The department tagline was Honor, Integrity, and Community. The mission statement was to protect life and property, deter criminal activity, and support the State and its citizens. If that was ever really the goal, I feel that the department, and policing in general, lost sight of that years ago.
The question was whether I believed myself to be a Black police officer or was I a police officer that was Black? It was not an easy answer for me. The past is prologue.
I was 16 the first time I had an encounter with the police. I had my driving license for only a few months at that point, after having earned it with Drivers Ed in high school. I was a good student according to my instructor and I followed the rules, which I do to this day. I learned to always adjust my seat, the mirrors, and to always always always wear my seatbelt.
I was with three white male friends in the parking lot of a strip mall late one evening. We were joking around and talking about this and that, nothing more. We had been there for a couple of hours. Then a police cruiser came into the parking lot and drove past us slowly. That was our signal to head out. Inexplicably, possibly instinctually, I just knew what would happen next.
I had driven one of my friends there, but since he was going the same way as the others, he rode home with them. I got into my car and proceeded the opposite way home. I got about a quarter mile down the street before the red and blue lights came on.
I pulled over, and before the officer approached my vehicle, I took off my seatbelt to reach into the glove box for the registration and insurance info. I never got the official probable cause he had to pull me over. During our conversation he asked me what my friends and I were doing at the other parking lot. I told him the truth: we were just talking. He then asked if he could search my vehicle. I consented to a search (a good read) knowing I had nothing to hide.
By that point, three more police cruisers had shown up. They took everything not nailed down out of my vehicle. The stop took just over an hour and, of course, nothing was found. Naturally, I had to put all my things back in the car on my own. It was the next day that I found out my friends all made it home without incident. The officers let me go after citing me for not wearing a seatbelt.
A few months later, a different officer pulled me over for speeding: 40mph in a 35mph zone. Clearly, I was a speed demon. Same scenario as above, minus the friends, and including the search and the citation for, you guessed it, not wearing a seatbelt.
A little background: I was raised by a white father and a Black immigrant mother. I never had “The Talk” because it never seemed to occur to my parents there was an established issue. I learned what that discussion aims to teach in a more difficult way.
The impetus for my becoming an officer should be familiar: I wanted to be of help to my community. I felt that with my integrity and ability to comfortably communicate with people that I could make a positive difference. What I also wanted was to be considered safe and unthreatening, especially as a Black man in the white spaces I navigated. I did not get the outcome I desired.
I will share more next week. Looking back on my previous work, my intent is not to give a dour start to your Wednesdays. I want to have a discussion on what policing is and what impact it has from an inside perspective. My hope is that you will want to join me in this discussion. Anyway, thank you for reading.
McSquirrel yada, yada, yada.