male police officers from the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD)—one Black and one White—stop Cuba Gooding, Jr.’s character one night as he approaches his house. Disturbingly, both officers harass the young Black man, but the Black officer is particularly offensive as he demeans Gooding’s character.
The humiliation is almost too unbearable to watch. Conversely, in sharp contrast, Samuel L. Jackson’s character as a Black LAPD officer in the movie Lakeview Terrace (2008) restrains himself from shooting a young black man who’s shot at him with a shotgun. Not only did he restraint himself; he opened the young brother’s eyes to some lifelong lessons in manhood—and then let him go! This brings me to the questions I asked in my column of August 14, 2008, “Black Cop?…Shoot Not!”
You may recall I asked: “How often do White-on-Black officer-involved shootings occur? What about Black-on-White? White-on-White? Black-on-Black? Black-on-Latino? White-on-Latino? Latino-on-Black? Latino-on-Latino? Latino-on-White?” Such records are not readily available for public consumption. However, it’s not at all a stretch to say that a cop of any color—depending of course on the circumstances—is not likely to shoot someone who looks like him. Still, even if Black cops aren’t shooting young Black men in record numbers, there is an undeniable rift between Black law enforcement officers and the Black neighborhoods they police. The obvious question is, Why?
Again, as stated previously in my articles with this same theme, acceptance is perhaps the main motivating factor driving the Conflicted Cops of Color. Some Black officers entertain what can be called “acceptable justification” for turning their backs—at least for the moment as they see it—on the Black community. “I’ll pretend to go along with the racist program within the Department,” he may rationalize, “and then, when I get to the top, I’ll change things!” News flash: That has not worked thus far. Just ask former Black chiefs Willie Williams and Bernard C. Parks. Besides, studies have been conducted showing that this approach does not bare the desired fruit. Note how the book Black in Blue (2004) puts it:
“The presence of black executives is not a cure-all for discrimination faced by black officers. [One] 1984 study discovered that promoting black officers to supervisory positions does not necessarily result in improved conditions for other black officers because of the inability of these executives to develop the requisite social networks to exercise authority effectively within the organization.” The 1984 study here referenced is said to have appeared in the book, Black Police, White Society. Black in Blue goes on to state: “More recently, black executives themselves have reported the problem of being promoted to supervisory positions without legitimate authority.” The book that goes into greater detail on this subject is Black Cops (1991) by James N. Reaves.
And then, interestingly, Black in Blue calls attention to the situation where “some black officers in Los Angeles complained that the new black police chief, Willie Williams, was being ‘too’ fair. They argued that black officers had suffered such extensive discrimination for so many years that they now deserved more attention and more than technical equality of treatment.” (“Cited in Jerome Skolnick and David H. Bayley, The New Blue Line: Police Innovation in Six American Cities [New York: The Free Press, 1986), p. 188.”] And while you have other books with catchy titles like Black Cops Against Police Brutality (2005) by Delacy Davis, and Cop in the Hood: My Year Policing Between Baltimore’s Eastern District (2008) by Peter Moskos, a White professor who teaches at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, what about a few tomes that deal with Black-on-Black violence in the form of Black cops vs. Black criminals; or, the alienation of Black cops from Black communities?
While they’re not writing a book, Sgt. Ronnie Cato, president of the Oscar Joel Bryant Foundation (a Black organization within the LAPD) says its members have arranged a face-to-face meeting with the Black community. “We know we as an organization have kept them at arms distance, but now we see the need to come together,” said President Cato. He, the board of directors, and other members recognize that it’ll be a challenge to close the rift between Black officers and the Black community. “It might not take an act of God,” said Cato, “but we’re inviting Black churches to what we’re calling Workshop #1 anyway.”
The workshop he’s referring to happens during the “2008 Los Angeles Chapter of the National Black Police Association Fall Education & Training Conference” to be held at the Radisson Hotel near LAX, 6225 West Century Blvd, November 5-8, 2008. Black law enforcement personnel from a number of agencies will be attending this annual event. Workshop #1, the community forum, is specifically scheduled on Friday, November 7, 2008, from 10:15 am to 1:30 pm. I have been invited as one of possibly two or more guest facilitators who have yet to be confirmed. Also on the agenda will be a discussion of the rash of White-Cop-Black-Victim shootings. Everything will be put on the table and discussed frankly, but in a dignified manner that the long overdue occasion calls for. More information is to follow. In the meantime, save the date, and please feel free to contact me at either the email address or telephone number below. Stay tuned for more details. God bless. Amen.
Word for the Week (or it is “Weak”?): internecine: “Of or relating to struggle within a nation, organization, or group. Mutually destructive; ruinous or fatal to both sides.”