Why I Think the Way I Do

Why I wrote yesterday’s blog.

For me, the dream I illustrated yesterday acknowledges that I cannot change the racist system that exists within our nation and its criminal justice system in which I worked for more than 30 years of my life.

It is, however, possible for one person in leadership to make a significant difference, to develop actors (train police officers) within that system who can make this system more just and equitable. At the same time, we must all fully understand that the improvements we are able to make need constant care and attention.

The Kerner Commission (a national commission appointed by President Johnson in 1968 to look at the causes and prevention of violence) warned us that we were evolving into two societies in America, “one black, one white, separate and unequal.” Since that time this separation has become even greater!

The cold and brutal fact is that our system of justice is overwhelmingly focussed on the control and restraint of poor people and those of color. It is racist and it has always been that way since our nation’s founding. It is difficult for me to say this, for it means that I was an active participant in that system for over three decades.

If we are curious and brave enough to look at the history of slavery in America and who has always gotten arrested, convicted, incarcerated, and executed, we will to begin to understand this and, perhaps, you will come to the same conclusion I did.

Yet, at the same time, we should not give up. What we can do today is to better understand this system and its history. If we are police officers, we can improve the way in which we approach people and enforce our laws. To improve the quality of our contacts, by being fair and just, when interacting with persons who are poor and from racial minorities will make a tremendous difference.

The job of white police officers and their leaders in America, therefore, is to become anti-racists, counter their unconscious biases and reduce the effects of white privilege. This will not require a different or unusual style of policing because the model already exists.

This model can be found within every wealthy suburb and gated community in America. Police in those communities are required to treat their residents with dignity and respect or seek employment elsewhere.

My point is that a change in behavior can begin with individual police officers. The practice is called Procedural Justice and practicing it raises both trust and support of police and builds support and cooperation from the community. When a community trusts and supports its police, police become more effective in their job and are able to work in a safe environment.

I began my policing career in a wealthy, suburban city. Two years later, I transferred to the inner city. It woke me up to the fact I was being trained in two separate methods of policing — one based on courtesy and respect, the other on submission and control — one for Whites, the other for “outsiders.”

Together, we can change this. But sadly it will not come from outside pressures, it must come from within the police themselves — within their “hearts and minds.” Those of us who know (and yet love job) know that when cops begin to believe this, things will change and they will change for the better. Which will give us time to re-order a society based on race, to one that is based on fairness and equality and both my dream and Dr. King’s dream will come true.

“I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character”.

Thev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., 1963