Happy Juneteenth Holiday. In honor of Juneteenth, I have penned a piece on race relations. If you are not familiar with the holiday, I encourage you to find out more about it and celebrate what it represents.
The above titles represent links that are just a (recommended) sampling of articles written on race in recent months. Some have influenced me to weigh in on the topic. Certainly there is room for one more opinion.
The question I want to address is can we make things better? In short, yes. We should make things better because lives depend on it. I will assert that segregation is the barrier that prevents progress. It is a regret of history that close to 70% of the majority population has separated itself almost completely from little more than a 10% minority, abandoning the great urban Americana to ruin in the process. Whole cities and major regions of many large metropolitan communities exist in a state of blight and despair due to the economic discrimination perpetrated by this phenomenon and the poverty that inflicts them.
But economic, social and educational disparity are not the products of segregation that I want to address in this commentary. What segregation breeds, above all else, is fear. Fear breeds, among other things, distrust. The shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson involved many things, including the fact that the officer saw him as a threat (unarmed). The investigation into the shooting of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman has shown very clearly that from the very first moment Zimmerman saw Martin he was suspicious of him. Need I go on? Any poll will confirm the undeniable divide between the perceptions of large groups of whites and blacks in America. Ferguson. Obama. O.J. Simpson. Martin Luther King Jr. Why? In a word, segregation.
I want to share two examples from my experience as a police officer in Los Angeles. I think they provide a micro perspective that supports a macro consensus. For much of my life I lived as a black in the white community. One byproduct of that experience I believe is that I have a familiarity with white culture and mores to the extent that I feel comfortable (translate unafraid) in most areas of white society. With that said, I offer to you example #1.
When working with many white officers I discovered that there was a lack of ability on their part to distinguish between blacks we came in contact with. Because most of the areas we patrolled were in segregated neighborhoods, the officers seemed to treat all blacks in those places as threats. I did notice that some officers would be able to make minor distinctions after questioning people we spoke to. I formed the premise that the white officers did not have a frame of reference, because they didn’t have personal experience with blacks, to see them as anything but a threat until proven otherwise. We worked in high crime areas with high levels of violence. Most of the residents were black.
Did I have the same perception? No. Why not? I will not attempt to give you the long answer. The short answer is that I have lived in segregated black neighborhoods. Is it a science? Can I prove it? Does that make it any less true? It is too obvious to me that most people in black neighborhoods are like most people in any other neighborhood. I have lived in both. This is my firsthand experience. If only it were that simple. There is something else that I learned. White officers that I worked with, in general, were much better than I was at ferreting out white criminals we ran across. More often than not I did not see what they saw. I would have sent these subjects on their way none the wiser. So much for my culturalization.
Example #2 involves covert racism. My training took place in an area of Los Angeles uniquely segregated into predominantly hispanic and white neighborhoods, where small patches were densely populated with blacks. One of my white training officers worked exclusively in the hispanic area, never working in the white area. His reason given was so he could be where the crime was. I found out much later that his true reason for working that beat was so that he would never have to enforce the law on a white person.
I never suspected that he had a problem with blacks in general or me specifically. And that almost cost me my job. One night we went on a domestic violence call which he handled. This was a surprise to me because as a rookie I was supposed to write all reports. I watched as he spent close to an hour telling the family to use mediation to workout their marital issues. We cleared the call. I would have spent 15 minutes on the same call and taken a report. I had thought that he spent too much time trying to (kiss off) get out of work that would have taken less time to actually do. I also thought that since he was the training officer that I had something to learn from him. He passed me on to another training officer who worked in the white neighborhood.
The next domestic violence call was with the new training officer, and I handled it. After I advised the couple on mediation, which had been explained to us during briefing training, my training officer took over the call and wrote a report. That night he wrote me a scathing evaluation that essentially accused me of neglecting my duty. I never made that mistake again. I do not remember how I found out but it was revealed to me later that the two training officers were very close. I had been set up.
To me what was important was the reason why those men would have thoughts and opinions about me, about anyone who looked like me for that matter, which would motivate them to create elaborate schemes to get me fired from LAPD. Having fewer black officers is not the solution. I know that I didn’t have adverse thoughts about them or about anybody who looked different from me. I still don’t. Nor do I think that segregation is the root cause of what motivated them. But those men cannot be the majority. I refuse to believe that. My experience tells me otherwise. And it is segregation that stands between us and the majority, whose opinion and influence will protect against the actions of those like my two training officers.
Don’t you agree?