My father was a police officer.
In fact, he wasn’t just any police officer. He eventually became the First Black Police Chief in Omaha, Nebraska; a place later deemed most dangerous in the US for black people. (per capita)
We lived next door to another police officer, a black woman who worked as a detective. As a family, my siblings and I were taken under the wing of a cohort of police officers – both men and women – who all looked exactly like us…. black.
This was my view of the police growing up. My vision. Seeing my father and his police friends in their uniforms work off-duty as security for the rivalry basketball games in the community. Seeing my father and his police friends coach countless inner-city little league teams on the weekends. Seeing my father and his police friends come up with initiative after initiative to keep kids off the streets.
I loved the police so much, I would tell people that I wanted to be one growing up. I would defend the police with claims that the same people who said, “Fuck the Police” were the ones dialing 911 – calling my dad – for help. My feelings would be hurt because anytime someone said these things, I imagined them spitting in the face of my father and his friends who were doing right, putting their lives on the line to protect and serve.
What I didn’t realize, however, was how small of a section of the police force my father and his friends represented. You see, my father was one of a small group of black men – maybe four or five – to join the force back in 1983. And when he did, it was with every intention to protect and serve HIS community.
So he did, patrolling the streets that he grew up on before moving into higher ranking positions that also directly served the area he once lived. While our physical residence may not have been in the community, our hearts and minds lived and grew there, from the schools we went to, to the community centers we loved, and everything in between. My father became a staple of the community for more than just his badge.
And that’s how policing is supposed to be. That’s when policing is most effective. That’s what I believed policing to be.
Until I grew up and watched black men – MY black man – be preyed upon simply for existing.
It was literally days before my boyfriend was set to go off to college, so obviously we were spending as much time together as possible. Sitting on his porch, we watched police car after police car rush down his street, looking for two men that had robbed a Taco Bell nearby. There was no tension, no worry, as we watched the scene unfold with two of his family members. But as he walked me to my car, two more police cars slowly drove down his street and stopped by where we were standing. They hopped out and immediately began to question who he was, where he lived, etc. all things insinuating that he could be a suspect as if suspects just hang out in broad daylight after committing a crime. But he was a target, all because of the simple description that has cost so many – black male.
His sister rushed to his side, explaining to the police that he obviously had nothing to do with it, that he was getting ready to go to college, had no criminal record, all things to imply for them to move along. And I stood there stunned, not understanding, wondering why my boyfriend was automatically considered a suspect instead of someone that might be able to help them with a lead.
(“Apparently” the robbers had ran through their backyard… according to the police.)
It wasn’t until I asked for their last name and badge number that they paid me any attention, but not without becoming defensive and asking for my name. I told them proudly, feeling like I had nothing to be afraid of because… my dad was a police officer. Sure he might’ve been retired by this point, but he more than likely knew these guys. Hell, he probably swore them in. And it was obvious that my last name rang a bell as smiles came to their faces, and they backed off. But not without making a joke about my car being parked too close to the fire hydrant.
Still, I can’t help but wonder what would’ve happened if I wasn’t there. I can’t help but imagine how things could’ve easily escalated without cause, how my boyfriend and his family could’ve been treated. I never realized how much of a privilege I had being raised in a “police-world”, where bad cops were present but I knew way too many good ones to believe them all to be that way. I never realized that the sick reality most people face is the exact opposite of my experience.
That situation happened in 2008.
Fast forward to 2015, when my boyfriend and I – with our degrees and ambitious spirits -decided to move to Houston, Texas. The drive from Omaha to Houston is a very… desolate one, filled with lots of grasslands and small towns. Things that most people believe to bring comfort, to be beautiful to the naked eye. But in an era now filled with hashtags such as, #SandraBland, you can understand the uneasiness one may feel traveling through towns with – being as blunt as possible – no black people.
While in the middle of nowhere, a sheriff pulled us over for going 74 in a 65 (or something pretty regular like that). By this point of my adult life, I had a good understanding of being non-confrontational, taking things at face value. Oh, and making sure something is recording the conversation for my own safety.
Before the sheriff even gets out of his car, I’m already getting my registration out, and my boyfriend is getting his license out so we can get a ticket and continue on about our drive. The sheriff was white, but he was also kind, explained our violation, and took the information back to his car. Still, I couldn’t help but notice this whole time, my boyfriend is completely stiff… he hasn’t said a word. Even when the sheriff returned with our information and a warning, while I’m telling him thank you, etc., my boyfriend isn’t saying a thing.
I didn’t understand.
I mean, we had gotten off with a warning, the sheriff wasn’t an asshole, this is a victory. But when we pulled off and I questioned his actions, I realized the experience of a black man and his relationship with the police is wilder than I could’ve ever imagined. I asked him why didn’t he say thank you. He told me he wasn’t going to say anything that could’ve been taken the wrong way. This whole time I’m thinking of a thank you as a normal gesture, but he’s imagining a thank you being turned into a whole new situation that could later justify the cop becoming disrespectful and furthermore, physically confrontational. It obviously doesn’t take much of anything for a police officer to feel justified in his actions to kill a black man, so in his eyes, why would this be anything different?
A teenager walking home, a boy playing with a toy gun, and now a man selling CDs. If these are the reasons, why couldn’t a regular traffic stop be added to that list? Oh wait… it already has. #WalterScott (and unfortunately updated a few hours after posting to include #PhilandoCastile)
So now, in this world of blatant police brutality on every news station, videos of a man’s murder at the hands of police going viral, why wouldn’t I feel like everyone else? Why wouldn’t I scream, “Fuck the Police”? Why wouldn’t I stand on the front lines, protesting against the failures of our justice system?
Fact of the matter is, my father was a black life long before he was a blue one. And once he’s not in his uniform, the fact that he’s a blue one doesn’t protect him from anything. #JacaiColson
Now this is not to say I hate the police. I can’t. It’s not in my heart. My father put his life on the line night after night to protect his community, and I still cringe when people forget about those that do so. But do I strongly believe that these cowardly police officers who get a hard-on from wearing their badges and killing our black men like animals can rot in hell?