Black community set to support revitalized OJB
“As [Black officers] try to make policing fairer for residents of black communities,
their fellow white officers often view them as ‘radicals,’ while some
members of black communities perceive them to be traitors.”
—Black in Blue: African-American Police Officers and Racism
Barack Obama has become the first ‘Brother President’ of the most powerful, influential country in history. With this historic feat, optimism abounds unabated that Black police organizations like the Oscar Joel Bryant Foundation (OJB) of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) will be infused with more negotiating power when dealing with LAPD’s mostly White command structure. Such will be the subject at a community forum hosted by OJB and the National Black Police Association at the Radisson Hotel (LAX) tomorrow, Friday, November 7, 2008, from 10:15 am to 1:30 pm. All things being equal, OJB will ultimately receive a vote of confidence from law-abiding citizens of the Black community. The above-quoted book, Black in Blue: African-American Police Officers and Racism (2004), reports that Black leaders have worked tirelessly at “creating black police associations,” essentially to combat racism both on the force and in the community. Were such “associations” really needed once Blacks were allowed on the LAPD? How were Black people viewed back then?
During its very first session in 1850, the California State Legislature, with the backing of the Supreme Court of the State of California, enacted the following statute: “No Black or Mulatto person…shall be permitted to give evidence in favor of, or against, any white person.” Blacks were a non-entity. This general temperament was reflected in a comment made in the Los Angeles News back on January 25, 1867: “The soul of the Negro is as black and as putrid as his body. Should such a creature vote? He has no more capacity for reason than his native hyena or crocodile.” It is little wonder, then, that the report put together after the Watts Uprising in 1965, called the Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorder (better known as the “Kerner Report”), stated: “The abrasive relationship between the police and minority communities has been a major—and explosive—source of grievance, tension, and disorder.” Should the blame be placed on the Black community? “The blame,” says the report, “must be shared by the total society”! (Italics mine. Future articles will deal with subsequent reports.)
To be sure, sensitive and “conscious” Black police officers and high ranking officials (captains and above) from the community, who can relate to the community, are needed. This is the conclusion of the National Advisory Commission on Criminal Justice Standards and Goals. It revealed: “Whenever there is substantial ethnic minority population in any jurisdiction, no matter what the ethnic group may be, the police service can be improved by employing qualified members of that group.” For a certainty, “minority officers are better able to police minority [communities] because of their familiarity with the culture.” If this doesn’t happen, the Commission arrived at a foreboding deduction: “To police a minority community with only white officers can be misinterpreted as an attempt to maintain an unpopular status quo rather than to maintain civil peace. Clearly, the image of an army occupation is one that the police must avoid.” This is exactly how so-called “militant” or “radical” Blacks, in the community and on the Department, have characterized the situation. They see the disproportionate amount of White officers in Black communities as ‘an occupying army.’ And Black males in predominantly non-Black communities patrolled by mostly White officers are in particular danger. Just ask the family of Julian Alexander.
Last week, Julian Alexander, a newly-wed 20-year-old Black youth living with his 19-year-old wife in Anaheim, was shot twice in the upper torso by an Anaheim police officer. The officer was pursuing four suspected burglars, two of which jumped a fence and ran through Alexander’s yard. Thinking that he and his new wife were about to become victims of a home-invasion robbery, Alexander ran out the house with a broomstick in an effort to protect the sanctity of his home. That’s when the Anaheim police officer, standing 15-feet away, fired two shots into Alexander’s chest, without warning witnesses say, killing the young man. After repeated calls to the Anaheim Police Department and the Orange County District Attorney’s office, officials refuse to release either the race of the officer (who is on paid leave), or the race of the four suspects that the officer was pursuing. Hopefully, Black officers from Orange County police agencies, including Anaheim, will be attending the conference.
As the powers in the White infrastructure shield the unidentified Anaheim police officer behind the cloak of anonymity, perhaps more thought should be given to the concept of what an LAPD police chief of yesteryear said about training in the use of deadly force. “The firearms’ class,” Chief William Parker boasted in a 1955 speech, “gives more time to ‘when not to shoot’ than it does to ‘How to Shoot.’” Regarding the “prejudicial and intolerant beliefs held by [White] police officers,” he stated that educated individuals “recognize we do not and cannot accomplish” the “miracle” of removing such feelings. Chief Parker, after which LAPD Parker Center headquarters is named, goes on to give the example of a White veteran beat cop who “has memorized every maxim, every scientific fact, every theory relating to human equality,” and who “knows all the accepted answers.” The Chief then laments, “Of course, he doesn’t believe a word of it.” The Chief’s simple conclusion? “Habit has won out over belief.” Whether racism springs from the subtleties of a twisted subconscious or the conscious and deliberate hatred for African American citizens of these United States is beyond the ability of the present author to discern, and is also beyond the scope of this article.
We should be reminded that no useful purpose would be served by deluding ourselves into thinking that everyone in the Black community and every Black officer on the LAPD is going to have one big group hug—one kumbaya moment. It’s not going to happen. Like every family, the Black Family has internal problems of its own. The existence of a Black criminal element within our Family is not the stuff of fiction. Indeed, there’s a lot of work to be done in our own house. But, there is reason to believe that practical steps can be taken to bring about a workable solution to the problems between Black police officers and the law-abiding citizens of the Black community. That’s what the above conference is all about. The Mayor of Los Angeles, Antonio Villaragosa, along with high-ranking Black officials and others from the LAPD, will be attending the opening ceremony. “The community forum portion of the conference,” says OJB President Ronnie Cato, “is only the beginning.” Can the Black community and Black cops come together? If you don’t think so, remember they said that America would never see a Black president. Be part of the solution—for a change. Amen.